Chuck Kleine Published

Allium burdickii, The Other Ramp

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The Narrow-leaf Ramp (Allium burdickii)
Chuck Kleine

If you’re from Canada, the eastern United States, or Appalachia, you’re probably very familiar with a local forest delicacy – the wild onion species of Allium triccocum – best known as ramps. From church hall pot-lucks to outdoor festivals, the wild ramp is widely celebrated this time of year.

But not much is known about a related species of the edible ramp, a species called the Narrow-Leaved Leek, or Allium burdickii. And this lesser known plant is often misidentified.

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Eric Burkhart
Narrow-leaf ramp

Eric Burkhart, Ph.D., is Associate Teaching Professor of Ecosystem Science and Management at Penn State University and Program Director of Appalachian Botany and Ethnobotany at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. Burkhart is leading a team of researchers in a study of the lesser known plant at various sites in Pennsylvania.

They point out that the Narrow-Leaved Leek (Allium burdickii) has a much stronger scent, even unpleasant, when compared to the variety of ramp (Allium triccocum) we harvest, cook and consume. They’re much smaller plants with more narrow leaves, and the stems are always green.The Allium tricoccum, in contrast, has broader leaves and the stems can be either green or red.

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Eric Burkhart
The red and green stems of the common broad leaf ramp (Allium tricoccum)

Burkhart also notes the flower-heads of these plants are shaped differently. The broad leaf ramp has a round snow-ball shaped flower head when in bloom. The Narrow-Leaved Leek has a V- shaped flower head, and much fewer blooms.

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Eric Burkhart
Flowering inflorescence of the common ramp
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Eric Burkhart
Narrow-leaved ramp during its flowering stage showing its V shape inflorescence

The UP researchers will attempt to learn an array of distinguishing traits between the two varieties of plants. They’re growing their sample plants side-by-side in common garden sites, so comparisons will be made under identical environmental conditions. They’ll document the DNA of the 2 species, and test their phytochemistry (which are chemicals derived from plants).

Since documentation on Allium burdickii is so sporadic and there have been so few studies to date, Burkhart says we should not assume it is edible and we should not attempt to harvest it.

EDIBLE MOUNTAIN – Allium burdickii The Other Ramp