Plant Foraging — Ramps: A Treat in Early Spring

Plant Foraging — Ramps: A Treat in Early Spring

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Where to find wild ramps, their health benefits, how to start growing your own, and how to prepare this versatile plant.

By Karin Deneke Ramps, occasionally called wild leeks or spring onions, emerge from their cover of decomposing leaves in late March through April. This perennial plant thrives in fertile soils of deciduous forests in the eastern half of the United States and southern Canada. 

Indigenous people, as well as early settlers, very much treasured this spring vegetable after surviving the challenges of a long winter. High in vitamins and minerals, ramps provided a healthy addition to the limited supply of staple foods commonly relied on during the year’s cold months. Since ramps sprout early in the growing season, it made them a rare treat looked forward to with great anticipation at winter’s end. 

A member of the Allium family, wild ramps are bursting with vitamins A and C, containing trace minerals selenium and chromium, known as powerful antioxidants. A perfect spring tonic to boost your well-being. 

Experienced collectors are familiar with when and where to forage for ramps. However, if you are an inexperienced beginner starting out by searching the deciduous wood lots in your area, make sure you have obtained permission from the owners. Take note that state and county parks and nature preserves may or may not issue permits to folks looking for ramps. 

A few hints for the novice ramp hunter, look for low-growing green patches mainly thriving in shady areas underneath deciduous trees such as oak, elm, sugar maple, or birch trees. Only sometimes do you find just individual ramp plants. 

The understory of a forest ecosystem contains a variety of herbaceous plants, and certain varieties, like ramps, grow in patches. Positive identification prevents unnecessary digging. 

Ramps prefer well-drained, humus-rich soils. The young shoots have broad-shaped, flat leaves with a purplish stem and white bulbs. The entire plant is edible and treasured for its mild onion/garlic flavor.  

When collecting, carefully lift wild ramps from the surrounding soil. Avoid breaking the plant off at its stem. If you are pulling with too much vigor, you may accidentally leave the small onion-like bulbs in the ground. Most folks will agree these are the most delicious part of your bounty. It is a good idea to take along a small digging tool to dislodge ramps from their earthy environment. 

Should you prefer the tender greens only, you are doing this ramp community a favor by leaving the bulbs, which will generate new shoots. Don’t be greedy — never deplete the entire patch — leave enough of this perennial for next year’s harvest. Instead, seek out additional ramp locations and practice conservation. 

Like in many other eastern states, West Virginia’s vast forested hillsides in early spring are a haven for ramp hunters. I recently had the opportunity to discuss Virginia’s ramp season with a former native. When ramps are at their prime, I was told it is time to celebrate. Special meals and dishes prepared with ramps are offered at restaurants and firehouse fundraisers.  

Ramp leaves or shoots die down in early summer — before their small daisy-like white flowers emerge in June and July fully open. Flowers pollinated by bees and other insects produce tiny black seeds in the fall, which will develop into a small bulb within 12 months.  

Starting Your Own Ramp Patch


A shady spot on your property with rich, well-drained soil would be the perfect environment for your future ramp patch. Planting mature bulbs instead of seeds is more advantageous when starting out and takes less time to establish. Work the ground in late fall, set bulbs approximately three inches deep, a few inches apart, and cover well.  

Do not disturb your new ramp crop the following spring. Allow your plants at least one growing season to multiply. 

Preparing Wild Ramps for Your Dinner Table 

There are various ways to use ramps in your kitchen. You can use sautéed ramps as a side dish, add them to vegetable soups, or prepare a ramp pesto. Some folks even preserve the entire plant by pickling.  

Ramp Pesto 

  • 2 cups cleaned wild ramps — use the entire plant 
  • ¼ cup olive oil 
  • ½ cup pecans or unseasoned shelled sunflower seeds 
  • Sea salt to taste 

Chop fresh leaves either by hand or in a food processor. You can sauté ramp leaves or keep them fresh. 

Combine ramps, oil, nuts, and salt in a food processor at high speed or mix by hand. This is a tasty snack spread on crackers or freshly baked bread. 

Fried Potatoes with Ramps


I like to add a handful of chopped ramps — leaves, stems, and bulbs — sautéd in olive oil — to a pan of fried potatoes. The onion /garlic flavor of the ramps undeniably enhances this simple dish. 

Originally published in the March/April 2023 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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