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Winter 2012

Urban Jungle

The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark      

Wild Onion, Allium sp.

January 10, 2012

Wild onions:
Pungent pickings

Poking up through almost every winter yard are bright green tufts of wild onions.

Several species from the edible genus Allium, including wild chives, nodding onion, wild garlic and meadow garlic, look very similar this time of year, with wispy, hollow, tubular leaves growing from underground bulbs. In the winter, while the leaves are still tender, people sometimes dig up the strong-tasting green clumps for culinary use, finely chopping the leaves for salads or dicing and stir-frying the bulbs.

When collecting any wild plant for the dinner table, avoiding dangerous look-alikes should be the first priority. Some poisonous lilies resemble wild onions, but none of them smell like onions when their leaves are crushed. If it smells like an onion, it is an onion.

Any sort of onion or garlic is toxic to dogs and cats, but Allium is beneficial for people to eat. Onions and garlic are antimicrobial and help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. Several studies support the claim that garlic can help cleanse the body of heavy metals, but the plants also absorb heavy metals from whatever they're growing in — so eating any Allium harvested from roadsides or industrial sites is probably a bad idea.

SOURCES: National Institutes of Health, Food and Chemical Toxicology, Environmental Protection Agency, Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins including Tropical Diseases, Indian Journal of Nephrology, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health