Ever since I started out on my botanical journey of Cherokee plants, many people have asked questions about “ramp” or wild leeks. I must confess that I have never seen ramps in the wild. The above photo was taken by staff from North Carolina State University. All though ramps grow in the Georgia mountains, you will not see them in the Atlanta area. They prefer growing in higher elevations the in rich moist soil in diciduous forests. Ramp is a member of the Allium family which is also includes wild onions and wild garlic. Wild onions have very slender hallow leaves but ramps have flat lance-shaped leaves.
Ramps finds it native home in eastern North America from Nova Scotia down through Georgia and west to Iowa. Despite this wide range, the ramp is commonly referred to as an Appalachian vegetable. It was well documented that it was an important food source for the Cherokee. Historically they were gathered in the wild and not cultivated. According to United Plant Savers ramps are a slow growing perennial, and they are at risk of losing entire populations due to over harvest. They estimate that it could take 150 years for a population of ramps to recover when they are over harvested. Ramps take 7 years to reproduce by seed, and only approximately 5% of those seeds sprout after a germination period of up to two years.
The Cherokee would eat the young leaves in early spring. These young leaves are high in vitamins and other nutrients. The Cherokee would boil or fry the leaves as a vegetables. They would also eat the leaves to treat colds and also as a spring tonic.