Three Cornered Leek, Allium triquetrum
Three Cornered leeks, Allium triquetrum are one of the first plants I learnt to recognise and eat on my foraging adventures. They're a relatively easy one to identify are highly abundant and available for about 9 months of the year. They remain one of my favourite and most used wild foods.
Allium triquetrum goes by many names: Three cornered leek, three cornered garlic, white bluebells, wild leeks. It also gets called wild garlic a lot in my local area and is a good illustration of the confusion that can arise when using common plant names. I probably live in one of the only places in the country that doesn't have true wild garlic (Allium ursinum) growing wild, fortunately we have plenty of these to make up for it.
The whole plant is edible. From roots to flowers and they make a very versatile ingredient. The flavour tends to disappear a lot when cooked so I generally use them raw and add at the end if cooking. The leaves can be a little stringy so its also best to chop them up into bite sized chunks.
I've used the leaves in salads, fermented, to make pesto's and just chopped and sprinkled on top of dishes. My favourite and simplest way is just to chop a big handful of leaves and chuck them on a few fried eggs with chilli sauce. The flower stalks I use in the same way but they have a slightly stronger and sweeter flavour. The flowers make a great garnish. If you time it JUST right you can harvest the flower buds before they open and pickle them for a garlicky caper. The seedpods can also be harvested and are like garlic flavoured peas. At the end of the season the bulbous roots (with landowners permission) can be picked and used like a mild garlic bulb, they also taste great pickled.
The hedgerows and woodlands in my part of Cornwall (the far south) provide an abundant supply of this wonderful plant. They generally grow to about 40cm high, although I've found them up to a metre long in dense hedgerows. The flowers are white, 6 petals with green stripes on the inside. Triquetrum in Latin means three cornered and the flower stalks have three corners and a distinctive triangular cross section when cut. There are many similarities between these and poisonous bluebells or snowdrops and they often share the same habitats so be careful when picking, particularly in woodlands. The smell should seal the deal and make sure you have a positive ID, the garlicky fragrance when any part of the plant is crushed will confirm its an allium. For my first few years of foraging I only ate them in the spring when the flower stalks and flowers emerged. If you can learn to identify them from the leaf you can harvest them from about October right through the winter months. The leaf looks a lot like grass, they have a T shaped cross section, a slightly rubbery feel to them and again a garlicky smell.
They are classed as a 'Non native invasive plant'. All very scary stuff. Nature is constantly changing and evolving. Plants have and always will move as the climates and ecosystems change and new niches become available. If they arrive by sea, the wind, birds or humans it makes no difference. It often takes hundreds of years for plants to stabilise in new climates, a blink of an eye in ecological terms but something that our short sighted human brains find hard to fathom. As you might guess I'm very disillusioned with the terms. I regularly hear people telling me to 'rip them up, eat them all, it's a non-native invasive,'. For me a very negative view of a plant that I have a lot of respect for and welcome to our landscape. Thankfully the tide seems to be turning and many prominent conservations are turning their back on these outdated terms and the mindset and stories that created them (I'd highly recommend reading 'The new wild' by Fred Pearce for more on this subject) .
As I said they grow prolifically throughout Cornwall and covers the hedgerows around my area throughout the winter, providing food for us and plenty of other species and stabilising soil. Alliums don't cast much shade and many other plants grow happily amongst them. When they disappear in early summer you wouldn't even know they'd been there and I sadly have to wait a few months for their return. Due to its charming 'Non native invasive' title people sometimes feel the need to spray this plant with Glyphosate weed killer as a control method. Really not very good for you to eat so always be careful when picking plants for food and ensure the area has not been sprayed. This involves getting to know what sprayed areas look like. Knowing the area well and speaking to the people maintaining it. Personally I've never seen this happen in my area but its worth being aware of.