Beneath the last crusts of snow, ramps were already pushing up through the dark soil. Native to our moist woods and forested fens, the wild leek (allium tricoccum) is one of the first foods available to Spring foragers and one of my favorites. This patch is growing in the cool shadow of our neighbor's garage on our side of the property line in our shady wildflower garden, and there are enough of them now to divide a few of those shallot-sized tubers and whip up a wild leek chutney, or a chestnut leek stuffing for butterflied pork, or an omelet filling with next month's morels. The leaves are just as edible, and delicious in a salad of spring greens or diced as a topping for corn chowder or baked potato. I tell you, friend, ramps are nature's way of replenishing body and soul after winter's famine. The get the juices flowing.
Never mind that the odor of ramps' breathe would give raw garlic a run for its money, or that it lingers long after the feast is through. Ramp festivals or "Stink Fests" are popular throughout the eastern states, particularly along the spine of the Appalachians where ramps grow wild in great drifts below the newly greening trees. Ramps have long been used medicinally to treat bee stings, as a digestive and as a Spring tonic. There are even claims that "two people who eat leeks together will fall in love. It is said to protect against evil and the biting of leeks breaks hexes." Which would explain why my dear wife has stayed with me all these years, though I am more partial to ramps than she. Keeps the skeeters away, too.
The leaves are ephemeral but are soon replaced by an umbral of flowers. They are a market ready wild food and can be harvested sustainably by division of the bulbs. I have scattered their seeds and established new patches, though they take several years to mature. In Vermont they know them by the Abenaki name "Winooski", but to those in the know around here, they are the first of many wild pleasures to be enjoyed before the snows of winter settle in once more.