By Alexander Atkin
Wild leeks—also known as ramps, spring onion, ramson, and wild garlic—can be found in forests from South Carolina all the way north to where the taiga forest begins in Canada.
|The exposed bulb; oniony goodness|
Traveling the area near the southern terminus of Lake Michigan in the 17th century, French explorer René-Robert Cavelier named the area Chicago after the name given to wild leeks by the local natives. The naturalist noted the area's dense growth of the vegetable.
Foraging is a part of humanity as ancient as any other. Taking a few hours to walk in woodlands and find wild edibles is a rewarding experience, and a rare chance to reconnect to once-common traditions now nearly lost in the wake of modern civilization.
Take care to follow a reliable guide as there are sometimes poisonous mimics to certain plants and fungi. However, wild leeks have no closely resembling species, so the risk of mistakenly bringing home something else is very low. If you wish to forage on private lands, be sure to obtain permission beforehand. No wild edible is worth dodging bullets.
Lastly, take only what you and your family can reasonably consume. You may come across patches of several hundred leeks, but there are areas of the country that have known exploitation and local extinction. A good forager always leaves some behind to maintain the species and natural balance of the ecosystem.