Leeks are root vegetables that look quite similar to onions, to which they are related.
The plant is characterized by broad, flat, tightly wrapped, dark green leaves, a long, thick white stalk, and a slightly bulbous root.
It has a mild, sweet, onion like flavor.
Leeks enjoy a long and rich history, one that can trace its heritage back through antiquity.
Thought to be native to Central Asia, they have been cultivated in this region and in Europe for thousands of years.
Leeks were prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans and were especially revered for their beneficial effect upon the throat.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle credited the clear voice of the partridge to a diet of leeks, while the Roman emperor Nero supposedly ate leeks everyday to make his voice stronger.
The Hebrew Bible talks of חציר, identified by commentators as leek, and says it is abundant in Egypt.
Dried specimens from archaeological sites in ancient Egypt, as well as wall carvings and drawings, indicate that the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet from at least the second millennium BC.
Texts also show that it was grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the second millennium BC.
The leek was the favorite vegetable of the Emperor Nero, who consumed it in soup or in oil, believing it beneficial to the quality of his voice.
According to one legend, King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd ordered his soldiers to identify themselves by wearing the vegetable on their helmets in an ancient battle against the Saxons that took place in a leek field.
The Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton stated, in contrast, that the tradition was a tribute to Saint David, who ate only leeks when he was fasting.
The name ‘leek’ developed from the Old English word leac.
Leeks are easy to grow from seed and tolerate standing in the field for an extended harvest, which takes place up to 6 months from planting.
In its raw state, the vegetable is crunchy and firm. The edible portions of the leek are the white base of the leaves (above the roots and stem base), the light green parts, and to a lesser extent the dark green parts of the leaves.
Leeks are an excellent source of vitamin K. They are a very good source of manganese, vitamin B6, copper, iron, folate and vitamin C. Leeks are also a good source of vitamin A in the form of carotenoids, dietary fiber, magnesium, vitamin E, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
The health benefits of leek include eye health, preventing cataracts, keeping skin clean and healthy, supporting cardiovascular health, lowering blood pressure, preventing anemia, and relieving inflammation. Other benefits includes improving bone health, supporting kidney function, managing type 2 diabetes, preventing cancer, aiding weight loss and improving digestion.
Raw leeks can be used in salads, doing especially well when they are the prime ingredient.
The leek is one of the national emblems of Wales, worn along with the daffodil (in Welsh, the daffodil is known as “Peter’s leek”, Cenhinen Bedr) on St. David’s Day.
The vegetable became the national emblem of Wales following an ancient victory by an army of Welshmen who wore leeks as a distinguishing sign.