Plant: Allium tricoccum, Wild Ramp (onion, leek, garlic, scallion, chive, and shallot family)
RAMPS!!!!!!!!! We couldn’t be more thrilled to learn about this magnificent wild edible that popped up in the spring all over high elevation areas in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. It was one of the first plants we learned to forage besides dandelions. We came upon a lovely older gentleman in the forest who was hiking in the woods specifically to forage ramps to bring back to his family. We named him “Old Man Ramp.” He informed us of what they look like, how and where to find them, and warned us to be careful of getting too close to one another after eating them (they make your breath stink like onions and garlic). Unfortunately, he didn’t warn us to be careful of eating too many of them at once. They are so delicious that it’s easy to eat a lot, but if you’re stomach can’t handle raw onions like mine can’t, it’s a good idea to eat ramps in doses. But holy smokes, they are good with their unique sweet and spicy flavor!
Just a Few of the Ramp’s Benefits:
1. YUM! They were one of the tastiest, spiciest plants we found along the trail.
2. You don’t need garlic when you have ramps. Ramps contain the same sulfur compounds as garlic that support the liver and protect the lining of blood vessels.
3. Ramps are high in antioxidants AKA the free radical police. This means they protect your cells from unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are produced naturally through metabolic and immune responses, but too many can lead to accelerated aging, weight gain, and the development of diseases such as heart disease or cancer. Ramps have more antioxidants than tomatoes and red peppers!
4. Ramps are twice as good as oranges. They are a fantastically rich source of vitamin C, aiding in immune health, tissue repair, iron absorption, and collagen production–All things that were good to have, especially hiking across the country during a global pandemic.
5. Ramps make you smarter. Well, that could be debatable…but they do support cognitive function and can help improve learning abilities of both adults and children. Perhaps ramps accelerated our learning progress when it came to foraging in the woods. 😀
1. Eating too many ramps may give you a stomach ache. One day on the Appalachian Trail, I was so hungry that I wasn’t sure I could take another step forward. As I turned a corner, I came upon a huge patch of ramps EVERYWHERE! I stuffed bunches full into my mouth. Five minutes later, I was laying in the middle of the trail groaning from the burning in my stomach. Don’t do what I did.
2. It is ILLEGAL to forage ramps in certain areas due to people using unethical foraging practices. The plant takes awhile to grow and is actually rather rare. Continue reading to learn how to forage ramps ethically.
3. There are extremely dangerous toxic plants that look just like ramps! They are called Lily of the Valley and we saw them all over the Appalachian trail. They looked just like ramps, but when we picked them up and smelled them, they lack the spicy oniony/garlicy odor. Smelling your ramps before eating them is a good way to practice safe ramp foraging.
Edible Parts of Ramps: Leaves, Stems, Bulbs, Roots
How to Eat Ramps Ethically: All parts of the plant can be consumed raw or cooked. Ramps are delicious raw, but if you don’t like spicy foods or your stomach doesn’t agree with eating things like raw onion or garlic, you might want to cook them up. When you are foraging ramps, take a little shovel or if you are foraging on a backpacking hike like we were, use a stick or your hands to dig out the bulb of the ramp (a little bigger than the size of your average grape). Then take a knife and cut at the base of the bulb to separate the roots to leave them in the ground, so that more ramps will be able to grow. 🙂
Taste to Expect: It’s a bit hard to describe, but it’s like a mix of a sweet onion and spicy garlic.
Where to Find Ramps: Ramps are native to moist deciduous areas of the northeastern United States. We typically found them in moist high elevation areas, growing near a plant called Mayapples, a distinct wildflower with umbrella-shaped leaves. As soon as we would see Mayapples, we’d start to look for ramps. We mainly saw them in North Carolina and Tennessee.
When to Find Ramps: Ramps pop up in the spring, but the season didn’t seem to last all too long. We foraged ramps from April to May, but we weren’t finding anymore by the end of May.
Things to Consider When Foraging:
1. Forage responsibly. Please do not trample on plants when going off trail to forage ramps and when you pick a ramp, be sure to remove the roots with a pocket knife before extracting the ramp from the ground to allow the plant to come back in following years. In fact, most of the time we foraged ramps, we only took the leaves and left the bulb and roots in the ground. The leaves are the tastiest part anyway, in my opinion.
2. Do NOT eat a ramp unless you are absolutely sure it is a ramp! Eat small amounts until you know how you’re body will react to a new wild food.
Identification: Ramps grow in patches of 2-3 richly dark green smooth leaves and have redish-purplish stems and a white bulb (like a small onion). Look for Mayapples (below), which are super easy to recognize and you will likely find ramps growing close by.
The fruit of Mayapples are said to be somewhat edible, but can also be extremely dangerous to eat due to most parts of the plant being toxic. I wouldn’t mess with Mayapples to be safe, if I were you.