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Spring is a glorious time of year. Nature wakes from its winter slumber, turkey season kicks off, open water fishing gets into full swing, and best of all, foraging opportunities begin to sprout at every turn. Right now, we are smack dab in the middle of the season for ramps, also known as wild leeks. Similar in smell to onions, ramps represent one of the first signs that warmer weather has arrived to stay. As an early spring ephemeral, they conclude the majority of their growth before the leaves of canopy trees have formed and shaded out the forest floor. They’re usually gone or inedible by early summer.
Ramps belong to the genus Allium, which also includes domestic onion, garlic, shallot, leek, and other wild onion species. The ramp’s regional range extends from northern Minnesota, east through southern Canada to Nova Scotia, and as far south as Missouri and Appalachia. Ramp leaves are bright green and grow up to a foot in length by about 3 inches wide. Generally, each plant has two leaves that are anchored below ground by a white bulb similar to that of green onion. The stem is also a great indicator. Look for a red hue that runs from the base of the leaf to the bulb. Of course, don’t forget to eat some fresh. Add chopped ramp leaves to pasta, salad, or eggs. You can substitute ramps for onions and garlic in any recipe. Experiment and have fun. Far too often we worry about how to preserve wild edibles for later use when sometimes it’s just best to enjoy them right away. So, when you’re heading to your favorite trout stream or turkey hunting haunt this spring, make sure to keep your eyes peeled and nostrils flared. You might just come home with some wild leeks to pair with the day’s kill. Happy harvesting.
“Many of the major rivers where wild leeks grow are also home to industrial discharges because there are factories, mills, and other such industries along with them. And many of the things that are produced for these environmental pollutants from the mills turn out to be lipophilic, in other words, they are attracted to fats. And the first place that these environmental pollutants meet up with fats in a plant is in the cell membranes of the roots. There is a lipid by-layer there. And so things like dioxin, and polychlorinated by-phenols, two great examples…they are concentrated in the soils and in the underground storage organs, which includes things like bulbs, corms, roots, and rhizomes of the plants.Interestingly, things like PCBs are poorly translocated to the aerial portions of the plants. With a couple of exceptions, that means they’re mostly confined to the underground storage organs. Where I’m going with all this, is if you don’t know where those wild leeks were collected, it’s actually a real health insult to you to eat those bulbs because they probably represent the highest level of pollution of that plant.” (Source: practicalselfreliance.com)