I am posting Marguerite Uhlmann-Bower wonderful article entitled: Pass the Ramps, Please. I would be interested to hear from any of you who have ramp recipes, experience in growing and or harvesting ramps.
Ramps Photo: David J. Turan
Ramps in flower: photo by Bill Plummer. Many thanks Bill
Though this writings focus is on Ramps, its purpose really is a heads up for all plants. So join me in cultivating a daily awareness for all plants longevity, be they deemed invasive, noxious weeds, endangered or not endangered. They all matter – for our future.
About Ramps: also known as Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum) are a Lily family plant perennial in the same family as Onions and Garlic. Wild Leeks are known as an ephemeral – meaning, here for a short time and they surely demonstrate this. Locally and depending on the weather, they may begin growth sometime in March or April lasting 4 weeks to maybe 6 weeks max then the leaves become tough, yellowing, (the bulbs are still tasty and edible though) and the plant puts out flower heads with the leaves becoming inedible by end of May and may not easily be found come end of June except for the experienced eye.
Petersons Field Guides on Eastern / Central Medicinal Plants says Wild Leek leaves were used for colds, croup and as a spring tonic by the Cherokee, and a warmed juice of the leaves and bulbs for ear aches. How they applied this it does not say but this will be a topic I’ll write more on this and other onion family plants this July.
Wild Leeks are now sought after by people and in the market place, at roadside farm-stands, restaurants, small eateries, health food stores, farmers markets, etc. In recent years horror stories have been exchanged telling of unethical foraging practices (meaning leaving stands completely devoid of any Wild Leeks) and truck loads of Wild Leeks being shipped to far away places for sale. This onion family plant may just not be so abundant in short order.
Over the years my curiosity has peaked. I’ve had so many questions. Thus I posted them on Facebook and email.
- Are you seeing any changes in Leek populations over the years?
- Do you harvest for yourself?
- Do you buy them?
- Do you see them sold at restaurants, farmers markets, etc.
- And to all of the above, are the bulbs in place or just the above ground leaves?
I personally connected with 15 people, most live in Delaware County. Of all I interviewed, 3 of them were natives, going back at least 4 generations, if not more.
The others interviewed were non-natives and living here for the last 20 to 30 yrs.
Of the non-native group: 4 were business owners: a health foods store, a retreat center and 2 restaurants: the health foods store wouldn’t buy or sell any Leeks because they couldn’t confirm if the harvester had ethical and sustainable foraging practices; the retreat center harvested their own, and used only the greens, leaving the bulbs in the ground; one restaurant did the same; the other restaurant did harvest the bulbs and added they harvest only enough in the Leek growing season, and only from their land, and only in small amounts. The whole of this group didn’t think they saw any decline in Leek populations. Interestingly a few of these non-natives had dedicated time, money or both to yearly Leek transplantings onto ideal locations on their land. One couple has been doing this for the last 10 yrs. All had not harvested any of the plants yet. They wanted to give the plants a chance to acclimate to the area and were waiting until they saw the plants blossoming. This they felt was a good indication the plants had adapted to their new location.
Of the native group: one person saw at least one stand completely wiped out from what they had seen years ago; another said the same yet added they knew of huge stands that were still untouched and attributed this to the great distance one would have had to walk to get to them. The last person a woodsperson said this and I quote: “don’t think many leeks around, if you tell anybody they come in and dig them out”, adding, “’Ginshang (Ginseng) around is about dug out people hunt it all. See if you can do something, somebody got to or its going to be gone.”
Diane Greenberg of Catskill Native Nursery who propagates and sells wild foods and medicinals, had a lot to say about wild foods harvesting practices. Here are some of her thoughts and suggestions: “people think they are harvesting sustainably by only taking a portion of a patch. What they don’t consider is 4 or 5 other people are doing the same thing to the same patch and soon an area that was covered in leeks is reduced to a very small population. Over the years, I have seen a few areas in Ulster that were once abundant in leeks disappear completely. Mostly these were patches along public trails or easily seen while driving along a back road. People have bragged to me about filling up the back of a truck with leeks and selling them …” and “People do not understand how long it takes for these plants to grow and that by harvesting mature bulbs they are destroying what is needed to insure future generations of ramps … I hope in time people will see the big picture of the damage they are doing in the name of “free food”.
What Diane speaks of here, of harvesting sustainably is one of the practices I speak of in my plant walks, but even more so, how about bringing them in to your gardens by transplanting some, seeding some, supporting those already in your garden or purchasing wild cultivated plants from nurseries like Diane’s.
If you’re interested in checking out what Diane Greenberg is doing, go to email@example.com
Find Wild Foods Foraging Suggestions on my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/herbsandwildplants or
The act of sustainability is for us to essentially be the care givers and stewards of the land that feeds us.
Spread the word …
- those of us who harvest Leeks
- those of us who purchase Leeks from harvesters
- those of us who dine on Leeks at restaurants
- those of us who know wild foods foragers not speaking out about sustainability, ask
them to consider the following …
Consider this: Invest in Leeks
Leave at least 80% to 90% of the plants for adequate self propagation. For instance, for every group cluster of plants, remove only one or two single plant.
Why? It takes 2 to 3 years for a Leek seed to germinate and up to 6 years to fully mature!
Consider this: Keep their life force in the ground.
Leave their bulb root in the earth. Cut only the green leaves at ABOVE soil level.
It has been observed that by keeping the bulb root in the ground, it will allow the plant to continue to grow for future seasons. Supportive studies show that when harvesting a stand of Leeks, if one picks as little as 5% – 15% (including the root bulb), this action cause’s the stand to go below ‘an equilibrium level’. This means that the stand is then functioning at a substandard level and can take several additional years to return to normal. So long as it is untouched for the next few years (3 to 5 yrs.) this then gives Leeks a chance to self propagate. Avoid at all costs taking the bulb. This will benefit you by providing you with many harvesting years to come.
Consider this: Rotate harvesting stands.
Have at least 3 or 4 sources (or more) to harvest Leeks from, and visit only one of them each year. It takes 2.5 years for a stand to fully recover from a single harvest.
FYI: In Quebec Canada, permits are given for Leek harvesting. Only 5 Leeks per person are allowed !
Lastly and as importantly consider: Think Sustainability.
1) Share sustainability ideas with our children … ‘ethical wild crafting way’
2) Ask wholesalers of leeks, local merchants and restaurants who sell Leeks to buy bulb-
less plants from their wild harvesters.
3) Lastly, this is the right thing to do all the time, for all of Nature … for us.
So please, pass (up) the Ramps this year.
This report is donated by Marguerite Uhlmann-Bower, Herbal Educator, RN and Wild Foods Enthusiast & Forager. She offers individual educational wellness consultations and leads the plant identification class: Weeds, Leaves, Seeds, & Shoots : Balance your Budget – Steward the Land. She is also author of Healing the Injured Brain. Source of Ramp Stats and for further reading: “Having Your Ramps and Eating Them Too” by Glen Facemire, Jr. 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 607-278-9635. She resides in East Meredith, New York.