Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Invisible, Special. The Ramp

For this Month's Blog Party on spring greens, Hosted by the lovely Darcey of Blue Turtle Botanicals, I'm highlighting Ramps: Allium tricoccum.

I've been internally dancing between these two very primal, indelible needs. The need to be invisible; the natural disposition of the human in a vast world, of the mother serving child, of the changeable human nature in a society that wants identity. Novelty becomes novelty. The name, the choices of smell, of visual reference, of color and vocation, they all anchor who you are. Who you are attracts the right audience. Your whole brand become an essential player in what you believe and what kind of life you want for yourself. Your life, way of life, becomes a spell cast unto the universe.

In the forest, somewhere between the spell of trees and water, are the common novelty of a two-leafed spicy personality. A small, crisp underground bulb stalks upward into one purple stem, then into the green linear veins in each leaf. The tips of the leaves reach to a fairy towering height of about 6 to eight inches. Pressure on the leaf reveals it's mouth watering aroma of Grandma in the kitchen sauteing garlic and onion. An eyeballs scan of the mature ramps lends itself to a healthy harvest of this delicate yet intensely satisfying spring green. Pushing my thumb into the cool wet soil, I can begin to wiggle free the bulb, and with a slight angle and a little prayer, they click out like a trimmed fingernail. Some might tell you they want to grow another year - severing itself like a legless eel and offering only their green tops for eats. Ha ha they snicker! Good for next year. Some root themselves passionately between rock and tree root, making for either simple or impossible harvest. The lessons abound in each tug of oniony hope. Some release so easily you think the world is at your fingertips. Some so stubborn your head gets big and bossy. But the basket filling up with our next meal, remind us of gratitude while gathering abundance. Of hard work and reward. Of natural bounty at Mother Earth's breast.

In an invisible moment in the forest, I've filled my arms with these wild leeks. I know that in a couple weeks they will be on their way to making seeds for next years crop. I take a moment to inhale their pungent, cleansing aroma. The green, almost plantain-shaped flags glint and twinkle in the tree broken breeze. I take in the scene of neighboring Hellebore, Bloodroot leaves, of sun filtering hemlock boughs and brainy morels. The air is so honeysuckle sweet I almost can't fathom it all. I know that within a short walk, the nettles flourish, the chickweed plays, and the motherworts stand watch. The world is bountiful when ramps are found. They like that. They like to play invisible, even though they are novelty. A delicacy, really, yet unassuming and celebratory they come, filling up the forest floor in a mischievous rampage.

Embracing the paradox, the ramp tells us about being special yet invisible, unique without greed. It reminds us of seasonality, of abundance, and of versatility. Potato leek soup, leek omelette's, a chiffonade over salad, a ramp smothered pasta, are just a few of the myriad ways they can be enjoyed. Any show where your leeks, garlic, or onions would play an important roll, ramps are a well rehearsed and stunning understudy.

Your liver will thank you. Your blood and lymph will cheer. Your taste buds will be delighted. And if you have a cold, forget it. Chicken-ramp soup will knock it out in no time. Ramps freeze too, if your looking to extend your pleasure even longer. The entire plant is used, bulb stem and leaf. chop it all up for your recipe. But don't miss out. Ramps grow all over the North and Southeast U.S., and upwards into Canada. If your lucky enough to live in Tenessee or West Virginia, you can participate in one of their traditional Ramp Festivals. Or you can gather together and have your own!


Alchemille said...

You made me wish that we had some ramps growing around here, which is unfortunately not the case.
I've been attempting to grow bear's garlic (allium ursinum) from seeds without any success so far. Bear's garlic also have lots of medicinal uses, many of which shared with ramps and I believe the allium family in general...

Yarrow said...

What a beautifully poetic description. My mouth is watering and living in Tennessee, I am wondering how and where I can get my hands on some of those. Thanks.

Hedgewitch said...

so glad to have found your wonderful blog .. look forward to visiting!

The Plant Whisperer said...

Alchemille - I imagine it quite different, trying to plant garlic or onions where you are since the cycle of seasons is so different.
Good luck!
Yarrow, thanks! I'm sure if you google 'ramp festival. Tennesee' you'll find something!Or just scour the woods near wet areas :)
Hedgewitch - welcome!!