One plant by many names, has sprung up in the woodlots of Southern Ontario. They’re not hard to recognize as they’re about the only thing green and lush out there right now. Mind you, Ramps (Allium Tricoccum) leaves look an awful lot like the domestic escapee “lily of the valley” which, of course, is toxic and will kill you. Ain’t Nature fun ?
Oh well, not to worry, Ramp leaves can be easily identified by simply pinching the leaf (puncturing with your fingernail) and sniffing the same nail. A distinct onion/garlic/shallot scent will positively ID the plant. Yes you can smell them from a distance if there’s enough of them, as in the picture above, compliments of our friend Doug of maple syrup fame (click on Doug’s Maple Syrup – A Family Affair ). This is his sugar maple woodlot. Ramps are one of the earliest “foragables” available to us in the Spring.
OK, so I’ve done my bit, and told you how to protect yourself from the toxic “lily of the valley”. Now, I must try to protect Ramps from you. It seems by the picture above, that Ramps are prolific weeds that blanket the woodlands and couldn’t possibly be threatened by little ol’ you & me. However, possession of more than 50 pencil sized bulbs of ail de bois (Quebec speak) wields a hefty fine in that province. Commercial harvesting of Ramps was banned in Quebec as far back as 1995. It’s been banned in a couple of US states as well. It’s still legal in Ontario though, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK either. It just means we haven’t threatened the existence of the plant yet (but will soon, I have no doubt).
Ramps are sadly subject to a type of “romantic enhancement” where people over-assess the experience of consumption. Yeah, they’re tasty, but they aren’t orgasmic and there are lots of grocery store alternatives that taste exactly the same. And, there’s no need to pull the bulbs up since the leaves taste the same as the bulb, so what the Hell? Pick a leaf off each cluster and leave the rest to recharge the bulb. Ramps propagate very slowly, less than 10 % per annum so the math is really easy to do. I’m not saying DON’T TOUCH RAMPS !!! I’m just saying, try a few leaves so’s you can say you have. As I stated, the bulbs taste exactly the same as the leaves so why kill the plant by digging up the bulb ?
Ramps are kinda like Giant Puffball Mushrooms. They’re a novelty that catches the eye and the imagination, but really … once experienced, the challenge of the search for them, greatly outweighs the culinary benefits of finding them.
Ramps are truly a visual harbinger of Spring with a pleasant flavour to boot. So, enjoy a handfull of leaves to welcome in the Spring, and leave the bulbs in the ground where they belong.