My Great Aunt Macie, a native West Virginian, and I excitedly discovered a few years ago that we both enjoy harvesting ramps (wild leeks). In her strong southern drawl, she shared a story in which she arose before dawn to walk the Appalachian hills with her mama to harvest ramps before the heat of the day set in over the leafless deciduous forest. In springtime, they lived off of foraged wilds and in the fall, apple pie. The twinkle in her eye expressed her joy, and her description clarified that her family respected the land and foraged in a way which considered future generations of subsistence foragers.
I believe it's still incredibly important to harvest the wild plants we choose to harvest with ethics and integrity, often this means we leave them in place, untouched.
When harvesting ramps, I like to follow some rules of sustainable & ethical harvest. They're sort of a mish-mash of discreet considerations that have come my way from many teachers -human, plant, animal and spirit-along the years of wild crafting.
I was once taught to harvest the entire plant - but these days, where I live, there are so many of us asking for a little bit of these emerald beauties, that it's clearly appropriate to only harvest the above ground parts, and leave the roots to grow again for future years.
Rules of Sustainable Harvest:
Know what you're harvesting.
Ask permission first. Wait. Listen for the answer. Don't take it if you don't feel a yes-- in your heart, not your head.
Rule of 10. Count 10 for every 1 you'd like to harvest.
Take only what you can use.
Give thanks. A song, a prayer, a hair from your head, a little cornmeal, some tobacco and a quiet moment. Be thankful.
Be sure the plants you are harvesting are not endangered, or on the UpS "at risk" or "to watch" lists. Not all plants are in abundance enough to be harvested in the wild. Often, we assume because there is a large stand of some plant near us, that it is plentiful enough to wild harvest.
Go slowly with wisdom
Snip the leaves above the ground at the stems. Leave the bulb and root in the ground. Harvest from the bottom of the stand of leeks, since they seed in the fall by throwing their seeds down the hill.
I was not the only one to visit this patch of abundance in the recent days. This little pot, left behind, reminds me to step lightly, for many visit this patch of ramps.
Small harvest: enough for dinner and breakfast. Thank you, thank you.