Wild Leeks, Wild Foods: A greater conversation

Wild Leeks, Wild Foods: A greater conversation

written April 2014 (updated April 2015)

Here in the northern Berkshires the season of wild edibles is just beginning. And like many, I love eating wild leeks (Allium tricoccum, or ramps, ramson.) I love eating wild foods and yay for the foraging! But there is an important discussion to be had and I’m really excited that it is getting some mainstream press (finally.)  The sensitivity of the wild leek population is why the issue of how we are harvest & interact with the natural world around us is so important. Wild leeks are a good plant to look at because they have become so popular to eat. They can really bring this subject of ecological harvesting into our consciousness’.

Wild Leek Community

Wild Leek Community

“Wild leek seeds take 6 to 18 months to germinate, and the plants take 5 to 7 years to produce seeds.” [1] Wow, the beautiful details of individual plants. What this does mean on a different level, doing the math, is that if there is extensive harvesting of wild leeks they could easily become endangered. They have now been placed on United Plant Savers “To Watch” list. [2] Pair this with the developing of land & destruction of wild habitats, makes a larger impact on the future of the wild leek population. Then there is the issue of how harvesting wild leeks not only affects them, but the plant community of their surrounding habitat. One example is of blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) that is commonly found amongst wild leek stands. Blue cohosh is an At-risk plant [3] and while I don’t know of specific research being done about the harvesting of wild leeks & affects on their neighboring plants, we can only imagine what could happen if wild leek populations decline in these sensitive ecosystems.

If I do harvest any wild leeks, I harvest just the leaves from a few plants to use in a meal. So it was great to read this in The New York Times Dining article: “In Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, ramp harvesting was banned in 2004 after a study there found that the only way to prevent damage to a ramp patch was to harvest less than 10 percent once every 10 years. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has argued that its traditional way of harvesting ramps in the park, by cutting off the tips of the leaves, does not kill the plant.” [4]

Flowering Blue Cohosh

Flowering Blue Cohosh

This brings us the deeper conversation and issue of what and how we harvest, as well as the relationships we create with the natural world around us. What could it mean to move away from the paradigm of there for the taking entitlement? Can we take pause to reflect on the mutuality of our connection to nature?

 

If we are harvesting wild leeks TIPS:

1. Only harvest the leaves. (*Only 1 leaf per plant. ) DO NOT HARVEST BULB.

2. Think of how we are physically stepping into this plant community, the wild leeks, spring beauties, trillium & blue cohosh underfoot. As well as the sensitivity of the soil and leaf integrity of the ground.

3. Percentage: following the idea to harvest less then 5% of a given stand, BUT keeping in mind that maybe folks have harvested from that stand before us, or might come after us. Therefore I like the idea of Harvest for a Meal, to eat some yummy wild leeks, while keeping in mind there are lots of other spring edibles to eat.

4. Longterm: Cultivate wild leeks & help establish protected stands. United Plant Savers now has seeds.

Red Trillium & Wild Leeks

Red Trillium & Wild Leeks

Let’s think of our local plant communities as we begin the season of harvest, especially those plants at risk or endangered.

Other STEPS we can take:

1. Share wild leek information with others (i.e. their germination time, fragility of their habitat)

2. Cultivate our own wild leek patches (this will take time!)

3. Learn about other wild edibles! (Dandelions, violets, yellow dock leaves, cleavers… for yummy spring tonics.)

4. Educate those selling wild leeks. This is a really important one to me, since I’ve only ever seen stores carrying wild leeks with bulbs. Reconnecting with wild foods also means a relearning and asking these businesses to be open to dialogue. (Let them know if they have bulbs, that leaves would be preferable! We can make those changes in our local coops or farms.)

 

Wild Leeks & Blue Cohosh

Wild Leeks & Blue Cohosh

Resources:
https://www.unitedplantsavers.org/species-at-risk

 


While on the subject of spring edibles: the leaves are peeping up all over the place. We have started to collect the small dandelions, yellow dock & cleavers coming up around the field & gardens. We’ve been busy collecting twigs & bark (yellow birch, sweet birch, tag alder, willow) before the days warm and tree leaves emerge. We’ve also made time for running around playing tag, lots of good invigorating movement, and stargazing, nourishing the soul. It is the time for gentle cleansing of spring.

Dandelion

Dandelion

Cleavers

Cleavers

Violets

Violets

Wood Nettles

Wood Nettles

 

 

 

 

Burdock & Evening Primrose Roots

Burdock & Evening Primrose Roots

 

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2 Comments

  1. Melany Vorass Herrera
    May 1, 2014

    For an excellent treatment of non-native forageables, check out the book, The Front Yard Forager.

    Reply
    • atalanta
      May 1, 2014

      Yay!

      Reply

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