I was so excited a few days ago to discover a local woods just covered with ramps growing on the forest floor. Problem was, it was on private land and collecting some would be trespassing. Luckily I was able to figure out who owned said woods, found their phone number and was granted permission to harvest the ramps in their woods. In the past I have only able to harvest a handful of ramps in the few places I could find them so this was an exciting turn of events for me for sure.
Ramps are spring ephemeral plants, growing only in the springtime before the forest canopy leafs out to shade the ground. When it gets too warm, by mid-May, the leaves wither and die back. So we have just two or three weeks to harvest them. Ramps are also called wild leeks, and have a delicious oniony-garlicky flavor and aroma, which helps to distinguish them from other similar but non-edible plants. Their broad green leaves as well as the white base are edible.
The best way to harvest ramps is to grab the green leaf with one hand and with the other hand use a sharp knife to slice through the white bulb below the ground, leaving the root behind. Only take 1 out of every 10 or so leaves, to ensure sustainability. If a ramp patch is over-harvested it will soon disappear and not return in subsequent years.
I enjoy eating ramps raw in salads, or sauteed into a stir fry or mixed with wild rice. This year since I had plenty, I chopped some and dried the bits in my food dehydrator and also hung some up to dry whole so that I can enjoy their unique flavor in the fall and winter. I turned some into a delicious wild leek pesto too, which was an especially tasty way to enjoy the ramps. Pesto is easy to make: just use a food processor to chop and blend the ramps, nuts (pine nuts are the conventionally used, but you can use walnuts, sunflower seeds, even flax seeds, which is what I used), parmesan cheese, olive oil, and salt and pepper. I added a little extra garlic too, but that is not necessary.