Perennial Sweet Leek

Onions form a large genus of about 700 species of mostly strong-smelling, bulbous or rhizomatous biennials and perennials. Alliums are native to the northern hemisphere, Ethiopia, S Africa, and Mexico, and vary in hardiness according to origin. Various species have been cultivated since the earliest times adn are universally important as vegetables, flavorings, and medicinal plants. Their typical smell is caused by sulphur compounds, which have beneficial effects on the circulatory, digestive, and respiratory systems. It varies in pungency from species to species, and a few are almost odorless. Garlic (A. sativum) is the most pungent and highest in therapeutic value. It is also one of the most ancient herbs, recorded in Babylonian times (c.3000BCE), found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (c.1370-52BCE), and consumed in large quantities by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The pervasive odor of garlic has always caused ambivalence, as in the Muslim legend that when Satan left the Garden of Eden after the Fall, garlic sprang up from his left footstep and onion from his right. There are many superstitions about garlic: it wards off vampires, causes moles to "leap out of the ground presently" (William Coles, The Art of Simpling, 1656), and, if chewed, prevent competitors from getting ahead in races. Allium sativum was first mentioned in Chinese medicine c.CE500. In Ayurvedic medicine it is known as rashona, "lacking one taste", referring to the absence of sourness, while possessing all five other tastes (pungent root, bitter leaf, astringent stem, saline top of stem, and sweet seed). There are two main kinds of garlic: "hardneck", which has an excellent flavor but is demanding to cultivate, does not store well, and is difficult to braid; and "softneck", which is productive, adapatable and stores well. Allium canadense (meadow garlic/leek, wild garlic, Canada onion) has medicinal properties similar to garlic, as well as scallion-like leaves and mild-flavored bulbs and bulbils. There are hundreds of kinds of onion (A. cepa) worldwide, adapted to latitude and climate, and varying in size, color, and flavor. Allium cepa is often subdivided into three main groups: the Cepa Group (common onion), which has single large bulbs; the Proliferum Group (tree, or Catawissa onion), which produces an inflorescence constisting largely of bulbils; and the Aggregatum Group (shallot, ever-ready onion, and potato, or multiplier onion), once classified as a separate species, A. ascalonicum, which forms clusters of small bulbs. In addition to their culinary and medicinal uses, onions, in the form of their brown or red-purple skins, are used as dye for Easter eggs in many countries. Allium fistulosum known as da cong in Mandarin and negi in Japanese, is the most important Allium species grown in China, Japan and SE Asia, and is much used in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cuisines. Its medicinal uses were first described in Shen Nong's Canon of Herbs, c.CE25-200. Allium tuberosum is less used in Chinese medicine; it was mentioned c.CE500 in Ben Jing Ji Zhu by Tao Hong JIn. Allium chinense (rakkyo, baker's garlic) is similar to A. schoenoprasum in appearance but has brighter green, more angular leaves and shallot-like bulbs. The bulbs have a crisp texture and are used mainly for pickles. Allium ampeloprasum (Levant garlic) has several interesting forms, including leeks (Porrum Group); 'Perlzwiebel' which produces small solid (unlayered) "pearl onions" for pickling and the ornamental variety babingtonii (British or Welsh Leek), which is mildly leek flavored and has tall stems of bright purple flowers. The Middle Eastern Kurrat Group was found in ancient Egyptian tombs and is still cultivated today in the Middle East. It is similar to a leek but smaller, with narrower leaves and a more developed bulb, though the young leaves are the parts usually eaten. Allium ledebourianum (asatsuki, siu yuk) from China and Japan has an onion-garlic flavor. It produces chive-like green leaves and small, fleshy bulbs, known as "fire onions". Allium scorodoprasum (rocambole, sand leek) is cultivated to a limied extent in parts of Russia for its small garlic-flavored bulbs. Closely related is Tulbaghia violacea (see wild garlic).

Perennial with a 2-lobed bulb and axillary bulbs, not enclosed in a papery skin. Purple to pink-white flowers are borne in a dense umbel and appear in summer.

Common Name:
Perennial Sweet Leek
Other Names:
Levant garlic, Round-headed garlic, Yorktown onion
Botanical Name:
Allium ampeloprasum
Rich, well-drained soil in full sun. Allium schoenoprasum tolerates wetter conditions, heavier soil, and a less open position than most other alliums. Allium atricoccum and A. ursinum prefer moist soil in shade. Allium fistulosum may be hilled up, like leeks, to produce blanched stems. Cut A. schoenoprasum down to the ground after flowering to produce fresh leaves. Onion maggot is common in some countries on light soils; downy mildew is prevalent in wet weather; rots may effect both growing and stored bulbs. Onions, garlic, and chives are often recommended in companion planting to deter pests, weeds, and diseases, though both are reputed to affect legumes adversely.
By seed sown in spring; by bulbils planted in autumn or spring (A. ampeloprasum). By seed sown in autumn or spring, or by "sets" (small bulbs), planted in spring (A.cepa). Sowing and planting of cultivars of A. cepa vary widely in different climates. By seed sown in succession in spring for summer use, and in summer for autumn and spring use (A. fistulosum). By bulbs or individual cloves planted in autumn or winter (A. sativum). By seed sown in spring; by bulbs planted when dormant (A. tricoccum, A ursinum).
Allium ampeloprasum, A. cepa, and A. sativum are harvested in late summer and early autumn. Allium cepa and A. sativum are left to dry in the sun before being stored at 3-5°C (37-41°F). Allium fistulosum is pulled when the stems are pencil thick, or left until leek-sized, and used fresh or quickly cooked. Allium schoenoprasum is cut as needed in the growing season. It is best used fresh or finely chopped and frozen. Allium triccocum, A. tuberosum, and A. ursinum are gathered to be used fresh. Allium tuberosum is blanched in China using clay pots or straw "tents" to give tender leaves that are eaten raw in finger-length pieces.
Native Location:
Mediterranean and Middle East.
45cm-1.8m (1½-5½ft)
5cm (2in)
Elephant (Elephant Garlic)
produces giant-sized bulbs with a mild garlic flavor that can be eaten raw, baked, steamed, or stir-fried as a vegetable or finely chopped as a flavoring.
Parts Used:
Similar to garlic and oinion.
Culinary Uses:
Flavor intermediate between onion and garlic, but milder.
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown. Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. pp 111-112