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Helpful Herbs: Ramps

Foraged or grown in the garden, Ramps are a helpful member of the allium family that includes onions, garlic, and leeks. They're healthy and easy to grow, and a delicious addition to anyone's herb garden.

While Ramps are traditionally a foraged food they can be easily cultivated. Started from bulbs or seeds, they will take 2-3 years to reach maturity but will continue to return for at least six years. The plants flower in early spring, and have usually died back by the end of June. They don't mind shade, but need fertile soil that is high in organic matter.

Foraged in the wild, you'll find Ramps on forest floors underneath taller trees such as maples, poplars, and oaks. After the plants have flowered they can be harvested by carefully digging up the plant and bulbous root. Like other alliums, it's that tender white root or bulb that is the prized part of this woodland plant, though the green shoots are also tasty and eatable.

The leaves and bulbs of Ramps can be used much like onions, diced and tossed in salads or stir fries. The leaves can be turned into a pesto that goes wonderfully on pasta, and can be pickled to enjoy later. Adventurous cooks will even deep fry Ramps, and they are perfect on the grill as a crunchy side dish.

Ramps grow as far North as Maine and Quebec, but they are most common in Appalachia. Richwood, West Virginia, claims to be the Ramps Capital of the World and hosts an annual "Feast of the Ramps" during their short harvesting season in early spring. Throughout West Virginia, Tennessee and the Carolinas, spring festivals revolve around Ramps and their harvest. Because of their strong, garlicky scent, Ramps are commonly called the "King of Stink" in these areas.

Like their cousin garlic, Ramps are excellent for digestion and are sometimes used to expel internal worms. They are rich in many vitamins including vitamins A and C, and will help to boost your immune system. Great for heart health, Ramps are also high in Iron and will help to keep your blood pressure low.

Ramps became a prized symbol of Appalachian survival because their appearance in early spring signaled the end of winter, and their harvest would provide a hearty meal after the long, lean months. Further North, Iroquois Indians would use Ramps to create a early season tonic to clean out the system and ward off winter ailments.

Also called wild onions and wild leeks (though they are neither leeks nor onions), Ramps are actually named for a similar plant that grows in England and was called "hramsa". Ramps are very popular with chefs and in farmer's markets mostly because of their short growing season. A pound of Ramps in a farmer's market today can fetch $20 per pound, and they are a spring favorite on many trendy restaurant's menus. But chances are you don't have to go out to eat to enjoy the healthy and delicious benefits of Ramps. Try your own backyard or nearby forest and see if you can't add Ramps to your recipes!


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