Appalachia Appalachian Food Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

A Mess of Ramps


“A Mess of Ramps—Kimsey Creek” by John Parris

Burton Bumgarner will tell you, with the faith of a true believer, that ramps are the best thing in the world for warding off a cold.

“If you’ll eat ’em along through the winter,” he said, “you’ll never have a cold. That’s always been my experience. My wife’s, too.

Last winter, when just about everybody we know come down with a cold or the flu, we wasn’t bothered at all. We might have sneezed a time or two, but that was all. We ate ramps winterlong. Had twenty-two messes.”

Every year about this  time, when the stinkingest vegetable known to man gets ripe and tender, Bumgarner gets out his mattock and four sack and heads back into the high, cool hills to dig ramps.

His favorite spot is here in the wild and rugged Nantahala Mountains whose rich, damp covers produce ramps by the thousands. He calls it “a ramp-digger’s heaven”.

And this week found him here with his mattock and flower sack. “I always dig enough ramps to tide me over the winter,” he said. “We put’em in plastic bags or jars and keep ’em in the freezer. They’re as tender as if they just come out of the patch.”

He paused, straightened up from his digging, and let his eyes walk trough the ramp filled cove.

“I love to go to the ramp patch better than anybody I know,” he said. “I’ve been digging e’m since I was big enough to lift a mattock. I reckon I was no more than 10 years old when I dug my first ones. I’m now 64 and a few months. ”


It’s been a good long while since The Deer Hunter dug any ramps. Papaw Tony usually gives us some and like Bumgarner we store them in a jar in the freezer until we’re ready to cook them up in a big pan of fried taters.


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  • Reply
    Ray Presley
    March 5, 2021 at 8:12 pm

    Love ramps and remember them well. We lived less than twenty miles from the Smokies, and often in the spring we’d pile into a pickup truck from Sunday church, go to the smokies, eat a big bunch of ramps straight from the ground, get back for evening church, stinking up the whole place.

  • Reply
    April 10, 2019 at 7:20 pm

    I wonder if the plants that folks in England call “wild garlic” that they gather and eat in the Spring is the same or related to ramps? Now I’ll have to start digging around for the Latin names or I’ll always be wondering 🙂

  • Reply
    April 9, 2019 at 6:12 pm

    I love this site. Just wish I lived closer. I’ll be at your class in a hot minute.
    Keep up the good work.

  • Reply
    William Thomas
    April 9, 2019 at 9:26 am

    I get mine on buck creek or standing indian. Only grows on north side of mtn

  • Reply
    April 8, 2019 at 10:38 pm

    Ramps ? Now that is a new word for me…. got to google that to see what you are talking about :)…. wild onions? ,we have some sort of wild onions growing in the yard, but since anyone wouldn’t wish to disclose where they are, it must be something more, so google here I come , I enjoy the learning though.

    • Reply
      Sanford McKinney
      August 16, 2021 at 7:15 am

      They are definitely not wild onions. Perhaps from the same family of plants? I can never remember seeing a wild onion grow where ramps grow. A friend and I were on the Appalachian Trail searching for ramps and ran into a lady from England and actually got her to try one of the ramps. Ramps are pretty “hot” if eaten alone and I think she was distracted away from the taste because of the unexpected heat she experienced.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 8, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    Miss Cindy got me curious since I have heard “mess” all my life. The New Oxford America Dictionary says, in part,

    “origin Middle English: from Old French mes ‘portion of food,’ from late Latin missum ‘something put on the table,’ past participle of mittere ‘send, put.’ The original sense was ‘a serving of food,’ also ‘a serving of liquid or pulpy food,’ And then from pulpy food came all the other meanings it seems.

  • Reply
    April 8, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    So how do you cook them? Leaves and bulb? There must be some recipes out there?
    Thank you all.

    • Reply
      April 8, 2019 at 6:55 pm

      Pat-mostly folks use the bulb portion, but you can eat the leaves too. A quick google will show you all sorts of ways to use ramps. We use them as we would use onions-fried in potatoes, scrambled in eggs, or raw with soup beans and cornbread 🙂

  • Reply
    April 8, 2019 at 11:12 am

    A mess = a big gob.

    • Reply
      April 10, 2019 at 9:32 pm

      …or a whole bunch…

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 8, 2019 at 10:40 am

    So, if ramps can be kept through the winter in the freezer, does that mean onions and/or garlic and/or leeks can be kept that way? It would seem to me it should.

    No ramps anywhere near here. Wished I lived closer to where they are.

  • Reply
    April 8, 2019 at 10:29 am

    I’m with Ed. One meal and keeps infected neighbors away for a while, and works good to break up a livingroom jam session also. I’ll stick with odorless elderberry.

  • Reply
    April 8, 2019 at 9:15 am

    I had never heard of ramps until I read about them on here. Mom knew and picked every edible plant that grew in the hills of Eastern KY. Ramps must not grow there or she would have gathered every one within walking distance of our house.

    • Reply
      aw griff
      April 8, 2019 at 12:05 pm

      Shirl, ramps are very scattered in I gather them in Elliot Co. KY. There is a high hill where the ramps start at the top and run all the way to the creek. There is a couple places in Boyd Co. KY. where they grow but the lady who knows where they are won’t tell anyone.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    April 8, 2019 at 8:50 am

    I like em. I only know where one native patch of ramps are in although I’ve heard of other patches. I transplanted some to the family farm about 20 yrs. ago on the shady side of the hill and now there are hundreds of them. I also transplanted ramps to where I live and they haven’t done well on my sunny side of the hill.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 8, 2019 at 8:31 am

    A mess of ramps! How did it come to be called a mess. Ramp lovers should object to their beloved wild onions being called a mess. I never quite understood a mess. Ramps are a fine thing especially in the early spring.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      April 8, 2019 at 4:55 pm

      Here is Merriam Webster’s first two definitions for the word mess

      1 : a quantity of food:
      A: archaic : food set on a table at one time
      B : a prepared dish of soft food
      also : a mixture of ingredients cooked or eaten together
      C : enough food of a specified kind for a dish or a meal
      2 A : a group of persons who regularly take their meals together
      also : a meal so taken
      B : a place where meals are regularly served to a group : MESS HALL

      1: C is what we use when describing a mess of ramps.
      The last definition refers to soldiers and members of the military. Their mess better not be a mess!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 8, 2019 at 8:17 am

    I don’t think ramps have any medicinal properties. They just keep sick people far enough away that you don’t catch their germs.

    Caveat: For all the haters, the preceding was spoken in jest!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 8, 2019 at 7:19 am

    I think there is ample evidence ramps are good fir respitory ailments. My mother used them

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