It's Ramp Time!
WildIndiana Food Editor Karl Benko digs for fresh spring ramps in Marion County
Need a spring tonic to lift your soul from the winter blues? Or would you like a delicious seasoning to cooked dishes? If you pick ramps, you have both.
The ramp, or wild leek, wild garlic or spring onion, is an indigenous plant of Indiana woodlands that is growing thick and lush right now. You've probably seen the luxurious green leaves of the ramp but didn't know what they were. That's good, because that means more of them in wood for the rest of us!
Ramps are true member of the onion family and are well know in many locations, especially the Appalachian regions of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. In fact, the ramp is considered a species of "special concern" in Tennessee not due to rarity but overharvesting throughout its range.
Fortunately, in Indiana, the plant is less esteemed and there are plenty in the woodlands throughout the state.
The flavor of the plant is a cross between onions and garlic and is well-suited to any cooking style in which either plant is used. They are often used in soups, egg dishes, potatoes, beans, pasta and and even cornbread.
The ramp isn't hard to find or identify. In early to mid-April, only spring beauty and the earliest shoots of other flowers are starting to show above ground in the woods. By contrast, ramp patches are thick and green with leaves that look much like domestic tulips or lily of the valley. Dig up one of the plants: if they have an obvious stalk and bulb like a domestic green onion while having a smell that is halfway between onion and garlic, you've found ramps.
The weapon of choice for digging ramps: A Japanese garden knife
In Indiana there are no restrictions on ramps but use good judgement and conservation practices when digging. Don't take too many and don't disturb the forest floor when digging. You can dig them in state parks and forests but they are so widespread, your local woodlot probably has a few.
Ramps are also prolific in your yard or garden. If you happen to dig up a few undersize specimens, plop them into the garden and see what happens. In all likelihood, you'll end up with your own ramp patch!