The Ramps are Coming!

The Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are coming!! The young Ramp shoots began appearing a couple weeks ago in the Northeast and with all the rain we’ve been having, they are growing in leaps and bounds! If you’re not familiar with Ramps, they are one of the most interesting and popular wild green. A relative of the Wild Onion Grass (Allium vineale) and our cultivated Garlic (Allium sativum), Ramps possess a similar taste profile although often even more pungent.

Young Ramps (Allium tricoccum)

Ramps can be used in every place you would use a Leek, raw in salads, sauteed as a side dish, and in traditional Potato/Leek soups. Ramps appear in early spring with 2 or 3 waxy feeling, leaves that smell strongly of Onion or Garlic when bruised or crushed. They have a white, underground Leek-like bulb. I love the unique and fresh taste of wild foods and this one is a favorite for sure! But before you get to harvesting, there are a number of things to keep in mind. Continue reading for important information you won’t want to miss!

The most important thing to know above all, is the correct identification. This is true for any wild harvesting but even more so for Ramps as it has been mistaken for one of the deadliest plants in North America, American Hellebore (Veratrum viride). I personally think the two plants look vastly different, but I have encountered people who have mistaken the young American Hellebore (and even older plants) for Ramps. Below is a photo of American Hellebore. You can see the leaves are ovate with entire leaf margins. The leaves are deeply pleated and arranged spirally on stiff stems. Ramps on the other hand, have only 2 (and occasionally 3) leaves per plant, the leaves are rubbery in texture and smell strongly of Onions. Getting to know the 2 plants very well is of crucial importance before harvesting.

Young American Hellebore Shoots (Veratrum viride)
Maturing American Hellebore (Veratrum viride)
Ramps (Allium tricoccum)

Ramps were once an important Pioneer food in Spring. After having lived off food stores all winter, these lively greens would be a welcome fresh and choice edible and large festivals held over days of harvesting and preparing various Ramp dishes. Even today in the South, Ramp festivals are often held throughout the Spring months.

Ramps also possess medicinal properties related to the cardiovascular system and can be naturally lowering to blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Like many herbs in the Allium genus, they aid in increasing circulation to the heart and are beneficial to overall cardiovascular health. They have antibacterial, antifungal, and antibiotic properties killing certain pathogens directly, as well as increasing the activity of the immune system. They help to balance the intestinal flora aiding in improved digestive function. Native tribes would use the juice from the bulb for earaches.

The sustainable harvesting of Ramps are of vital importance. Given this wild green’s popularity, whole stands are often wiped out in a single season which is a travesty and completely unnecessary. Never harvest an entire stand or even 50% which is way too much. If you harvest 50% and then the next person that comes along does the same thing, soon they will all be gone. First off, you should always harvest only what you actually need spreading your harvesting around so that it’s not concentrated in any one area. One way to harvest Ramps sustainably is to never harvest the bulbs. Given that Ramps are a very slow growing perennial, often taking up to 7 years to reach maturity, harvesting the bulbs puts a tremendous strain on wild populations making it difficult for them to rebound. Given that the leaves are quite pungent, harvesting only the leaves, and only 1 leaf per plant will help to ensure the survival of this native species. Spreading your harvesting around amongst patches is another way to not put too much strain on one group of plants. Make sure to follow the life cycle of this plant to be sure to plant the seeds in the Fall.

Another one of the best ways to harvest Ramps sustainably is to grow your own patch! You’ll have the joy of watching these lovely plants growing nearby and the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping to protect a native species. A win win all the way around!


Get to Know Jewelweed for Summer Itch Relief!

Summertime is a favorite season for many people, more time outdoors, summer vacations, and parties all make for lots of fun and relaxing days but with the sweets come the sour. More time outside means more biting insects and potentially Poison Ivy rash for those outdoor enthusiasts prone to reaction to this abundant plant. Around 85% of the population will experience an allergic reaction to the oily plant compound called urushiol that is found in varying concentrations in plants in the Anacardiaceae or Cashew Family. Members of the Cashew Family include Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum), Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), Cashews (Anacardium occidental), and Mangos (Mangifera indica). The urushiol compound is an oleoresin contained within the sap of these plants that is released when the plant is bumped, bruised, or cut and can seep into the dermis of the skin upon contact causing the dreaded Poison Ivy Rash!

Enter Jewelweed! One of the best remedies I know of to combat this summertime trickster. Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is an annual member of the Balsaminaceae or Touch-Me-Not Family. In fact, one of Jewelweed’s common names is “touch-me-not” due to the spring like action of the seed pods when touched that will send seeds flying in all directions much to the delight of children and young at heart adults. Jewelweed grows in areas with good water sources, close to streams, ponds, and flood plains. It grows to heights of 3 to 5 feet with serrated, oval shaped leaves appearing opposite lower on the stem and alternate towards the top. The stems have large leaf nodes where much of the juicy anti itching compounds reside. Depending upon where the plant is located, you will find the irregular orange or yellow flowers any time between June and September. The active parts of the plant are the leaves, stems, and nodes that are best used before the plant flowers.

To use Jewelweed to stop the itch from Poison Ivy rash, other skin irritations, or mosquito bites, you can make a poultice with the leaves and juicy stems or blend up the aerial part of the plant in a blender with a little water, straining out the plant material then freezing the remaining liquid in ice cube tray so that you will have them when you need them. Jewelweed can be made into a salve, or you can purchase a Jewelweed Salve from the Green Girl Shop online. You can even use Jewelweed as a Poison Ivy rash preventative. If you happen to brush up against the plant and can find a fresh Jewelweed plant, simply break off some of the succulent stem rubbing the Jewelweed juice over the area that has come in contact with the Poison Ivy plant. You can use Jewelweed Salve in the same way and soap and cold or cool water, and a washcloth can also help to break down the plant oils.

Jewelweed has other medicinal uses beyond calming plant rashes and taking the itch out of mosquito bites. You may be surprised to learn that Jewelweed contains 2 compounds, 2-methoxy-1 and 4-napthoquinine that can be used to shrink and calm the discomfort of hemorrhoids and is used topically for fungal conditions such as athlete’s foot rash, ringworm, and dandruff. The Ojibway tribe would use the plant juice spread along the forehead to calm headache pain, for Poison Ivy rash, and hives. Although the young tender leaves can be boiled and eaten, it is not recommended to be taken internally very often due to the high selenium and calcium oxalate levels.

If you’d like to learn more about the healing plants growing all around us, be sure to check out the Classes tab for upcoming classes and sign up for the Green Girl email list!

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