Wild Edible Wednesday!
This week's wild edible is Wild Onion!
-Wild onion is a common weed in almost every part of the U.S. Although there are several different subspecies of wild onion, they are all edible and are part of the Allium species. There are quite a few varieties of POISONOUS look-alikes (most of which belong to the lily family). Wild onion and its poisonous look-alikes are very hard to tell apart visually (especially since they both tend to grow in similar environments), but there is one very easy to recognize tell-tale sign when identifying wild onion and that is smell. Poisonous look-alikes to onion have a very bland, almost grass-like smell to them, whereas wild onion will smell like, you guessed it, onion or even garlic sometimes. The key takeaway is ALL wild onion look-alikes have no smell or a grassy smell, where onion will have an oniony or garlicy smell to it.
-These plants are suuuper common in the U.S. They love moist and semi shaded soil, although they can be found in sunny drier spots as well. The best method for finding these little gems is to walk the edges of fences, tree lines, sidewalks, edges of fields, along streambeds, drainage ditches, or gullies, and you are bound to find a few. They are weeds so they do grow quickly and abundantly and are quite the menace for the average suburban homeowner (you probably have some in your yard right now!).
-When identifying this plant, look for long, thin, wispy, chive-like stalks of a single strand. The will almost look like thin grass, but the blades will be round and hollow. They almost always grow in clusters and can range in size from 4 inches up to 2 feet tall. Younger stalks will have some curls at the end of the plant but those tend to straighten out as the plant gets older. The main part you should be after is the bulb and the stalk of the plant. Just below ground the roots grow into an onion or ramp like bulb and can be cleaned up and used in the same fashion. The stems can be sliced and chopped like chives and used as garnish or eaten as greens. The stems (or stalks) that have flowers on them can become quite woody so stick to the more tender ones. The seeds of these plants are also quite edible and emerge from a cluster of flowers, each having six sepals, ranging in a variety of colors from white (most common), yellow, red, purple, or pink. The seeds will grow out from these flowers on individual strands standing up to a half inch above the flower heads.
-Wild onion can be found down south all year round, but in the north, look for it soon as the ground thaws. This is a great foraging or survival food that is abundant and readily available and packed with Vitamin A and C. Just be sure to check each bulb and stalk for that onion or garlic smell before using or ingesting.
-Historically, wild onion is said to have many great medicinal properties. Here are some (not all) of those: relieving congestion, removing abscesses and boils, alleviating chilblains, treating bee stings and insect bites, soothes coughs and sore throats, improve circulation, it is also an antiallergenic, antimicrobial, diaphoretic, prevents blood clotting, lowers blood pressure, helps remove bacteria, fungi, and parasites, and even used in removing warts and as an antiseptic.
**Remember that there are several poisonous look-a-likes for this plant! Always smell the plant you may think is wild onion. If it looks like wild onion, grows where wild onion grows, and smells like wild onion, then its wild onion (only if it meets ALL those criteria though!).
**When identifying plants you are unfamiliar with, please use as multiple references, as well as help from experts when available. Unless you are 110% sure what a plant is, it is best to avoid it completely.
**If you plan on using any plants for medicinal uses, consult a healthcare professional, as well as botanist familiar in the field of wild plants. And as always, use as many references and expert opinions as possible when identifying a plant.
**Be sure to avoid any plants growing near roads, around chemicals, other poisonous plants, or polluted/contaminated water.
**As always, be sure to use the Universal Edibility Test to ensure the plant is the correct plant and to help identify any unknown allergies you may have.