Ramps are delicious. They are beautiful. They are native.
This should be a red flag for everyone interested in preserving their world. Do you recycle because it decreases your impact on the world? Great. Don’t forage ramps unless you read this and can respect the sacredness of this plant.
Even those who sometimes think they are harvesting sustainably are doing damage. This year already I’ve seen people mistakenly harvest from what they considered a patch, but the space was about the size of a car. That’s not a patch of ramps anyone should be harvesting from.
Curious about ramps? Us, too.
What is a ramp?
It’s a member of the allium family which includes bulbs like garlic, onions, & leeks. Ramps are also known as wild leeks, and their leaves have a very pungent aroma. The bulb isn't as flavorful, but it is quite beautiful.
Why is it so trendy?
These are not commercial alliums that can be grown year-round, so they have a limited abundance. Scarcity, the fact that they are one of the first vegetables after a long winter, and their beautiful shape all make them coveted by chefs and foodies alike. And their flavor is quite strong!
What is the ethnobotany of wild leek?
Ramps are an important wild food eaten by Native Americans, and they have a strong history, like most of their food, with medicine. Ramps have also been a staple to the traditional Appalachian diet, and the rise of media coverage has made non-natives seek out and demolish swaths of these alliums at a time. Iriquois and Mohawk peoples especially utilized ramps for both food and medicinal value.
What are factors that can make it unethical to harvest?
It takes 5-7 years for a plant to mature to the point where it will make seeds.
They tend to grow best with consistent seed production above 3000ft of elevation and in specific soils. Those habitats are decreasing due to deforestation and the decrease of old forests in general. Climate change isn't helping either.
It is a traditional food of people who live off the land. We’ve taken so much from Native Americans, and in some areas, it is now illegal for them to have their traditional food.
Invasive understory plants such as celandine, English ivy, and garlic mustard are out-competing native plants.
It is illegal in most parks in general to take this plant. We have a whole page about
Where is it specifically illegal to harvest?
+ Quebec has banned collection, and you can be fined for having as few as five plants.
+ The Great Smokey Mountains National Park has had a ban in place since 2002 after doing a 5 year study. Nearly 20 years later, they stand by their ban as ramp populations continue to decrease. The Park does not see this changing anytime soon as depleted ramp patches monitored over 20 years ago have yet to come back.
+ New York State has outlawed the pulling of Burdick’s wild leek, so unless you can identify each and every plant, foragers be warned!
+ Pennsylvania State Parks clearly state that no plant can be taken. Some fruiting bodies are allowed, but a child was fined $200 spring of 2021 for removing a stick. You have been warned.
+ Maryland State Parks clearly state that foraging is not allowed without a permit.
+ National Parks have redone their rules as of April 16th, and it clearly states it is illegal to remove any plant or plant part with the exception of certain Native American groups or when permission is given by a superintendent.
What defines a ramp patch?
You’ll know for certain when you’re in a ramp patch if you can’t see the far end of one. Literally ramps as far as the eye can see. If you can label how far across the ramps are growing, it’s probably not big enough to take from.
That seems a little extreme. Why so severe?
Until more people are educated about sustainable harvesting, we, the educated ones, have to restrain ourselves. It is now our duty to cut back for the safety of the plants.
How would you sustainably harvest a ramp if you find a patch?
If you find a patch (see above for definition) on your own property, follow these rules.
Only take 5-10% of what you see.
Leave the bulb/roots intact.
Use a SHARP knife to make a clean cut just below where the stem changes color. The leaves are the flavorful part anyway.
Come back for the seeds, and help regenerate the plant by properly dispersing the seeds into wider ranges.
If you ever see or hear anyone saying to pull up the bulb, it is now your duty to inform them they are promoting unethical & unsustainable practices that are endangering a native plant and food. The exception: if they are replanting to create a new patch & taking from a large, healthy patch or a patch that will soon be demolished by construction or logging.
Why should you buy your ramps from a professional forager?
Their business is based on being able to sell foraged foods which means they need reliable sources to get that product. Larger corporations and small-time side hustlers are not trustworthy sources of sustainability, but a professional has to follow sustainability practices to ensure their harvest for years to come.
How do I celebrate ramps sustainably?
Don’t go to ramp festivals. They are a huge factor in overharvesting because they need large amounts of ramps in a short time frame.
Buy from trusted SMALL retailers or eat from SUSTAINABLE restaurants.
Share ethical harvesting techniques EVERY TIME you post or talk about ramps.
Buy transplants for your property.
Especially avoid harvesting from Native American reservations or near their areas.
I love the taste of ramps. What should I look for instead?
There are alliums you can forage without causing damage. Wild garlic, nodding onion, & wild onion are all delicious alternatives!
As a closing note, fiddlehead ferns, while not at the same endangered point as ramps, are trendy enough to cause concern. Fiddleheads are fun to find, but I guarantee there’s far less damage to the ecosystem when you eat knotweed shoots, wild asparagus, & daylily which are all seasonal treats not to be missed!
Remember, it is now your duty to educate EVERY TIME you discuss ramps to talk about ethical practices. Every time.