Jamarchist Foraging #2: Ramps
Every spring my family forages for ramps together in the forest near where I grew up in the Hudson Valley. We forage and then go cook a big meal together using our bounty. It's a wonderful and rewarding tradition, and the food tastes so delicious, as though we can taste the riverbed and the joyous freshness of spring in the spicy oniony bite of the wild leeks. Because it's a ritual it has all the aspects that make rituals fun, every year is a bit different, the riverbed changes direction, the earth is more compacted after a snowy winter, and we discover new things like wild flowers that we never noticed before. This year I was aware of the spicebush bedecked in beautiful yellow flowers growing throughout the forest amidst the ramps. The bark tasted like nutmeg and cloves! I did a little research and discovered that the bush produces spiceberries during autumn apple season. They taste a bit like allspice and can be ground and used in a variety of dishes, especially in apple pie. Pioneers called this plant fever bush because a strong bark decoction makes you sweat, activating the immune system and expelling toxins. They used it for typhoid and other fevers. According to lore, Native Americans in the Northeast used a spiceberry infusion for coughs, colds, delayed menstruation, croup, and measles. They used the oil from the berries, externally, for chronic arthritis. Plus it's very pretty and looks great in a vase on my table!
There was some disparaging talk about foraging for ramps in the NY Times last week, but the rule of thumb for foraging for any wild plants is respect and minimal invasion -- take enough to feed your family and friends and maybe pickle for later when spring's glory has faded and we need to remember that fresh awakening taste.
Foraging can happen throughout the year, and although I tend to not forage for jam ingredients, it helps inspire our love of the earth and local bounty. Anarchy will release a small batch mulberry jam with locally foraged mulberries later this summer, so stay tuned....