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How to harvest wild leeks responsibly in the U.P.

U.S. Forest Service Seal courtesy of the Ottawa National Forest on blurred background.
U.S. Forest Service Seal courtesy of the Ottawa National Forest on blurred background.(USFS/WLUC)
Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 1:08 PM EDT
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GLADSTONE, Mich. (WLUC) - Gathering wild leeks is a favorite pastime for many people this time of year, adding a strong garlic taste to seasonal dishes.

The Hiawatha National Forest reminds visitors to help protect this native plant by harvesting responsibly.

Leeks are ephemeral, meaning that their spring leaves are only visible for a short time until the overhead canopy blocks the sunlight and the leaves wither away while the bulb remains alive underground.

Later in the summer, the same bulbs send up their distinct green shoots with white flowers. The tiny seeds within the flowers take about nine years to germinate. If a bulb is removed, the plant is gone forever, making leeks particularly vulnerable to overharvesting. To support their conservation, you can harvest leeks sustainably by following these guidelines:

  • Harvest only in small quantities from large patches. For leeks to thrive, no more than 15 percent of a population should be taken per year.
  • Rotate your harvest among several locations to ensure a recovery period of one or two years between harvests in any given area.
  • Limit ground disturbance when harvesting leek bulbs by using a tool like a “dandelion digger” or a knife so you only remove one or two bulbs from a clump. If you remove more bulbs than intended, simply replant them.
  • If harvesting leek leaves (not bulbs), snip them from individual clumps and leave a few behind to help the bulbs rebuild energy reserves.
  • Plan ahead and know which areas on the Hiawatha National Forest are closed to harvesting, including Wildernesses and Research Natural Areas.
  • Though a permit is not required, please be conscientious and harvest responsibly.

To report suspected commercial harvesting, call the Supervisor’s Office at (906) 428-5800.

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