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Few flowered leek, wild garlic

Allium paradoxum

This time of year, the banks of our waterways are covered in a wonderful variety of tasty greens.  From February through May, entire swaths of that juicy green carpet consist of thousands of plants of Allium paradoxum/few flowered leek which, with its narrow leaves, looks like grass when it just emerges in February (though its pungent garlic aroma will give it away, even at that stage).  At maturity, the leaves are up to 30cm long, and bear some similarity to the leaves of the English Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta, hispanica, and massartiana) which are growing among them and are only just beginning to bloom.  Since Bluebells are considered somewhat toxic in all parts, containing potentially harmful glycosides and alkaloids, take care when collecting your wild garlic leaves, paying attention to scent and feel as well as looking for visual differences.  Bluebell leaves are more glossy on the back, have a harder texture, and often omit a slimy sap which, once upon a time, was used as glue.  Allium paradoxum has a watery sap, a brighter green, a softer texture, and of course, an unmistakable, delicious, garlic smell.  Of course their flowers, bells and stalks, look quite different and make it easy to tell the plants, seen on their own, apart.  

Allium paradoxum is my favourite early spring edible around Edinburgh.  There are so many delicious things to make with it: oil, pesto, soup, pickled bulbils, lactofermented leaves, spinach, scones, quiche, flatbreads...from February to May, there is no need to ever buy spring onions, garlic, leeks, onions, or chives-few flowered leek makes an excellent substitute for any of them, and can be eaten raw or cooked.  Best of all:  it is a non-native invasive species that was introduced to Scotland in 1863 and has since spread across the northern UK, so harvesting it may even benefit the native Wild Garlic, Allium ursinum , with which it is competing for habitat.  If you take a walk near a waterway or in a damp wood, keep your eyes out for this excellent early spring vegetable.

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