The leaves and bulbs of wild garlic are edible.
Wild garlic has long been part of Quebec culture. In the 1980s, it was so popular that its colonies dwindled significantly due to over-harvesting.
Urban and agricultural developments in southern Quebec have also reduced its habitat.
To slow down this decline and in the interest of conservation of the species, the Quebec government opted in 1995, for the first time in its history, for the legal protection of a plant species. The harvest of wild leek has been limited to 200 grams or 50 plants per year per person, for personal consumption and not for commercial purposes.
This status is specific to Quebec, while wild garlic also grows in the deciduous forests of southern Ontario, New Brunswick, New -Scotland and the eastern United States.
According to François Laliberté, it is also probable that part of the Wild garlic sold on markets in Ontario comes from Quebec.
Every year, dozens of poachers are caught red-handed… filled with wild garlic plants. According to the Ministry of the Environment, the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks, more than 300,000 bulbs have been seized since 2011, which most likely represents only the tip of the iceberg.
Wildlife protection officers cannot be everywhere at the same time. Moreover, since 2020, monitoring of wild leek has also been carried out by Environmental Control teams from the Ministry of the Environment.
The fines were increased in 2022 to have a little more bite, explains Benoît Tremblay, botanist at the Directorate for the Protection of Species and Natural Environments at the Ministry of the Environment.
For minor infractions, the ministry issues administrative monetary penalties in the amount of $2,000 to $10,000, says Mr. Tremblay. For more serious offenses, we fall into criminal charges, with an amount of $10,000 to $6 million.
The seeds of wild garlic are black and shiny, and they are grouped in threes, hence its Latin name: Allium tricoccum.
The government of Quebec has adopted a type of protection by glass bell, but several enthusiasts, like François Laliberté, propose protection of the wild garlic by its use.
To ensure its survival and limit the black market, amateur producers, researchers, agronomists, associations and restaurateurs sent a request to the Ministry of the Environment in 2021 to call for the legalization of the sale of cultivated wild garlic, while continuing to prohibit the sale of wild-harvested plants.
Jean Arsenault, who has been growing wild garlic for more than 20 years, is at the origin of this request, sent by the Association for the Marketing of Non-Timber Forest Products (ACPFNL). He also cultivates many rare and medicinal plants which are protected by law but which he has the right to sell, such as the Canadian asaret, bloodroot or maidenhair fern.
The interest in these plants is horticultural and not culinary, as with wild garlic, argues Benoît Tremblay. So the pressure is much less.
Responding to demand by limiting pressure on natural colonies is one of the arguments of the 26 signatories of the request.
By giving ourselves the right to produce it, and by being certain that it has been produced and that it is not taken from the wood, we assume – this is entirely logical – that 'we are going to reduce the pressure on natural colonies a little.
A quote from François Laliberté, who cultivates wild garlic
But we cannot assume that such commercialization would necessarily have a positive impact, warns the Ministry of the Environment.
There is nothing to say that the ultimate effect would not be the opposite, ultimately, points out Benoît Tremblay. That we would not have the consequence of increasing poaching and perhaps also increasing the harvest, even legal, in the natural environment, by the population, because we would bring back [ …] popular interest in wild garlic. So, it's very difficult to say.
The report by Carine Monat and Stéphan Gravel, presented at “La green week”.
To ensure that the wild garlic sold actually comes from cultivation and not from the collection of wild plants, producers and the ACPFNL insist on the importance of the traceability of the product, which would then be ensured by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec (MAPAQ).
For the moment, the MAPAQ does not comment not on its role in controlling possible marketable crops of wild leek because the legal status of this plant depends on the Ministry of the Environment.
However, in the 2010s, MAPAQ funded research projects into the cultural needs of this species.
These research projects could serve various purposes such as a campaign to re-introduce the species into its natural environment or possibly for production purposes following a review of its legal status in Quebec, writes the public relations specialist Yohan Dallaire Boily.
When cultivated, wild leek produces more seeds and grows more quickly than in the wild.
After four years, some plants will produce flowers and begin to divide, whereas in a natural environment, it takes seven to ten years before the plant is mature, which “it can produce flowers and divide,” explains Jean Arsenault. François Laliberté shares this observation.
When the law was passed, no one had yet proven that wild leek could be tamed to the point of growing square meters of it.< /p>
To calculate the profitability of such a crop, François Laliberté based himself on the sale of leaves, bulbs and seeds. With Mr. Arsenault's figures and his own, we could estimate around forty dollars per square meter of profit. Or $40,000 in profits per year on 1000 square meters of cultivation, which is the ideal surface area.
According to 2020 MAPAQ figures , this amount represents almost double the profitability of classic garlic bulbs.
Restaurateurs signed the request and others have expressed interest in obtaining cultivated wild garlic, notes Jean Arsenault.
Certain processors local products could also be interested, he adds. Seed companies who could offer seeds to people who want to start crops.
The leaves of wild garlic only live a few weeks, they resemble those of lily of the valley.
After almost 30 years of conservation, the Ministry of the Environment counts 418 occurrences of wild leek, whereas 30 years ago, it was thought that there were around 70 in Quebec. So, we found a lot of new ones, indicates Benoît Tremblay.
Even if the ministry indicates that there are no studies demonstrating an improvement in its situation since its designation as a vulnerable species, its position is that the measures have a deterrent effect on some of the pickers.
Garlic des bois is a heritage plant that has long been part of the Quebec cultural landscape. We now know that it can be cultivated.
The Ministry of the Environment is now in dialogue with the Non-Timber Forest Products Marketing Association and several signatories for the right to market cultivated garlic.
- Carine Monat (View profile)Carine MonatFollow