How to Harvest Wild Onions
This article comes from honest-food.net
by Hank Shaw
Ramps, wild onions, wild garlic. These are some of our best wild foods come springtime.
More than 100 species of wild alliums call North America home — allium being the genus covering both onions and garlic — but it is the Eastern ramp, Allium tricoccum, that has been all the rage among chefs for years. They’ve become so popular I even see chefs here in California using them with abandon; no native ramp grows within 2,000 miles of San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Locavore issues aside, perhaps the trendiest thing about ramps right now is to bemoan their over harvest.
Is this happening? Certainly, in some places. I’ve seen some startling before and after photos. But most professional foragers I know harvest the same patches of ramps every year — and some of these folks have been picking for 30 years. They know, as well as any good farmer, that you don’t eat your seed corn. The sustainability of any bulb, corm, root or rhizome harvest all hinges on how you pick the plant. Here’s how you do it.
First and foremost, you must find your onions. Ramps are showy onions with large, wide leaves. They’re pretty easy to spot, especially in Eastern woodlands, where they can literally carpet the forest floor for acres. Most wild onions are not so easily located, although one, the invasive three-cornered leek of California and Oregon, A. triquetrum, is almost as gaudy as the ramp.
There’s an onion for pretty much every environment, from deserts to forests to streamsides to lawns to high above the treeline in Alpine meadows. My favorite is the dusky onion, A. campanulatum, which is common in the mountains from California to British Columbia. Onions, being bulb plants, send up grasslike shoots first. This can be as early as January in the Bay Area for the three-cornered leek, to mid-July for Alpine onions. Onions, in general, like to live in large troops: It’s weird to find just one onion.