Wild Leeks:

A Taste of Spring

by Linda Pascatore

Wild Leeks, late April

Wild Leeks are a sure sign of spring. They are one of the first hints of green you'll see dotting the southern slopes of hills and ravines in Western New York. We see thousands in the rich soil above the creek in our ravine, among beautiful white and red trilliums. Wild leeks don't really resemble their domestic counterparts. The plants are about 10 inches tall, with two or three broad, smooth, light green leaves. The white bulb is almost straight, narrow, and about an inch long. Both the leaves and the bulbs smell strongly like onion. The plant flowers in June or July after the leaves have died off. The flower is on a single stalk in a spoke-like white cluster. Leeks are harvested for food in the early spring when the leaves first appear.

The scientific name for Wild Leeks is Allium tricoccum, and they are also called Ramps. In fact, there is an early spring festival in West Virginia called the Ramp Romp. There's a ramp (wild leek) hunt, a dinner featuring ramp recipes, and an evening of storytelling and mountain music. Wild leeks are considered the best tasting wild food of the onion family, which includes wild onions and garlic.

To harvest leeks, you might want to wear work gloves and bring a fork or spade and a bag. Leeks don't pull up easily by hand, but tend to break off without the root, which is the part you want. They grow in clumps, so a fork works well. After you have turned up a bunch, you'll have to pull each leek out of the rich soil. When you get them home, submerge them in a sink full of water and clean them like you would clean green onions. Cut off the roots and all but three or four inches of the green tops. At this point they can be used immediately, stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for several days, or frozen to be used later.

Wild leeks will be found sometime in April and May in this area, depending on the weather conditions each year. We have only used them during this period, and find that the flavor becomes too strong by late May or early June. Although some sources report that the bulbs are good at any time throughout the year, they are certainly easier to find while the leaves are still present.

So, if you would like to try some of the first fresh wild food offered by Spring, go hunting the ravines for Wild Leeks this year. Your soul, as well as your body, will be nourished by the walk, the feel of your fingers in the dirt, and the aroma and taste of Mother Nature's gifts. We have included recipes; some from the sources listed, and some we developed ourselves.

Wild Leek Recipes
Wild Leek Sandwiches

Wild leeks

Bread, preferably crusty bread

Wash and trim roots and tops off leeks. Slice small cross sections of white bulb as you would green onions. Put pieces on buttered bread or toast to make an open faced sandwich. Warning: serious "leek breath" will result from eating these raw leek sandwiches. A local native, told us this story: When he was a boy, his teacher exiled from the classroom after he went home on his lunch hour and ate a fresh leek sandwich and returned to class with very ripe breath.

Wild Leek Soup

Wild leeks

Celery and tops, sliced

Carrots, sliced

Fresh or dried dill

2 or 3 tablespoons oil


Soy sauce or miso to taste

Wash and slice leeks. In a large pot, saute leeks, celery, carrots and dill in oil. Add water and potatoes and cook until vegetables are tender. Strain out a portion of the vegetables. Mash or blend vegetables until smooth, then return to the soup pot. Season with soy sauce or miso. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pickled Leeks

Wild leeks bulbs



Clean and peel bulbs. Pack the peeled bulbs into a jar, cover them with 2 parts vinegar to 1 part water and seal them. After 3 weeks they are ready to make a meal prepared from leftovers taste like a feast. Stalking the Wild Asparagus, by Euell Gibbons, David McKay Co, New York, 1969.

Baked Sugar and Spice Leeks

4 cups leeks

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 tablespoons melted butter

1/2 cup chopped pecans or black walnuts

Pinch of ground dried ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay the leeks in a shallow pan or skillet, add boiling water to barely cover them, and salt to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and place into a buttered 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Mix brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter. Add nuts. Sprinkle mixture over and between leeks in baking dish. Bake 20 to 30 minutes, or until heated through, and sprinkle with ginger before serving. Serves 8. Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook, by Billy Joe Tatum, Workman Publishing Co: New York, 1976.

Wild Leeks with Apples

During coon and possum hunting time this recipe comes to mind, for it's delicious with those meats. If you don't have wild meat, this would be a fine accompaniment for a fresh pork roast.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cups wild leek bulbs

6 cooking apples

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons sugar

Thinly slice wild leeks. Peel, cut and quarter apples. Pour oil into a skillet and fry leeks over medium heat till tender. Add apples, salt, and sugar. Cover and steam for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little water if necessary to keep from sticking. Serve hot. Serves 6. Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook, by Billy Joe Tatum, Workman Publishing Co: New York, 1976.

Glazed Wild Leeks

This is a particularly good side dish to serve with barbecued trout or broiled fish of any kind.

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups wild leek bulbs

Boiled leeks till tender in salted water and drained well. Heat the wine, sugar, and butter in a heavy skillet until sugar has dissolved. Add leeks. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until onions are glazed to a golden-yellow color. Serve hot. Serves 4. Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook, by Billy Joe Tatum, Workman Publishing Co: New York, 1976.