It's a special time of year in Ontario; the hardwood forest floor is coming alive with some quintessential foliage that leaves us all thinking spring. My absolute favourite are the trilliums (Ontario's provincial flower), but you can't eat those! As for edible, the coveted wild leek is in season now – you can find them growing in clusters in the deep woods and their garlic odour is unmistakable.
Wild Leek (also known as Ramps) is a member of the Allium family, and a close relative of onions, garlic and farmed leeks. Ramps are a sort of hybrid between scallions and garlic, and the flavour is more intense than normal leeks. Locavore chefs love the flavour infusion these woodland vegetables bring to dishes – they really are tasty with anything!
Wild leeks, as a member of the Allium family, contain high amounts of sulphur containing polyphenols (allicin being one of them), which accounts for numerous healthful properties. Allicin is well known as an effective anti-microbial and immune stimulant (hence why you have seen Garlic extracts sold over-the-counter in health food stores and pharmacies). I often recommend allicin extracts and onion-family veggies to help treat colds/flus, respiratory ailments, sinusitis, and yeast infections. In addition to allicin, leeks contain high amounts of a flavanoid called kaempferol. This compound is known for its cardiovascular benefits; as it may prevent the oxidative stress on blood vessels in conditions like atherosclerosis and diabetes.
Leeks are an excellent source of Vitamin K (touted as an important factor in bone health), Vitamin A and the active form of folic acid. Folic acid is also an important factor in cardiovascular health, as the vitamin along with B12, helps to lower homocysteine levels which are linked to increased risk of heart attack & stroke. Lastly – leeks contain high amounts of quercitin, good news for those with seasonal allergies this time of year! Quercitin helps to decrease histamine release – so load up on these little veggies while they are in season - just don't forget some mints or parsley to help with the garlic breath....
Bronwyn Hill, ND, is a Naturopathic Doctor currently in private practice in Toronto's Forest Hill community and in Mississauga. She has an eclectic family practice with a special interest in Women's Health & Pediatrics, asthma & respiratory conditions, and detoxification. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @drbronwynnd. For more information on her practice, www.mahayaforesthill.com .