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 seeds take 6 to 18 months to germinate, and the plants take 5 to 7 years to produce seeds.”  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.  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  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.” 
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
Let’s think of our local plant communities as we begin the season of harvest, especially those plants at risk or endangered.