Ramps and dandelions
It’s time for … ramps and dandelions!
It’s May. The spring rains have made the grass turn green, daffodils are blooming. So is forsythia, shadbush, trout lilies, spring beauties. Dandelion greens are abundant — pick them while they’re tender; when the flowers bloom golden, they become bitter. Ramps are showing on wooded hillsides.
Ramps (allium tricoccum) are wild onions that grow in rich forest soil. They’re often found coming up in deciduous forests of oak or beech. These vernal greens belong to the large lily family, which includes more than 300 species. Garlic, onion, shallot and chives are in this family; so are wildflowers like the wood lily and trout lily, which often grow in the same woods.
The long, lance-shaped leaf and reddish stem, as well as the distinct onion scent, help identify them. We cut the leaves and leave the bulbs and roots in the ground to grow.
These first greens of spring are high in vitamin A and C, lutein, and minerals like magnesium, calcium and selenium. They have diuretic, laxative and antiseptic properties, and contain the cholesterol-reducing compounds found in other alliums, as well as prostaglandin A1, a fatty acid known to be therapeutic in the treatment of hypertension. Native Americans used ramps to treat coughs and colds. They made a poultice from the juice of the bulbs to alleviate the pain and itching of bee stings.
The common dandelion (taraxacum officinalis) is the king of wild greens. Now considered unwelcome weeds, they were brought from Europe by the colonists as a food crop. That’s because the dandelion is a superfood — its medicinal qualities have been part of folk medicine for millennia. The roots and leaves of dandelion have been used medicinally to treat digestive problems like constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain and weak digestion. They’ve also been used for liver, gallbladder, and kidney problems, anemia, acne, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Today, dandelions are a major ingredient of liver cleanse formulas, because the herb helps to break down fats and stimulates the flow of bile from the liver to the gallbladder. As a diuretic, they’re important to kidney health. Scientific studies are testing dandelion’s anti-cancer properties. The International Journal of Oncology published a clinical study showing the positive effects of dandelion leaf tea on breast cancer cells.
Both ramps and dandelions are good mixed into all types of salads — green salads, grain salads, pasta salads, potato salads, egg salads. Both add flavor to soups and pasta dishes. And both are good with egg dishes, like omelets, frittatas and quiche.
Potato Soup with Dandelions and Ramps
2 cups diced potatoes
1 or 2 stalks celery
1 small parsnip
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (homemade or store-bought)
Few grains allspice
3-4 slices bacon (or 2 Tablespoons butter)
1 cup chopped ramps (including green leaves)
1 or 2 cups fresh dandelion greens
1 cup milk or cream
1 Tablespoon flour
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup fresh minced parsley
Peel and dice potatoes and vegetables. Cook in broth with allspice and bay leaf until tender.
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, fry bacon until crisp. Set aside on paper towels to drain. Add ramps and dandelion greens to the skillet; fry on medium-low heat 2 – 3 minutes or until wilted. (For vegetarian version, cook ramps in butter). Remove and add to the pot with the potatoes.
Add flour to bacon fat in skillet, and stir to blend. Stir in milk, whisking until blended. Mash potatoes or blend with an immersion blender; stir in contents of skillet. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with reserved crumbled bacon, croutons, and fresh parsley.
Serves 2- 3.
Dandelion Ramp Frittata
2 slices bacon
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 1/2 cups dandelion greens, shredded
1/2 cup ramp leaves, sliced thin
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon water
Salt and pepper to taste (I use about 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper)
1 Tablespoon shredded sharp cheese, like Cheddar or Parmesan (optional)
Cook bacon until crisp; remove and drain on paper towels. Add mushrooms to the drippings, and cook for about 5 minutes. Add dandelions and ramps. Cook until greens are wilted, about 2 minutes.
Beat eggs with remaining ingredients. Pour over greens in skillet and turn the pan to coat evenly. Cover and cook on low until done – you may have to put under broiler to cook the top. Sprinkle top with cheese. Serve with reserved bacon and boiled parslied potatoes (or other potatoes like hash browns) for supper, or with toast for breakfast.
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Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Words Are My World.