The leek can by no means be dismissed as ‘the poor man’s asparagus’.
Well prepared – it is a gastronomic delicacy in its own right, and in terms of nourishment is in fact far superior to asparagus, by virtue of its wealth of active principles essential to our health. It is one of the many health-giving foods (garlic, corn, carrots, cabbage, turnip, onion, etc.) which, eaten regularly, kept our grandmothers fit, unaware that they were applying dietetics principles.
It is not known where the leek originated, but we do know that it has been cultivated for thousands of years since, 2,000 years before our own era
The Egyptians used it to treat burns and bites. We also know that it was valued not only as a food but for its medicinal virtues by the Greeks and Romans: Pliny recounts how Nero ate leeks ‘for certain days in every month to scour his throat, and clear his voice, and to take it with oil; on which days he did eat nothing else, not so much as bread’; and the Salernitan school gives us two of its common usages—to restore fertility to sterile women (leeks to be eaten in quantity) and to arrest nose-bleeds (the juice of leeks snuffled up the nostrils).
Our humble peasant classes have always eaten leeks and used them, both internally and externally, to remedy their ills. Tradition, founded on successive generations of experience, has taught them that leeks are diuretic, pectoral, antiseptic, emollient, and they continue to use them in the treatment of many conditions.
Internally For: obesity: kidney complaints (nephritis), intestinal disorders (diarrhoea, dysentery, enteritis), hoarseness, coughs: drink plenty of leek stock, obtained by simmering gently for three hours 8 or 10 leeks, cut into pieces, in 2 or 3 litres of water (Matthiolus says that ‘the leek provoketh urine and maketh healthy bowels’). For infantile diarrhoea, give the child a coffeespoonful of this stock every five minutes and apply a hot compress soaked in the stock on his stomach every hour (naturally, apart from the stock, he should be given no other food). For enteritis in adults, drink a cupful of stock every half hour and abstain from all other food and drink.
For urine retention, diabetes: either boil a kilo of white leeks, chopped in pieces, in 2 litres of dry white wine until reduced to half the volume, and strain ; one wine glassful first thing in the morning every day for a month; or macerate 4 or 5 grams of crushed leek seeds in a litre of dry white wine for four or five days; strain; one wineglassful first thing in the morning for a month.
For colds, coughs, whooping-cough, hoarseness, bronchial pains and engorgement: either cook a few leeks in water; extract the juice by squeezing in a cloth when they are almost soft; add honey, and take the syrup thus obtained at the onset of a bout of coughing as well as morning and evening (one tablespoonful); or cook a few leeks in very little water; reduce to a pulp when they are cooked, adding 2 spoonfuls of honey; a tablespoonful to be taken at the start of an attack (it used to be said that partridges ate leeks to render their cry more piercing).
For the accidental swallowing of a needle pin, nail: give the person boiled leeks to eat as soon as possible; their fibres will sheathe the sharp point of the object and prevent it from damaging or perforating the stomach or the bowel; until the object has been expelled in the normal way, the person should remain on a diet of leeks and limit his liquid intake as far as possible. I speak from first-hand knowledge, for when I was about 10 years old I swallowed a nail 4-5cm long and without pain but not without trepidation (I could see myself on the stretcher!) I evacuated it three days later thanks to this technique, which incidentally was advised by our family doctor (Doctor Pierre Fournier also recommends this method, with leeks or asparagus or, if neither of these is to hand, with little pieces of cotton wool ‘neither bigger nor thicker than little finger nail’ soaked in oil: ‘Above all, do not panic!’ he writes. ‘If you do this, and do it promptly and properly, the child will be in no danger’)
Externally For bee or wasp stings, itching caused by harvest bugs: cut a leek in half and rub briskly on the effected area; the acid from the leek decomposes the poison, reduces the swelling, and stops the pain in a few minutes. Leek leaves, macerated in vinegar for 24 hours, and applied for several consecutive nights to corns on the toes and the sole of the foot, will render them easy to remove.
For abscesses, boils, carbuncles, whitlows, gatherings: to bring them to a head more quickly: either cook in hot ashes for fifteen to twenty minutes the white part of a leek, wrapped in wet paper or a cabbage leaf: mash together with unsalted lard and apply as a poultice, to be renewal several times a day; or else cook some finely chopped leeks in lard for fifteen to twenty minutes; mash to a paste and apply hot, renewing the application several times a day.
For pleurisy, cramping pain in the side: cut up and pound in a mortar, adding a little wine vinegar from time to time, the white part of a fat bunch of leeks; transfer the mixture to a pan and cook, sprinkling with vinegar as necessary to prevent it from sticking to the pan; spread this preparation on a cloth and apply hot to the painful area, keeping in place with a bandage; retain for 24 hours.
Finally, here is a household recipe, invented or handed down by the chemist ‘Raspail’ whose name is commemorated by the famous boulevard: soak a bunch of leeks, chopped into pieces, in half a bucket of water for a week; strain and use the infusion for washing any paintings, mirrors, lamp shades, etc. That one wishes to protect from being dirtied by flies.