Country of origin: South Korea Plant: Buchu (Leek)
Buchu, botanical name Allium tricoccum, is a flowering perennial plant that grows in clusters. It is a member of the Allium family along with onions and leeks. All Alliums have underground bulbs which may produce aerial stems and each plant will bear flowers in various colors depending on species. It is one of the most important food plant families, containing at least 700 different species, though only a small percentage of the alliums are cultivated as a crop on an economically important scale.
When harvested young, the Buchu has delicate, broad lily of the valley-like leaves and a thin spindly scallion-like stalk which trails into an indistinct bulb. The leaves are green and the stalk may be white or pink, marketed with its edible roots attached. The Buchu has a piquant onion and garlic flavor with a woodsy, pungent aroma. The entire plant is edible, including the roots. The underground bulb will continue to grow out into the summer and fall and the leaves are replaced by flowers, then seeds. Aging seedstalks (known as the skeleton) contain tiny globular black seeds, which are the forager’s indicator of where ramps are located. The plant’s bulbs are harvested into the fall and sold like garlic cloves.
The seeds of Buchu take 6 to 18 months to germinate, and the plants take 5 to 7 years to produce seeds. Each time a ramp is removed from the forest before it goes to seed, its life cycle ends. The late 20th Century surge in the buchu’s culinary popularity and thus, lucrative market, has left hundreds of acres of what used to be forest floors covered in buchus during spring now void of the allium. Due to overforaging and in an attempt to combat endangerment of the buchu, the region of Quebec, Canada has listed the Buchu as a threatened species and since 1995, has also made it illegal to sell buchu.