Some of you are probably asking "Can we just sign these wild leeks up for an account on ancestry.com and get on with it?" I hear ya! Back to the alliums. There are around 30 cultivated plants in the allium genus including onion, garlic, scallion, leek, chive and more. They are all perennial herbs with garlic scented leaves and bulbs. Leeks in particular are pretty hardy plants that can be found in most regions of the globe. Historically they have been revered by many cultures, dating all the way back to 4,000+ years ago with the Egyptians. To learn more about their history, uses, and cultivation, check out this document that presents an informative run-down of the stars in the allium genus. Allium tricoccum is especially significant to those of us in the Chicago region because it is the very plant that gave our city its name. The local Miami Indian tribe named the region Chicagoua because of the abundance of smelly wild leeks that inhabited the southern banks of Lake Michigan.
Just like the Egyptians before them, many American Indian tribes valued leeks for their nutritional value and early spring emergence when food sources were depleted from the previous winter. European settlers also utilized these plants, often incorporating them into health tonics (maybe leek tonic was the original "kale smoothie"). That leads us to present day when A. tricoccum is amongst one of the most popular wild foods for foragers and foodies across States and Canada. Because wild leeks are a slow growing and bulbous species that take up to five years to reach reproductive maturity (i.e. the ability to produce seeds), wild populations are threatened due to over-harvesting and habitat destruction. Many regions, especially in the Eastern United States, have restrictions on harvesting and reselling. What can we do to help wild leek populations and can we still harvest these tasty aromatic plants? The most important actions we can take are following sustainable harvesting practices and planting your own cluster of leeks if your property has the plant's optimal growing conditions (shade and moist, well-drained soils with a neutral pH). There are many guides to harvesting and growing online, such as this awesome post from the Wild Muskoka Botanicals blog that details everything from responsible harvesting, recipes, buyer's guides, and more.