Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Adventures in foraging....Wild Leek Edition


Three years ago, a family friend showed up where to go and how to pick wild leeks.  It was such an amazing experience that we've continued going each year since.  I can't tell you where we go....or I'll have to kill you.  Seriously.  Its a well guarded secret location. 

This was the first year I noticed WHY its such a well guarded location.  The leek crop seems to be less and less.  When I discussed this with my hubbie, we talked about how the conditions were substantially wetter than previous years.  That could be a factor as to why there are less leeks on the hillside than before.  I read an article in Reader's Digest about the foraging phenomenon.  The article discussed the fact that in Quebec, you are no longer allowed to legally pick leeks.  Its actually against the law now, the leek population was in such decline.  We try to leave at least one leek per bunch, just to keep out little secret place going year after year. 

I thought I would blog about our trip this year...so you all know what to look for and what to do with them!


Bug protection, long pants, and a bunch of bags.  Thats really all there is to it.   The time of season you get to pick leeks are when the black flies are at their worst and when the mosquitos are just starting to suck blood.  Its not an ideal time for humans in the woods, but its definitely prime for leeks.  The kids always get the bug jackets...just for convenience sake.  If this is your first time picking, you may not want to look this dorky....but trust me...its WELL worth the one-time expense.  Bug spray is key as well.  Sturdy shoes for hiking in the woods are also helpful and proctect your ankles from pesky bug bites.

Owen sports the latest in leek picking fashion

You'll want to look in an area where you can see trillium flowers.  You know, those white, pink or purple flowers you CAN'T pick?  Yeah, those areas in the woods where the canopy of maples and birch stretch tall and the forest floor is covered with dark mulchy leaf matter. 

Look for broad leaved plants with a small crimson flower bud (as shown below).  I think leeks disguise themselves as trilliums, as I think that's what I always mistook them for.


Brush the leave matter away from the base of the plant...shown below...

Sink your fingers right into the soil...you'll feel some bulb like things under there.  If its too early in the spring, the bulbs will be deeper.  The later on in the season, the closer to the surface you'll find the bulbs!

The earth is loose and moist, so it should be no trouble at all.  Sometimes, we've found leeks growing out from under thick roots or big rocks.  Those we tend to leave behind.  Its not worth the struggle when there are ususally so many more readily available leeks nearby.


Another telltale sign you've been picking leaks is the smell.  Shortly after you pull a few wild leeks, you'll start to notice a distinct garlic aroma around you.  You'll wonder if someone just started cooking a fantastic Italian meal right there in the woods.  Its amazing really!  We always bring snacks on our foraging trips, mainly to keep the kids busy when the thrill of digging in the dirt has worn off, but sometimes its because WE get hungry smelling the lovely garlic! 

A gorgeous bag of leeks ready to come home with us!

One of the big surprises this year was finding my first Morel mushroom!  I've never come across one in the wild, but I've done lots of reading about them in hopes that someday I might.  I was so excited!  Its like finding treasure!  (The gold colour helps with the illusion)  My step son was wondering why I was so stoked over a weird looking thing I grabbed out of the dirt.   When I explained that they are expensive in stores because they are so hard to find...his eyebrows went up!  When I told him I'd never seen one in the wild in all my 35 years on this earth...his whole face changed.   Thats when he stopped leek picking and started his adventures in morel hunting.  (hunting...like they're going to get away on you or something)


When you get these leeks home, be sure to soak them in cool water.  Snip off the green ends and the root base.  We composted our greens and discovered that our compost bin has never smelled better!

Fresh wild leeks ready for picking and the freezer

I really enjoy taking my kids out on excursions like this.  Its truly an experience I appreciate, coming from a childhood in the city myself.  Exploring the woods is always a good thing, even in an urban environment.  Once you discover the hidden treasures the forest has to offer, you'll never look at it quite the same.

At one point, during our picking session, I noticed Owen became very quite.  I looked around to see what he was up to.  I was suddenly struck by how serene he was.  He was standing on a fallen tree, looking out into the wooded valley.  I could hear a million spring birds.  I could smell the lushness of the forest.  I could hear chimunks, squirrels and other critters telling each other about our presence.  No planes, no cars, no sirens.  It was divine. 

I could tell that Owen was soaking up every second of it.

Next post - the wild and gathered spring feast - BBQ'd chicken breast with fresh asparagus and fried leeks and morel mushrooms.


  1. Sounds awesome. I feel like going leek hunting right now. My dad would always go to his secret location too for leeks. He also did mushroom hunting too. Be careful the false morel bare striking resemblance to the edible morel but is extremely toxic.

  2. The greens of the ramps are the best part! We cut them up and put them in any savory dish: biscuits, soups, pasta sauces, pasta, pot pies. They freeze really well, to. Harvesting just the aromatic greens also keeps the plant alive, while harvesting the bulb kills the entire plant, which is why your patch is disappearing. It takes a bulb 7 years to grow to maturity and reproduce another bulb underground. In spring, gather the greens.