Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wild Leeks in Talladega

Broad-leafed wild leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) that my lab mate found in Talladega National Forest.

      I was doing some field work in Talladega National Forest and my lab mate spotted a patch of broad-leafed wild leeks (Allium ampeloprasum)*!  We improvised some digging sticks to harvest a few, but we were sure to leave some to repopulate the patch.  The digging sticks worked pretty well, and unlike shovels, they don't chop bulbs into pieces.  They also leave the soil behind so the habitat isn't disturbed as much as it is when using shovels.  The leeks were very strong and spicy when raw, but had a pleasant flavor when cooked.  None of the leeks had flowers yet, and they appeared to be actively growing, so they should be around for a little while.   Readers in more northern states should have plenty of time to find them.  However, before you go out harvesting leeks, learn how to identify them.

My portion of the harvest.  We didn't take too many because we wanted the patch to be able to repopulate.
      The easiest way to find them is by their onion-like scent.  If you are walking and you smell onions or garlic, you are probably crushing the leaves of some Allium sp. beneath your feet.  As with any plant that you suspect to be an edible Allium sp., the garlic or onion scent can also be used as an identifying characteristic.  If there is not a strong garlic or onion scent, do not eat the plant because it is probably not an onion, garlic, leek etc.  (THERE ARE SOME TOXIC PLANTS WITH BULBS THAT LOOKM SIMILAR TO ALLIUM SPECIES!  It is your responsibility to identify anything you plan on eating.  Please read my post on wild onions for more information on toxic plants with bulbs, such as the death camas.)  Our leeks were found in a sunny, moist, but well drained, area with sandy soil.  The forest consisted of mixed hardwoods and pine.  As a side note, leeks can also be found on roadsides and fields, but some of their relatives absorb heavy metals, so I wouldn't recommend harvesting leeks from industrial or urban sites.  Broad-leafed wild leeks have long, flat leaves with more width (about 3/4") than wild onions or field garlic, but less width than ramps.

An image of a whole leek.  Note the flat leaves, and round bulb.  The plant also had a strong onion-like scent.

      If you do find leeks, the bulbs should last for a fairly long time hanging in your kitchen.  Just keep them cool and dry.  You may want to eat the greens pretty soon.  I don't know if they will last as long.  Happy foraging!

Here is a shot of the leeks drying next to some mint.  I hope the leeks don't impart an onion flavor on the mint, but I don't have anywhere else to dry them.

*Note:  It is your responsibility to correctly identify any plant or fungi that you plan on eating.  Consult a local expert and/or an accurate field guide.  Do not eat any wild plant or fungus unless you are 100% sure of its identity.


  1. Cool! I love leeks. Go great in soups, or on burgers! Bon appetite!

    1. I still have some if you want any. I was thinking about trying to establish a patch, but I wouldn't be here for the harvest.