Well, a girl can dream can't she! It's early February, and alot of of snow is on the ground, but my half full cup says that it's almost Spring, and what this girl is dreaming about is a lovely trail ride through the woods with her favorite horse, Henry and her gathering basket, being seduced by the enticing flavour of the wild ramps that can can be found in early to mid April! Wild ramps are a seasonal vegetable, found from late March to mid May depending upon where you live. I love to use them in soups and stews, and have even been know to eat one or two of them raw with fresh sweet butter and bit of French sea salt. You'll find my favorite recipe for fresh asparagus soup (another springtime delicacy) with wild ramps over in the Spring recipe section. Wild ramps are a effective purifier for the blood, and a amazing tonic for your immune system. You'll know that you've found a patch of them when your nose picks up a spicy garlicky aroma, amid the yummy fresh greens, sweet dirt smells of spring. Just take a few of the shoots and leave plenty more, trust me, a few is all you will need because the flavour is intense! If you don't have time to go find your own, the good news is that wild ramps will have been harvested for you by many of the wonderful farmers who have booths at the outdoor markets that begin in the Spring. Our own North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square in Shaker Heights is a wonderful resource every year for absolutely wonderful wild treats!
A Few Rules About Harvesting Wild Foods!
Always make sure that you know what you are harvesting. Get a really good guide book, and if possible go with someone who knows how to distinguish between similar looking plants. Old farmers are usually a great source of information, but please leave wild mushroom harvesting to the pros!
Take a smaller amount than what you think you need and if possible gather from several different spots.
Always make sure that you have permission to gather on the land.
When you gather wild foods, make sure that you leave dirt on the roots, and keep a moist towel with you to wrap them in. I like to use cloth dishtowels, because I think that paper towels are too absorbent for the delicate roots.
Use a small hand cultivator to harvest your wild plants, and when you are choosing which plants to take, (as goofy as this may sound!) simply ask them! It's my experience that plants that are ready to be picked simply slide out of the earth more easily. If you get some real resistance, move on to the next one, and please don't pull on them so hard that they are damaged! There will always be one or two that will be happy to go home with you! A gentle tug is all that they need and then a light twist of your cultivator to help release them.
Walk gently on the earth wherever you are, and when you gather wild things please consider leaving something in return. The tradition of giving back to the earth is a very old one. I've always got something in my pocket (corn, hay, a little bit of compost) to leave as a thank you. I know it sounds silly, but for me it completes the cycle.
Picture of harvested ramps is from www.herbvideo.com
Picture of ramps in the woods from www.wild-harvest.com