Ramps, also known as wild leeks and by their botanical name, Allium tricoccum, are edible plants that are similar to leeks in appearance and bear strong flavors of both onions and garlic. According to "Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science" by Eric Block, though ramps have always been valued as food, they became a favorite ingredient in many fine dining restaurants starting in the late 1990s. They are also valued for their rich nutritional content.
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Ramps are high in vitamin A, with a 1-cup serving satisfying 30 percent of the recommended daily value based on a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet, according to FatSecret, a nutrition information website. The National Institutes of Health identifies vitamin A as being essential to the formation of healthy teeth, bones and skin. It produces pigmentation in the retina of the eye, and promotes strong eyesight, particularly low-light vision. Vitamin A deficiency can weaken eyesight and the immune system, but you can also get too much of this vitamin; as a fat-soluble vitamin, it can accumulate in the fat cells and build up to toxic levels, where it may cause nausea and birth defects among expectant mothers.
A single serving of ramps also delivers 18 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C, according to FatSecret. Vitamin C is essential to the growth and repair mechanisms of numerous tissues, including skin, connective tissue, teeth, bones and blood vessels, according to the National Institutes of Health. It is also a powerful antioxidant, meaning that it seeks out and neutralizes free radicals, the particles that attack healthy cells and, in unchecked amounts, can bring about premature aging.
Block states that ramps are naturally rich sources of the trace mineral selenium, and that special hydroponic growth preparations using enriched soil can yield ramps with even higher concentrations of this mineral. The National Institutes of Health states that selenium's benefits are not yet completely understood, though some clinical studies have indicated that it may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. As of September 2010, major ongoing studies into this potential effect continue. Other possible benefits that have been suggested by research but remain areas of study include selenium's antioxidant effects and its use in relieving symptoms of asthma, cystic fibrosis, dandruff, hypertension and several other medical issues.
Block also notes that, like all variations of onions, ramps are good dietary sources of chromium. Chromium is an essential mineral identified by the National Institutes of Health as important to the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and insulin. It also promotes brain function by synthesizing fatty acids and cholesterol.