When "locavore" became the word of the year in 2007, it put the entire local food movement on the map. Locavores are people who prefer to eat locally grown and produced foods. Spring is a particularly exciting time for local foodies as the first spring greens arise.
Ramps are one of those amazing foods that make the list. These wild leeks are members of the allium (or onion) family and native to North America. You can find them in the Eastern deciduous forests as far north in Canada and down into North Carolina and Tennessee from about mid-April to mid-May.
In recent years they have become a culinary darling making a starring appearance on many menus featuring local food. You might have seen ramp butter, ramp pesto or even pickled ramps.
“Wild leeks posses a unique taste like a cross between a strong scallion, garlic, and leek with nuances not found elsewhere, hence their culinary appeal,” wrote Lawrence Davis-Hollander, an ethnobotanist, former director and founder of the Eastern Native Seed Conservancy, in a recent article for the Organic Consumers Association.
But this recent demand in culinary circles as well as at wild food festivals and farmers markets across the country is threatening the plant populations and disturbing the wild forests where they grow.
In 2011 it is estimated at least 2 million plants will be harvested, according to Davis-Hollander. Some of the negative results of over-harvesting ramps include habitat disturbance, increased vulnerability to invasive plants and reduced sustainability of the plant.
While both the bulb and the leaf can be eaten, he recommended that one of the best ways to preserve this spring forageable is to stick to eating the leaves. Do not purchase whole plants from markets or order dishes containing ramp bulbs.
Davis-Hollander encouraged all consumers to speak up and tell your local restaurants and markets to sell only the leaves.
With more than 6,000 farmers' markets nationwide (a 250 percent increase since 1994), consumers can enjoy so much more fresh, local food. But the story of the ramp is a good reminder to stay educated about the foods you eat.
And don’t forget to eat a variety of local spring greens such as dandelion, stinging nettles, pea shoots and asparagus.
Suzanne Boothby is a Brooklyn-based wellness writer, certified health coach and co-founder of New York Family Wellness. Visit www.suzanneboothby.com to learn more.