Our love of wild leeks (Allium ursinum, also known as ramps) led us to produce this video and to write about sustainable harvesting. The recent trendiness of wild leeks has been a wonderful thing to see as people have been integrating wild local food into their favourite meals. Unfortunately it has led to a serious decline in wild leek populations, opened the ground up for wild invasive species to move in, and has had a negative impact on the biodiversity of our local ecosystems.
Wild leeks propagated by seed take five to seven years to reach maturity (the point at which they start producing their own seeds). If the whole plant is harvested, this prevents the plant from being able to produce seeds, effectively killing the plant and its ability to reproduce. Luckily, there is a way to continue to enjoy this wild delicacy without threatening its survival. Harvest only one leaf from each plant, from only 10 percent of the plants per patch and do not take the roots. Pick only what you need - a little goes a long way. This ensures that each plant will continue to mature and bare seeds.
In this video, Courtney harvests some wild leeks and makes a delicious pasta dish, adding some dandelion roots, leaves and buds. You will notice that Courtney only takes one leaf from each wild leek plant. Furthermore, while we shot some of the scenes in public Peterborough parks, we did not harvest from these places but found a robust population on a friend's property. It is illegal to harvest plants in conservation areas for good reason, and the wild leek decline is one of these reasons. If you notice that a patch has already been foraged from, it is best to refrain from picking any more that year.
We do not normally harvest the root, but this is what the wild leek bulbs look like, for identification purposes. Wild leeks have white bulbs similar to spring onions and reddish stems that emerge from the earth separately, leading up to the long green leaves. But probably the best way to identify them is by their pungent garlicky onion smell.
Avoid the wild leek's deadly poisonous lookalike, lily of the valley. We have seen these plants grow side-by-side on more than one occasion, so make sure to pay attention. Lily of the valley have similar long green leaves, but they emerge curled around a single stem and they do not have bulbs, but have longer roots.
If you don't have access to a wild leek source, don't worry, there are many other wonderful plants available to you. Harvesting certain plants, especially invasive species can even have a beneficial impact to the ecosystem. In this video we also harvested some dandelions from Courtney’s backyard before they flowered and became bitter. At this stage of growth they added a mild and flavourful taste akin to rapini to our pasta. Dandelions are something you don't need to worry about over-harvesting. If you don't have any available where you live, you are sure to find a neighbour who would be grateful to have you take some off their hands. Maybe offer them a little taste of what you make to share the delicious gift they offer!