After a long, harsh and sleepy winter, among the first gifts of the fertile earth that emerge around the ancient lands of what is currently commonly known as Ontario, Canada are wild ramps, aka leeks!
Wild ramps (Allium tricoccum) are leafy green delicacies full of life force, nutrients, minerals and enzymes, native to this land and traditionally sought after long winters as one of the first vegetables eaten in months.
Here, the name ramps is derived from the word ramson which came from hramsa, meaning “wild garlic” in Old English, although in Europe where the variety of leeks are called Allium ursinum, they’re referred to as ramsons. They’ve been eaten by humans for centuries as a tonic to ward off the common cold, their mineral-rich leaves thought to cleanse the blood while providing some insane benefits.
Foraging is hands down one of the best ways to connect with wild nature. Feeling restless? Despondent? Indoor couch potato? Fatigued? Stressed? Sad? Cost of living skyrocketing? Go foraging and refresh, revitalise and renew yourself with the abundant sunshine, fresh air, and the energy of the earth, rewilding your soul.
Recently I went on my first foraging trip of the season with Matt, Eleanor and Emad, and we explored some obscure wild ramp patches in a secret location (they’re super rare here in Canada, and even considered endangered in Quebec).
If you’re lucky enough to be able to hunt, fish and/or forage with others you trust, don’t take it for granted—it’s ancient medicine. And if not, I hope you’re lucky enough to know someone who can share the harvest with you.
Wild ramp season is upon us!
Wild ramps have flat, broad leaves resembling a flat green onion, tasting like a mixture of garlic, onion and commercially grown leeks, versatile in endless culinary applications. They’re absolutely FIRE! I love throwing them into quick pestos, but you could make all sorts of things with them, like wilting them into soups and curries, using them as a garnish, tossing them in salads, and blanching or sautéing them as a side dish.
Ramps can often be found in dishes at local seasonal restaurants by top chefs, in some grocery stores, organic food delivery services during this time of year, and even on Etsy, but there’s nothing that compares to going out and collecting them at no cost other than acquiring a myriad of profound benefits along the way.
Ramps are only available for a short window in the spring from southeastern Canada to the Appalachians, and even though it’s been a snowy April this year, we managed to find them at the end of the month. They generally appear briefly from March to April, lasting until around mid-May, and once temperatures get warmer, their leaves turn yellow and die. They can mostly be found across eastern North America/Turtle Island, from Georgia to Quebec, finding homes in shaded, damp, deciduous woods.
With an era of instant gratification and the mindless comfort of accessing consumer goods and unsustainably shipped produce 24/7, 365 days of the Gregorian calendar year, having a special time to collect a seasonal, rare wild food like ramps is something that truly stands out in our lives.
Benefits of local wild foods and native herbs
- Easier on the bioregion and for future harvests if foraged sustainably with an essential conservation ethic to preserve leek colonies
- Foraging facilitates harmony, ease, deeply grounded integrity, wholeness, presence, genuinely anchored balance and metabolic and mitochondrial regeneration via consistent sunlight exposure, grounding, movement/lymph movement, and the foods’ stored local UV light code information at your latitude—this goes beyond ‘biohacking’. After a single day of foraging, my circadian clock has reset like no other, waking up effortlessly at 6 am while the sun rises (around the optimal time to wake up and view sunlight). I truly feel my mitochondria singing in symphony, spirit revived.
- Foraging calls us back to ancestral hunter-gatherer practices and lifeways necessary to adapt in order to thrive among suboptimal, deleterious, stagnant, domesticated, often isolated modern environments with dense energetics. Functional movement in nature alchemically heals as we relearn the language of the land and spiral out of old patterns, witnessing the polarities. (Just stay away from ticks!)
- While foraging, we get abundant exposure to the elements, including fresh air, sunlight and soil (whose bacteria can actually increase our intelligence levels, documented in animal studies). The movement provides health through many channels from muscular conditioning, skeletal system strengthening, and lymph circulation.
- The act of foraging can help augment/neutralise ROS signalling (reactive oxygen species, aka free radicals containing oxygen) between mitochondria and cell nucleus, critical to mitochondrial function and allowing sunlight to alter gene expression and regulate circadian rhythm. The hormetic response from the natural elements and movement also provides benefit, helping set circadian clock mechanisms, similarly to eating times and light/darkness environment. Your daytime and nighttime light environment is the biggest factor in restoring mitochondrial function, with vitamin D (only produced midday from the UVB sunlight spectrum) an important indicator in mitochondrial status. On the other hand, artificial light and filtered light (ie. through windows) disrupts the ROS in your skin cells and promotes aging. Before I went foraging, I only took gentle walks every day while waking up with an alarm at 8-9 am, but after the more intense exercise combined with the sunlight exposure from a day of foraging, I find that I wake up effortlessly around 6-7 am now (sunrise, aka optimal time to rise), and my appetite seems to have regulated itself in some way, craving simpler, bare, nutrient dense foods only around twice a day (almost “carnivore” style with medicinal herbs, fruits and veggies, during daylight hours with unintentional intermittent fasting at night). As a lifelong “night person”, it’s insane what a single day of foraging can do for mitochondrial function, but to maintain this favourable rhythm, free movement in nature must be an ongoing, consistent action throughout the seasons.
- Distinct flavour and superior nutrition unrivalled by anything commercially cultivated from a grocery store or even farmers’ market, invigorating the most boring gruel. Like humans, wild uncultivated foods (like Di Tao in the Daoist sense) benefit favourably from hormesis, overcoming stress conditions from the natural elements, and as a result, tend to be more nutrient dense, flavourful, and full of prana (the foods, I mean).
- Growing, catching, and foraging your own food is the ultimate positive act of rebellion and play
- Wild plants provide us with a mechanism of obtaining nourishment from intact ecosystems (ie. no need to clear the forests, drain wetlands, pollute watersheds, or break/till the soil).
- Increase food and personal autonomy, foster self-sufficiency and local community resilience. We get to leave our homes and enter the wild landscapes surrounding us, actively participating in and facing the circle of life, and begin to understand the need for a real connection to that which sustains us.
- It costs nothing to forage, and you can also simultaneously reap the benefits of full spectrum sunlight exposure, quantum and circadian biology, photosynthesising, distance from any cell towers, wi-fi and nnEMFs, presence of fresh air, natural movement through walking/hiking (no need for expensive, boring indoor gym memberships), and barefoot earthing if you’re in the right conditions to wear barefoot grounding sandals like Earth Runners. Most importantly, you can feel more connected and purposeful if you go foraging with real life humans you trust. Your heart will be content, your harvest will taste better. It is the medicine, regardless of your health status. And it’s fun AF. Foraging is one of the ultimate empowering, refreshing actions, and hiking feels like home. We’re returning home.
- It is a gift to be able to teach children practical skills that will benefit their health and livelihoods well into old age. Whether you’re homeschooling, raising, babysitting or setting them free, you can help introduce basic native plant literacy and foraging into their everyday skillset and increase food and health sovereignty, self-reliance, creativity, and getting your power back into your hands! Wild ramps are one of the easiest and low risk plants to forage, in my experience.
- Local wild foods are exponentially more potent because of shared microclimate and environmental stressors. The globalisation of food created more abundance, but in the process, broke the circadian rhythm aspect and rapidly depleted the soils (minerals and nutritional value) through agricultural mono-cropping. Eating foods out of season shipped from a long distance, different latitude and different bioregion, or processed, creates a circadian mismatch, an environmental mismatch between our enzymes, gut microbiome, soil, and solar/UV light information, all of which plays a role in adversely impacting digestion, metabolism, and circadian/mitochondrial alignment and restoration. If you travel a lot, be sure to seek locally grown and wild foods wherever you go in order to modulate your gut microbiome.
- Foraging can be a beautiful meditative practice. Try releasing the energy/qi/prana outwards from your body into your surroundings, visualising and extending, connecting to every blade of grass, tree branches, birds chirping, water flowing.
- Wild foraged greens are also a culinary staple in the global blue zones (thriving cultures known for longevity), such as Ikaria, Greece
Endogenous circadian system and circadian misalignment impact glucose tolerance via separate mechanisms in humans
Daily sunlight exposure reduces risk of various metabolic disorders
Melatonin prevents insulin resistance
Benefits of wild ramps
- Highly nutrient dense, chock full of chlorophyll and other phytonutrients (a nutrient used for tissue regeneration and oxygenation that also scavenges free radicals, can help balance blood sugar, accelerate wound healing, and bonds poisonous heavy metals from your body)
- Rich in antioxidants, particularly polyphenols and sulfur compounds, reducing cancer, diabetes, heart disease
- Great source of kaempferol, a polyphenol antioxidant that can help protect against heart disease and cancers and even bacterial, yeast, and viral infections
- Great source of allicin, the same sulfur compound famously known in garlic that provides antimicrobial, cholesterol lowering, and potential anticancer properties, and even protecting against blood clots. Allium vegetables, including leeks, garlic and ramps, have been shown to regulate blood pressure and protect from heart disease and stroke
- Animal studies (for all of the ethical issues with this) reveal that ramps grown in selenium enriched soil may help lower cancer rates in rats
- Lowers risk of cancer. Humans who regularly consume allium vegetables may have up to a 46% lower risk of gastric cancers than those who rarely eat them, as well as a possible lower risk of colorectal cancer
- Exceptionally high in whole food vitamin C, boosting bioavailable copper which supports antioxidant enzymes, boosts immunity, cancer protective, awesome cold remedy, facilitates tissue repair, iron absorption and collagen production with around twice the amount of vitamin C as oranges which are unsustainably shipped from afar, with less nutrient density and freshness
- Nutrient dense source of soluble fiber (prebiotics) which help work to keep your gut microbiome unstoppable. These bacteria produce short chain fatty acids, such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate, very important in healing and maintaining the gut and helping you properly absorb nutrients. Soluble fiber also forms a gel in your gut and helps regulate appetite and satiety
- Can protect brain function and reduce mental decline (promoting neurogenesis)
- Particularly high in provitamin A carotenoids including beta carotene, important for vision, immune function, reproduction, and cell communication
- Rich in thiosulfinates and cepaenes, two sulfur compounds needed for blood clotting, and can protect against some cancers, highly disease protective
- Can reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol levels: total cholesterol and LDL
- Source of vitamin K1, reduces blood clotting and improves heart health
- Source of manganese, which can reduce PMS symptoms and promote thyroid health
- Raw foods are full of live enzymes to help digest 40-60% of that particular food as well as naturally occurring structured coherent cellular water, and can be highly beneficial alongside traditionally cooked, nutritionally bioavailable foods of our ancestors
- Rich in vitamins and minerals like potassium and magnesium in perfect amounts, vitamins A, C and K, and small amounts of fiber, copper, vitamin B6, iron and folate
Please note that just because I’m writing about wild ramps doesn’t necessarily mean that YOU need them! We’re all different, and I suggest exploring things like kinesiology-based muscle checking, simple biofeedback or bodily intuition to determine whether any food, supplement or substance works for your unique bioindividuality.
How to forage wild ramps
Two main varieties of wild ramps can be found. Allium tricoccum var. tricoccum have wider leaves and red stems. Allium tricoccum var. burdickii are the narrow-leaf or white ramps.
You can identify wild ramps by their 1, 2, or 3 broad leaves measuring 1-3 ½ inches wide, and 4-12 inches long. Look for wild ramps often in patches underneath dense deciduous forest canopy in soil that’s rich with organic matter. They’re pretty easy to spot as the bright green leaves are among the first things to grow after winter. Narrow-leaf white ramps generally prefer drier woods while red-stemmed ramps prefer damper soil. To harvest, simply pick them or ideally use a knife to cleanly slice off the stem.
Avoid pesticide sprayed land, or land less than 100m from a roadway!
Avoid poisonous lookalikes: lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) with its small white flowers, and false hellebore (Veratrum genus) with wider, ridged leaves, and make sure the ramps you’re picking actually smell like onions and garlic. If unsure, just pass until you find actual ramps you’re sure about. Consult an experienced forager or multiple references, ie. books and guides, for positive identification.
It’s easy to be overzealous and pick all of the wild ramps you can find at once, but if you pick too much, you may find that you won’t go through them all fast enough. Harvesting more than you can handle will actually create more work for yourself in the long run, since the excess can easily go bad before you can get to use them and stink up your fridge. Think about the last time you bought too many greens and let them wilt and turn mushy. No, bueno. Primal living is great, but resist the urge to stockpile—it’s just not worth it.
It’s also possible to grow ramps yourself by transplanting ramps and cultivating them from seed in climates where they don’t traditionally grow (typically in warmer climates than usual). It can take some effort to germinate them but it can be done. Once you establish a good patch, little maintenance is required, and you have some easy access to ‘wild’ ramps!
Sustainability and the one leaf method
When it comes to wild ramps/leeks, the one leaf method is absolutely vital to our conservation strategy and practices, and ensures the abundance of future harvests while preserving ramp colonies. Ramps are trendy these days with fellow foragers, chefs and food connoisseurs, and overharvesting of all types of wild foods is rampant around the globe. You may have heard of greedy foragers and resellers decimating the wild ramp patches, leaving none behind, and with their growing popularity and even entire ramp festivals that occur, we must adopt the simple practice, the one leaf method.
Foraging is not regulated like hunting is, so it’s up to us to be conscious stewards of our land, conserving plant colonies for both future foraging excursions and future generations, and spraying no pesticides.
The one leaf method is simple. When you harvest: leave at least one leaf remaining on each wild ramp plant, or the forest gods will be displeased.
- Before foraging, ask yourself or the plant you’re foraging (whatever fits your beliefs) if it is ok to do so. The answer will be a subtle but powerful feeling.
- Avoid cutting and harvesting the entire plant. Be sure to leave at least one leaf left for the plant to photosynthesise and regenerate. If you come across plants that have already been half foraged with one remaining leaf, leave them and find other untouched ramps elsewhere!
- After picking, leave the rest firmly rooted, and don’t take the bottom bulb or root. This leaves 1-2 leaves to photosynthesise, as well as the root to regenerate the plant. The bulb is also unnecessary in cooking, all we want is the fresh green leaves with their chlorophyll, which taste the best and are most versatile anyway. If you insist on taking bulbs, only take a few.
Also see: the Cherokee tradition of sustainable ramp harvesting
Things I recommend for foraging wild ramps
Sharp foraging knife – A dull knife will do more harm than good, and so you’ll definitely want to use a well sharpened knife. It’ll be faster and more satisfying to get a clean cut, and you won’t end up mutilating the bulb (aka regenerative potential of the plant) from a dull blade. Make sure your blade is at least 3-4 inches long so you can easily reach the stem without disturbing the soil.
Time – As beneficial as the red/IR light from the sunset is for you and your circadian biology, the worst thing you could do is show up later in the day, after work, or after dinner when the sun is setting, forcing you to rush through and possibly damage the growth, even uprooting bulbs, before the sun sets. Don’t do that. Make it a special outing on a weekend and get there as early as you can muster so you won’t have to worry about losing daylight (plus you avoid mosquitoes and can easily see any ticks). You still get to reap the benefits of sunlight and inform your circadian rhythm, and morning light is generally safer than afternoon light, anyway. It also takes time to carefully and sustainably harvest the green parts—one leaf per plant, leaving the bulb and the last remaining leaf to regenerate. Be sure to treat nature with respect so you can come back in the future.
Backpack or shoulder bag – always good to have for storage purposes and to carry your books, guides, GPS, knife, tools, phone, hat, spring water, etc.
Foraging balm or spray to repel insects with non-toxic ingredients, such as this one, this one, or a homemade recipe.
Small shovel for anything else specific you’d like to forage (optional)
Hat – since I don’t wear sunscreen (except for a non-toxic, non-nanoparticle zinc sunscreen when necessary), I usually opt for a hat when spending longer periods of time in the sun.
Reusable bags – Try placing a few biodegradable/reusable grocery bags in a backpack, then storing your harvest in the bags to keep the dirt from getting in your backpack, preserving the integrity and crispness of the wild foods. Repurposed and washed Ziploc bags can also work and I actually prefer them as they have more structure.
Spring or reverse osmosis filtered water – ideally in a glass or stainless steel vessel rather than plastic (any kind of plastic could leach unfavourable chemicals into the water long term especially if heated, but do what you can afford as any BPA can be easily sweated out). Miron glass that only lets the sun’s rays in is a nice possibility. If using glass only, dissolving 1/2-1 tsp of magnesium chloride or magnesium glycinate and/or sea salt can provide deeper hydration and minerals (magnesium supplements react unfavourably with steel contact as the steel can leach into the magnesium solution). Anything but tap water, especially if you live in a major city.
How to enjoy wild ramps
Wild ramps are nutritious, delicious and easy to prepare, adding a strong, garlic-like flavour to most any dish you can think of. Once sustainably harvested, slice lengthwise and rinse under running filtered water, scrubbing away any dirt and sand between the layers. They can be eaten raw, blanched, poached, fried in grass finished tallow or grass fed butter, roasted, braised, boiled, and pickled. Like other edible leafy greens, the sky is truly the limit.
Refrigerate raw wild ramps for up to a week, and store any cooked ones for about two days. Store them in an unsealed bag, ideally with the leeks wrapped in organic cotton or other cloth.
Some recipe ideas:
- Finely sliced in mashed potatoes
- In mashed potatoes, on Shepherd’s pie
- Potato wild leek soup
- Potato dishes in general
- As a substitute for the flavour of green onions
- Blended up in a quick versatile pesto (my fav)—see my recipe, wild ramp pesto with dulse and walnuts
- Blended into softened butter (like garlic butter)
- Blanched or steamed like Greek horta, with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt and/or crumbled grass fed goat feta
- Pickled with other veggies
- Wilted into soups, stews, and curries
- Taco fillings
- Salads (Eating an apple or chewing parsley can mitigate any “ramp breath” and are great to add to a salad with ramps)
- Leave a comment with any suggestions below!
If you’ve tried foraging wild ramps, let me know how you liked it by leaving a comment below. Be sure to follow along for more inspiration at Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. Happy rewilding! Let’s rewild our lives, learn about the wild edible plants that can promote health and well-being, and teach our children everything we know about them.
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