[ FORAGING ]
Wild Leeks: A Wild Food Rock Star
If you know anything about wild edible plants, chances are you know about
wild leeks. Also known as ramps, the wild leek (Allium tricoccum) is a rock
star among wild foods. Festivals celebrate its distinctive flavor, and it is
served at the world’s finest restaurants.
In early spring, wild leeks grow pairs or trios of smooth, glossy-
green, parallel-veined leaves. But the best field mark for
telling wild leeks from other plants is their scent, perhaps
best described as a cross between garlic and onion.
Despite their ready identification, it can take
time to find wild leeks in the Northeast.
First, wild leeks live invisible, underground lives for much of the
growing season. They are
spring ephemerals – plants
[ NATURALLY CURIOUS ]
Black bear cubs are born in late January or February, weighing
about eight ounces. The mother has six teats, and the newborn
cubs crawl to the ones closest to her pelvis. Later, as the cubs
get older, they nurse from the other four, and the mother often
“switches off” production in the bottom two. At birth, black bear
cubs weigh one-half to three-quarters of a pound, and when they
emerge from the den in April, they average about six pounds.
Most hibernating mammals are not pregnant. The fact that
black bear cubs are born in late January or February, and that the
mother bear nurses them for two or three months while she is not
eating or drinking, is phenomenal in and of itself – just ask any
ravenous, nursing human mother.
Milk production and intake increases fourfold after the cubs
emerge from the den. At peak lactation in June and July, a black
bear cub consumes about 30 ounces of milk per day. If a bear has
two or three cubs, that means she must produce nearly two to
three quarts of milk per day. The milk of black bears is very rich:
human and cow milk is about three to five percent fat, while a
black bear’s milk is around 20 to 25 percent fat. At roughly six to
eight months of age, black bear cubs are weaned.
Thanks to researcher Ben Kilham for this photo op.
— Mary Holland
that grow for a few short weeks in the spring sunlight that reaches the forest
floor before the canopy leafs out. Second, wild leeks are picky about their
habitat. They like rich, well-drained but moist soils. In the Northeast, this
means that they are often restricted to calcium-rich rock outcroppings that
run adjacent to brooks or streams. Finally, wild leeks are slow to reproduce
and are susceptible to overharvest. Most foragers harvest wild leeks by the
shovelful, unearthing whole clumps of leeks right down to the roots and then
discarding everything but the bulbs. This kind of harvesting is one of the
reasons that wild leek has been designated a species of special concern
in places like Maine, Rhode Island, and Quebec.
Wild leeks can be harvested sustainably. People have done so
for thousands of years. But care must be taken so that future foragers
can continue that long tradition. Harvest your own wild leeks rather than
buying them from a restaurant or at a festival, where sustainable practices