Also known as wild leek, ramp shares family ties with both garlic and onion, bearing the odor of the former and the taste of the latter. Still a virtual unknown in the produce section, ramp’s claim to fame is its contribution to the name of one of America’s largest cities. 17th-century French explorers knew present day Chicago as Chicagou, an adaptation of the native word shikaakwa. This Indian term for the ramp was well applied to the site on the shores of Lake Michigan where the nation’s tallest building (Sears Tower) would one day rise, as there the pungent vegetable grew in quantity. Ramps grow in groups that are strongly rooted just beneath the soil’s surface.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
Ramps were considered the first greens of the year, their nutrients helping to bring people from a greens-and-fruits-deficient winter into a new season of growth. Natives and pioneers rubbed the crushed bulb on insect stings to bring relief. A tea was brewed from the bulb to help induce vomiting where a strong but safe emetic was called for. The warmed juice of the leaf and bulb was applied externally in cases of earache. Ramp was also used for colds and croup to serve as an effective green medicine. Ramp juice repels moths, and the entire plant is disagreeable to many insect species as well as to moles.
ABOUT THE HERB
Ramp is a perennial found across the eastern half of North America, from the latitude occupied by South Carolina running north into Canada. It is an early spring vegetable, and its presence in some places like northern Illinois is taken as an indicator that the original woodland flora in the area is still intact. Elsewhere, an introduced species—garlic mustard—can literally overshadow ramp’s basal leaves during spring, causing this vegetable to decline in numbers. Ramp’s light green leaves are broad and smooth, with a hint of deep purple or burgundy gracing the lower stems. The stalk and bulb are similar to the scallion, and the pollen and nectar draw honeybees and bumblebees to its flowers.
An Appalachian treat brings potatoes, pinto beans, ramps and cornbread together. Raw or cooked, the ramp does double duty by adding the taste of garlic and onion to your favorite dishes. Discover this tasty salad ingredient that was “hiding” in plain sight all along!