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Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America

A Complete Wild Food Guide

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Allium canadense - The Wild Onion. (Clarence A. Rechenthin, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)


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Ramps/Wild Leeks in the woods. (By: Fungus Guy CC BY-SA 3.0)


Allium canadense, known as Wild Onion, Meadow Garlic, Canadian Garlic, Wild Garlic and Canada Onion

Season: Spring & Summer

Urban, Rural or Both: Both

With this one, there is a mild caution and a serious caution. Mild Caution: Only eat moderate amounts, as regular, high consumption interferes with iodine absorption by the thyroid gland leading to health issues. If you have thyroid issues, I'd suggest occasional and small amounts, or passing this one by.

Serious caution: Since there are poisonous plants that can look similar, the first thing you need to make sure of is that it smells like onion or garlic or a combination of the two. If not or are unsure, don't chance it, as the poisonous plants in this family don't have the onion/garlic like smell. By the way, the onion like smell from the leaves is much stronger than from the flowers, so the best way is to pick a part of a leaf, crush it a little and sniff.

All parts of the plant are edible. The leaves (and flowers) can be used raw or cooked like you would use onion or garlic. Due to the size of the plant and bulb, I find the best way to use it, is pick the whole plant, wash, cut off the roots, peel the skin from the bulb and use the whole plant chopped up in any kind of cooking you would normally use onion or garlic, or serve raw whole as a snack, or chopped up in a salad. The bulb can be fairly deep in some cases - up to 10-15 cm (4 to 6 inches) under the surface of the ground. Not much else I can say about using it really, the important thing is getting the identification right.

They look like clumps of grass when not in flower - each leaf looks like a tall blade of grass.

When the plant sends up stems to flower in the spring, the first thing you see on each stem is a single flower bud top that appears to be covered by a thin, green to white, papery skin. Next, the paper like cover peels away revealing what look like (and are) smaller than pencil eraser sized onions on the stem. These little bulbs can vary in color from almost white, to greenish while, the purplish, to white with dull purple stripes. Some of them sprout a long thin leaf. Next, the actual flowers pop up from between these baby Wild Onions on stems, and when most of them are in flower, the cluster of flowers forms a dome shape. Next, when the flowers are done, the little Wild Onions dry up with a papery cover (think garlic) and fall, to hopefully get planted and start new plants of their own. So, depending on what time of year you see them, what is on the stalk can look quite different. Look at pictures with the pictures links below.

Growing this plant in your home garden:

For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Wild Onion, Wild Garlic page.


Description:

Range of Allium canadense, known as Wild Onion, Meadow Garlic, Canadian Garlic, Wild Garlic and Canada Onion. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


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Allium canadense - The Wild Onion. (By: George F Mayfield Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)


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The little bulbs that can be planted. (Steve Hurst, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)


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Drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 1: 499)


Allium tricoccum, known as Ramp, Ramps, Wild Leek, Wild Garlic, Wood Leek, Spring Onion

Season: Early Spring

Urban, Rural or Both: Rural mainly - in woods

This is the better of the two Alliums, however this one has an issue as well - it is becoming rare in some places due to over harvesting, as it is one of the more popular wild foods. So first off, you may not find it where you live. In Ontario where I am, it is becoming harder to find. If you do find it, go easy with the amount you harvest, and make sure it is legal to harvest where you are thinking of gathering it. The traditional Cherokee way of harvesting them, to not damage the patch of Ramps, is to just harvest the top part of the leaves. This allows the plant to live on and produce more seeds, and leaves for next year. This is the way I harvest them now when (and if) I find some. Just take a third off of one leaf per plant (scissors are best for this). This has a great secondary advantage: no dirt to deal with. However, if you do know of large patches, and you only harvest small amounts, the bulb can be harvested year round, unlike the leaves which are only to be found in the early spring.

You need to be careful identifying this plant as there are plants that are very similar looking that are quite poisonous - like Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), which now is naturalized in parts of eastern North America. The gathering of this wild food creates many poisonings each year from misidentification. The Ramp leaves smell strongly of an onion/garlic scent, so to be sure, tear off a bit of leaf, crush it a little and sniff. If the odor of onion/garlic is strong, you have the right plant. However, if you are not sure, don't chance it. When the leaves are not in season, and you dig up a bulb, scrape it a little and see if it has the garlic/onion smell. If you are not absolutely sure, don't eat them.

The colors are a help in identifying as well. When you have the whole plant dug up in early spring, it has three colors in sections that transition from one to another. The leaves are green, the bulb is white, while the central stalk is a purple to burgundy color. The purple burgundy color goes up the central vein on the leaf from partway to most of the length of the leaf. Sometimes the color is obvious, sometimes less so. Most often, the purple burgundy color goes up into the very bottom of the full width of the leaf as well. When in the ground, you see the purple burgundy starting from the ground, then the color transition area, and the green leaf.

Whereas the Allium canadense listed above likes full sun, this plant prefers moist woods with partial to full shade. In the spring, the wide leaves come up, then die back. After than, in later June to Mid July, flowers will come up.

The whole plant is edible. The leaves are good to eat either raw or cooked. The flavor is like the names would indicate - an onion, garlic & leek like taste. You can use the leaves raw or cooked. The flavor is strong, but not hot. Because the flavor is strong, you don't need that much, so only harvest a little.

Use the bulbs like you would use garlic, not like you would use onion. In other words, more for flavor than bulk. The taste, although not hot and pungent, is strong enough that a little goes a long way.

The bulbs can be harvested most of the season, but the leaves, or the leaves and bulbs together can only be harvested in early spring - later April and early May. Once the leaves come out fully on the trees in the woods where the plant is growing, the leaves on the Ramp will begin to die off. The leaves are gone by the time the flower opens.

Growing this plant in your home garden:

For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Ramps page.


Description:

Range of Allium tricoccum, known as Ramp, Ramps, Wild Leek, Wild Garlic, Wood Leek, Spring Onion. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


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Flower in early spring. (By: Fritzflohrreynolds CC BY-SA 3.0)


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Mature seeds. (By: Nadiatalent CC BY-SA 3.0)


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This picture shows Ramps in their environment. (By: Hardyplants)


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This picture of a bunch of Ramps purchased at a market shows the transition of color from the green leaf to the reddish mid-section to the white bulbs. (By: Ɱ Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)


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Drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 1: 497)





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