Wild Leeks/ Ramps: Reflections on Harvesting & Entitlement

Posted by Atalanta Sunguroff on

(Article from April, 2013) Written from a white perspective:

Ramp photos (text: Question harvest entitlement & privilege)

(Shown above: wild leeks coming up through leafy forest floor in the sunshine, text: Question harvest entitlement & privilege)


Here goes my yearly reminder regarding Wild Leek/ Ramp harvest. While they are not the only at-risk or endangered plant to be harvested, I think it is extremely important to address how & why they are harvested as it correlates to harvest entitlement that is often paired with white settler mentality & private property ownership. The most important piece here is that ramp bulbs should never be harvested. If the plant is harvested, it should only be one leaf per plant. And locally people can really advocate at the stores/markets that do carry ramps with bulbs around proper harvesting. 

I often take the route of discussing the re-learning of harvesting techniques & the botanical aspects of ramps. This means I can break it down botanically so that people can have an understanding of how long it takes for ramps to reproduce & therefore highlight why we must change harvesting practices. It takes an individual ramp plant 5 to 7 years to produce seed & then that seed can take 6 months to 1.5 years to germinate. Doing the math, even if someone is truly only harvesting 10% of a stand, it is still not sustainable to that plant community. Simultaneously, wild leeks grow amongst trillium, blue cohosh, trout lily & other sensitive plant sweeties. All of these plants are effected when an area is dug. This is then compounded with the deforestation & destruction of wild habitats. We should be doing our upmost to not disturb native plant communities & instead respect and protect them. And here again, is where I think entitlement in wild foraging should deeply be held at the center of this conversation.

An argument I often hear when kindly talking to a farmer or store owner about ramp harvesting with bulbs is they are harvested "sustainably" and on "private property." In my experience, when someone responds to me in this way, the conversation often gets pretty aggressive on their side with no opportunity to discuss even the botanical instability of ramp bulb harvest. This is one area where it ventures into white entitlement/ settler mentality both in ownership of land & therefore what grows on it. These plants are often sold under the label of "sustainably harvested," which again shows that an integral piece to this is dismantling the paradigm of land ownership & harvest entitlement. 

A steep hillside filled with flowering red trilliums & wild leeksBlue cohosh flowering

(Above are 4 photos some of ramps community members: trillium, trout lily, spring beauty & blue cohosh.)


If we are harvesting ramps TIPS:

1. Only harvest the leaves. ONE leaf per plant. (Never both!)

2. Think of how we are physically stepping into this plant community, the wild leeks, spring beauties, blue cohosh & others underfoot. As well as the sensitivity of the soil & leaf integrity of the ground.

3. Percentage: Following the idea to harvest less than 5-10% of a given stand, BUT keeping in mind that maybe folks have harvested from that stand before us, or might come after us. Therefore I like the idea of Harvest for a Meal, to eat some wild leeks, while keeping in mind there are lots of other spring edibles to eat as well.

4. Longterm: Cultivate wild leeks & help establish protected stands. One can buy bulbs or seeds to grow.

5. If bought: Please only buy ramps that don't have bulbs, buy cultivated, not wild harvested. (Regardless, the buying/selling is still very controversial in my opinion. Hey, capitalism.)

(Shown above: wild leeks in the spring sunshine on a cliff, trees & mountains in the background, text: Ramps take 5-7 years to produce seeds & 6 mns to 1.5 years to germinate = 5.5 - 8.5 years to make a baby)


Instead of harvesting wild Ramps TIPS:

1. Cultivate or buy cultivated wild leeks/ ramps.

2. Harvest or buy other available spring edibles such as: japanese knotweed shoots, oxeye daisy, chives, nettles, garlic mustard, ground ivy, daylily, dandelion leaves, etc. 

Oxeye DaisyGarlic ChivesWild MustardJapanese Knotweed

(Shown above: some spring edible alternatives to wild leeks: oxeye daisy, chives, garlic mustard & japanese knotweed)


Other STEPS we can take:

1. Share wild leek/ ramp information with others (i.e. their germination time, balance of their habitat)

2. Cultivate our own wild leek/ ramp patches

3. Learn about other wild edibles! (Dandelions, violets, yellow dock leaves, daylily, etc. are all yummy spring tonics.)

4. Educate those selling wild leeks (Let them know if they have bulbs, that leaves would be preferable! We can make these changes in our local coops, farms or farmers markets.)

Wild leek leaves & seedsWild ramp patch by a riverWild leek patch with trout lily, blue cohosh & red trilliumramps/ wild leeks is mossy forest

(Above shown: 4 different ramp communities that we visit. The first photo shows an example of what their seeds look like.)


Let’s think of our local plant communities as we begin the season of harvest, especially those plants at risk or endangered. As well, as keeping in mind how, what & why we harvest is paired with harvest entitlement/privilege for those of us who are white. The plant world gives endless opportunities for us to learn & re-learn so many intricacies. 


(Above shown: snuggling red trilliums after a spring rain. Did you know trilliums live to be about 60 years old?)

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