1. Identify Sea Leeks

How to Identify Sea Leek

Copyright Dan Massey

Edible

Scientific Name: Allium ampeloprasum

Family: Amaryllidaceae

Also known as: Wild Leek, Sea Leeks

Habitat: It is thought to have been introduced to Britain, and is fairly uncommon so should only be picked if a large patch is found. It likes sandy or stony seaside locations, often on old field boundaries, hedges or ditches, in South West England and Wales.

Description: Allium ampeloprasum is a BIENNIAL. The thick ‘stem’ is actually a tightly wrapped bundle of leaves springing from a bulbous base, from which the ends of the leaves curve out. The small pink flowers are arranged in a globe shape on a taller smooth stem. 

Identifying Features:

Leaves – The leaves are long and strap-like, wrapped tightly around the thick stem. They look identical to a garden leek, just not as fat as the ones you’ll see in the supermarket.

Flowers – The flowers are small, star shaped and pink, emerging from a papery sheatharound the onion-shaped bud  and bursting out on their stems to form the round firework shape typical of all its allium cousins.

Stems – The flower stems are thick, smooth and round, growing up to 1m tall. They emerge from the leek part of the plant, which it whitish green and faintly striped like its larger garden relatives. 

The whole plant smells strongly of onion

Uses for Sea Leeks

Food

Allium Ampeloprasum is thought to be the wild ancestor of our garden leeks, elephant garlic, Persian leek and kurrat or Egyptian leek. So it can be used in all the ways you would use a cultivated variety, raw or cooked. The leaves become tougher as they get older so may be discarded if they’re past their best, but the scapes are good well into winter-time. The flowers are also edible raw and look lovely sprinkled on salads. 

Medicine

The plant has all the same medicinal uses as Garlic, but just not as strong. The whole plant is antifungal, antibacterial so has been used to dress wounds and treat fungal and bacterial infections on any part of the body. Consuming it regularly is thought to be good for the heart, and is an important element of the ‘mediterranean diet’.   The whole plant is also said to be insect repellant 

Known hazards

None known in humans, but may be somewhat toxic to dogs

Harvesting

Appears in early spring. It is in flower from June to September.

Potential lookalikes

Wild Leek, or any garden variety of Leek – all are equally edible. There are many other kinds of ornamental Alliums that could have escaped from gardens, but they don’t have the characteristic leek shaped stem

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