Already this week, I’ve seen a number of Facebook posts/comments and Twitter conversations about the arrival of wild leek (or ramp) season.
I’ve got to say, folks, that I’m as excited as all of you. Ramps are versatile spring vegetables that can spruce up just about any meal. They are also the first fresh veggie that you will find each spring.
While I may be as excited as many, I may, however, also be a bit more worried.
You see, the number of local people who have become dedicated wild leek foragers has exploded over the past few years. We went from having virtually no one knowing what ramps were, to them being darlings of the spring table in both restaurants and homes.
And this is far from being just a Peterborough thing.
All across Eastern North America, people are heading into the bush in ever increasing numbers to pick these delicate members of the onion family. As a result, wherever they grow, the species is in decline. Because of over-harvesting, ramps have been named a protected species under Quebec law. Across the Eastern states, where wild leek growth is more rampant than in Canada, they have been declared “species of special concern.” Here in Ontario, there is growing concern about the plant’s ability to survive heavy harvesting.
In short: We’re foraging too many, and they are not growing back in sustainable numbers. If we are not careful, we will lose this tremendous ancient species.
Last year around this time, I spoke to local forager, Marcy Adzich of Fox Hollow Wild Edibles about sustainably foraging wild leeks. It appeared as a blog entry on MyKawartha.com, and a newspaper column in Peterborough This Week. It also includes tips on cooking with ramps, a recipe for Fiddlehead Quiche with Ramps, as well as sample menus for early spring local/seasonal eating.
Wild Leeks: Carefully Foraged Delights.
Enjoy the article. Enjoy the leeks.
And remember: Forage responsibly.
Edit: The MyKawartha.com blog has a typo. It should read:
“They can take up to 5 years to reach maturity,” explains Adzich. “Which means that even selective harvesting can take its toll. In fact, there are bans on picking them in Quebec. And major conservation issues here in Ontario.”