Ramps appear in early spring and produce leaves that wither back as other vegetation above them deprives them of sunlight. As the leaves wither back, they leave a central stalk with a flower bud on it, which flowers in the summer and produces seed. The plant then goes dormant until the next spring. Ramps tend to grown in patches, often covering entire hillsides. They are harvested while the leaves are still a healthy green.
Ramps have a strong, garlicky taste and odour. Some people eat them raw, but note that the smell will hang around you for a few days. Most people cook them, which mellows their taste and odour.
Ramps are native to the eastern seaboard of North America, and are very popular with people along the Appalachian mountain range.
They are still mostly harvested from the wild, so their availability season is short. Choose ones where the leafy tops are still bright green, with no sign yet of yellowing. Use within a few days of purchase.
Trim the roots of the bottom “onion” end and strip off its outer layer, as you would for a green onion. The leaves cook faster than the onion, so if you are cooking the leaves (as you should, they are very good), chop the leaves off, add the bulbs first to your pan, and then the greens a bit later.
Refrigerate for a few days in a tightly sealed bag. Or, chop and freeze for up to a year.
Native Americans introduced European settlers to ramps.
Literature & Lore
The old English word for wild garlic was “hramsa”, whose plural was “ramsen”. The first English settlers in the Appalachian range saw the similarity between this American wild leek and English ones, and so called them “ramps”.