Allium tricoccum

The name wild leek can also refer to Allium ampeloprasum, a species native to Europe. The name spring onion can also refer to scallions.
Allium tricoccum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Amaryllidaceae
Subfamily: Allioideae
Tribe: Allieae
Genus: Allium
Species: A. tricoccum
Binomial name
Allium tricoccum
Ait. 1789 not Blanco 1837[1]
 photo of sign for deep fried ramps and Mason Dixon Ramp Fest in Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania
Advertisement at Mason-Dixon Ramp Fest in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania, in 2010.

Allium tricoccum (commonly known as ramp, ramps, spring onion, ramson, wild leek, wood leek, and wild garlic)[2] is a North American species of wild onion widespread across eastern Canada and the eastern United States.[1] Many of these English names are used for other Allium species, particularly Allium ursinum.


Allium tricoccum is a bulb-forming perennial with broad, smooth, light green leaves, often with deep purple or burgundy tints on the lower stems, and a scallion-like stalk and bulb. Both the white lower leaf stalks and the broad green leaves are edible. The flower stalk appears after the leaves have died back, unlike the similar Allium ursinum, in which leaves and flowers can be seen at the same time. Ramps grow in close groups strongly rooted just beneath the surface of the soil.[3]


Allium tricoccum was first named in 1789 by the Scottish botanist William Aiton, in Hortus Kewensis, a catalog of plants cultivated in London's Kew botanic garden. The species had been introduced to Britain in 1770. The specific epithet tricoccum refers to the possession of three seeds.[4]


As of May 2014, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families accepts two varieties:[5]

This treatment is followed by other sources (e.g. the Flora of North America),[6] although the two taxa are sometimes treated as two species, Allium tricoccum and Allium burdickii.[7] A. tricoccum var. burdickii was first described by Clarence Robert Hanes in 1953; the epithet burdickii is in honor of Dr. J.H. Burdick who pointed out differences between what were then regarded as different "races" in letters to Asa Gray.[8] The variety was raised to a full species by Almut Gutter Jones in 1979.

The two varieties are distinguished by several features.[6] A. tricoccum var. tricoccum is generally larger than A. tricoccum var. burdickii: the bulbs are larger, the leaves are usually 5–9 cm (2.0–3.5 in) wide rather than 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 in) wide and the umbels typically have 30–50 flowers rather than 12–18. Additionally, the leaf stalks (petioles) and leaf sheaths are usually purplish in var. tricoccum and white in var. burdickii. The leaves of var. burdickii also have less distinct stalks than those of var. tricoccum.


Allium tricoccum growing in its natural woodland environment.

In Canada, ramps are considered rare delicacies. Since the growth of ramps is not as widespread as in Appalachia and because of destructive human practices, ramps are a threatened species in Quebec. Allium tricoccum is a protected species under Quebec legislation. A person may have ramps in his or her possession outside the plant's natural environment, or may harvest it for the purposes of personal consumption in an annual quantity not exceeding 50 bulbs or 50 plants, provided those activities do not take place in a park within the meaning of the National Parks Act. The protected status also prohibits any commercial transactions of ramps; this prevents restaurants from serving ramps as is done in the United States. Failure to comply with these laws is punishable by a fine.[9] However, the law does not always stop poachers, who find a ready market across the border in Ontario (especially in the Ottawa area), where ramps may be legally harvested and sold.[10]

Ramps are considered a species of "special concern" for conservation in Maine, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.[11] They are also considered "commercially exploited" in Tennessee. Ramp festivals may encourage harvest in unsustainable quantities.

Common name

According to West Virginia University botanist Earl L. Core, the widespread use in southern Appalachia of the term "ramps" (as opposed to "wild leek" which is used elsewhere in the United States) derives from Old English:

The name ramps (usually plural) is one of the many dialectical variants of the English word ramson, a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), a broad-leaved species of garlic much cultivated and eaten in salads, a plant related to our American species. The Anglo-Saxon ancestor of ramson was hramsa, and ramson was the Old English plural, the –n being retained as in oxen, children, etc. The word is cognate with rams, in German, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian, and with the Greek kromuon, garlic [...]. Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary (1904) lists as variants rame, ramp, ramps, rams, ramsden, ramsey, ramsh, ramsies, ramsy, rommy, and roms, mostly from northern England and Scotland.[12]

Culinary uses and festivals

Allium tricoccum is popular in the cuisines of the rural uplands of its native region. It is regarded as an early spring vegetable with a strong garlic-like odor and a pronounced onion flavor.[13] Ramps also have a growing popularity in restaurants throughout North America.[14][15][16]

The plant's flavor, a combination of onions and strong garlic,[17][18][19] is adaptable to numerous cooking styles. In central Appalachia, ramps are most commonly fried with potatoes in bacon fat or scrambled with eggs and served with bacon, pinto beans and cornbread. Ramps can also be pickled or used in soups and other foods in place of onions and garlic.

History and folklore

Chicago received its name from a dense growth of ramps near Lake Michigan in Illinois Country observed in the 17th century. The Chicago River was referred to by the plant's indigenous name, according to explorer Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, and by his comrade, the naturalist and diarist Henri Joutel.[13] The plant, called shikaakwa (chicagou) in the language of local native tribes, was once thought to be Allium cernuum, the nodding wild onion, but research in the early 1990s showed the correct plant was the ramp.[13][28]

The ramp has strong associations with the folklore of the central Appalachian Mountains. Fascination and humor have fixated on the plant's extreme pungency. Jim Comstock, editor and co-owner of the Richwood News Leader, introduced ramp juice into the printer's ink of one issue as a practical joke,[29] invoking the ire of the U.S. Postmaster General.[30]

The inhabitants of Appalachia have long celebrated spring with the arrival of the ramp, believing it to be a tonic capable of warding off many winter ailments. Indeed, ramp's vitamin and mineral content did bolster the health of people who went without many green vegetables during the winter.[31]

Native American ethnobotany


The Menominee,[32] Cherokee,[33][34][35] Iroquois,[36] Potawatomi[37] and Ojibwa[37] all consume the plant in their traditional cuisines.

Medicinal use

The Cherokee also eat the plant as a spring tonic, for colds and for croup. They also use the warm juice for earaches.[34] The Ojibwa use a decoction as a quick-acting emetic.[38] The Iroquois also a decoction of the root to treat worms in children, and they also use the decoction as a spring tonic to "clean you out".[39]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 "Allium tricoccum". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  2. "Allium tricoccum information from NPGS/GRIN". USDA GRIN Taxonomy. 23 January 2007. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  3. "Cultivation of Ramps". North Carolina State University. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
  4. Aiton, William (1789). Hortus Kewensis. 1. Hortus Kewensis vol 1, page 428
  5. "Search for Allium tricoccum". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  6. 1 2 McNeal Jr., Dale W. & Jacobsen, T.D. "Allium tricoccum". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee. Flora of North America (online). Retrieved 21 August 2016.
  7. "ITIS Standard Report Page: Allium burdickii". Retrieved 21 August 2016.
  8. "Allium tricoccum". Retrieved 21 August 2016.
  9. "Regulation respecting threatened or vulnerable plant species and their habitats". Gazette officielle. Éditeur officiel du Québec. 1 May 2014. Retrieved 19 May 2014.
  10. "Garlic lovers answer the call of the wild". Globe and Mail. 21 May 2007. Retrieved 19 May 2014.
  11. "NRCS: USDA Plants Profile and map: A. tricoccum". USDA. Retrieved 19 May 2014.
  12. Core, Earl L. (15 April 1973). "Cult of the Ramp Eaters". Charleston Gazette-Mail. Reprinted in the same author's book: Core, Earl L. (1975). The Wondrous Year: West Virginia Through the Seasons. Grantsville, West Virginia: Seneca Books. pp. 46–51.
  13. 1 2 3 Zeldes, Leah A. (5 April 2010). "Ramping up: Chicago by any other name would smell as sweet". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
  14. Hugh Merwin (23 April 2013). "How Ramps Became Spring's Most Popular, and Divisive, Ingredient". Grubstreet. Retrieved 21 August 2016.
  15. Adam Martin (20 April 2012). "Cult of Ramps Begins Worship Season Early". The Wire. Retrieved 21 August 2016.
  16. William Porter (23 April 2014). "Ramps: How to cook and where to find this savory spring treat". Denver Post. Archived from the original on 26 April 2014. Retrieved 21 August 2016.
  17. Block, Eric (2010). Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science. Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry. ISBN 978-0-85404-190-9.
  18. Davies, Dilys (1992). Alliums: The Ornamental Onions. Portland: Timber Press.
  19. Woodward, Penny (1996). Garlic and Friends: The History, Growth and Use of Edible Alliums. South Melbourne: Hyland House.
  20. "Ramp Festivals, Feast of the Ramson Ramps". Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  21. "Ramps & Rails Festival". West Virginia Department of Commerce. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  22. "Cosby Ramp Festival". Tennessee Vacation. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  23. "Flag Pond, Unicoi County, Tennessee". Retrieved 26 October 2011.
  24. "Whitetop Mountain Ramp Festival". Grayson County, VA website. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  25. Core 1975, p. 51.
  26. "The Wild Ramp". 5 August 2016. Retrieved 21 August 2016.
  27. Rebekah Pewitt (18 April 2015). "Stink Fest Brings Big Crowds to the Huntington's West End". Retrieved 21 August 2016.
  28. Swenson, John F. (Winter 1991). "Chicago: Meaning of the Name and Location of Pre-1800 European Settlements". Early Chicago. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  29. Miller, Tom D. (5 October 2012). "Jim Comstock". West Virginia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  30. "Ramps in the Ink". Goldenseal. 20: 23. Winter 1994. Comstock had been inspired by the scratch-and-sniff advertising for perfume and coffee in several local papers. The issue in question announced the Richwood Ramp Supper by lacing the printer's ink for the spring issue with ramp juice. According to Comstock, "We got a reprimand from the Postmaster General ... And we are probably the only paper in the United States that's under oath to the federal government not to smell bad".
  31. Davis, Jeanine M.; Greenfield, Jacqulyn. "Cultivating Ramps: Wild Leeks of Appalachia". Purdue University. Archived from the original on 10 May 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
  32. Smith, Huron H. 1923 Ethnobotany of the Menomini Indians. Bulletin of the Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee 4:1-174 (p. 69
  33. Witthoft, John 1977 Cherokee Indian Use of Potherbs. Journal of Cherokee Studies 2(2):250-255 (p. 251)
  34. 1 2 Hamel, Paul B. and Mary U. Chiltoskey 1975 Cherokee Plants and Their Uses -- A 400 Year History. Sylva, N.C. Herald Publishing Co. (p. 52)
  35. Perry, Myra Jean 1975 Food Use of "Wild" Plants by Cherokee Indians. The University of Tennessee, M.S. Thesis (p. 47)
  36. Waugh, F. W. 1916 Iroquis Foods and Food Preparation. Ottawa. Canada Department of Mines (p. 118)
  37. 1 2 Smith, Huron H. 1933 Ethnobotany of the Forest Potawatomi Indians. Bulletin of the Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee 7:1-230 (p. 104)
  38. Densmore, Frances 1928 Uses of Plants by the Chippewa Indians. SI-BAE Annual Report #44:273-379 (p. 346)
  39. Herrick, James William 1977 Iroquois Medical Botany. State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis (p. 281)

Further reading

External links

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