By Sarah Watson
The foraging season never really ends as there are always edible hardy plants to be found. Right now, the leaves of three-cornered leek (Allium triquetrum) are tender and full-flavoured. It’s more subtle than brown onions, being a little leeky, with a smidgeon of spring onion and a cheeky hint of chive. When cooked it becomes milder and sweeter, so for maximum flavour eat young leaves raw, or add them near the end of cooking and wilt briefly.
Three-cornered leek is a non-native plant appearing in hedgerows, flower beds and verges where it has naturalised in Southern England, having been introduced to the West Country in the 19th Century. An invasive plant, albeit a pretty one, it’s an offence to plant it (or otherwise cause it to grow) in the wild in the UK. Apparently it isn’t seen as a serious ecological threat, but it spreads easily (mainly via ants dispersing the seeds) and can become dominant where it grows, choking out native species, so eat it with abandon, pick the flowers, pickle the seed pods!
It’s quite easy to identify, the leaves look a bit like grass or bluebells (although bluebells are poisonous), they’re strap-like with a keel along the centre of the underside and the giveaway is the onion smell when bruised. The flower stems are triangular in cross-section, hence ‘three-cornered’, and the flowers appear in March or April, looking for all the world like white bluebells, but with a narrow green stripe down the petal centre.
As an Allium, three-cornered leek contains the goodness of onions in the sulphur compounds that can help reduce cholesterol, protect the circulatory system and which have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties; as well as containing saponins and flavonoids, potential antioxidants and anti-cancer agents.
I use the leaves like chives, spring onions or leeks – chopped in mash, blended with butter on new potatoes or steak, in a pesto, in soups and in tarts. While young and tender, the chopped leaves are great raw in salads or home-made coleslaw. The juicy edible flowers make an attractive onion-y garnish for savoury dishes and salads too. The flower buds make a pretty pickle in hot, spiced vinegar, and the seed pods pickle well too, but catch them early before the seeds harden!
Try my tasty three-cornered leek guacamole – recipe below.
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Three-cornered Leek Guacamole
I can’t get enough of fresh-flavoured, healthy guac, and three-cornered leek is a perfect ingredient for it as raw onion and garlic can overpower the delicate taste of avocado.
2 ripe avocados.
1 ripe, flavoursome tomato.
Handful well-washed three-cornered leek leaves/bulbs (2-4 tbsp).
1 fresh green chilli.
1 tbsp sour cream (optional).
Juice of half a lime.
0.5 tsp white wine vinegar.
Few dashes of tabasco.
Ground black pepper.
Finely chop the three-cornered leek and the fresh chilli. Finely dice the tomato, removing the seeds. Mash the flesh of one avocado and dice the flesh of the other.
Tip these ingredients into the bowl reserving enough chopped three-cornered leek leaves to garnish. Add the lime juice, vinegar, tabasco and sour cream (if using), mix then season with salt and pepper.
If not serving straight away, cover with cling film pressed right onto the surface of the guac (to help prevent it oxidising and going brown), and refrigerate until needed.
Serve scattered with the remaining three-cornered leek leaves, with tortilla chips or nachos, or as an ingredient in tacos or burritos.
Always use a good plant identification book when foraging and wash leaves thoroughly several times. Be careful plants have not been contaminated with chemicals.