Allium canadense: The Stinking Rose
Like mint your nose can help you find wild onions, Allium canadense, (AL-ee-um kan-uh-DEN-see. ) Also called Wild Garlic and “Meadow Garlic” by the USDA, walking through a patch of raises a familiar aroma which brings me to a foraging maxim:
Any plant that smells like an onion or a garlic and LOOKS like an onion or a garlic is edible. If you do not smell a garlic or an onion odor beware you might have a similar-looking toxic plant.
All parts of the Wild Onion are edible, the underground bulbs, the long, thin leaves, the blossoms, and the bulblets on top. The bulblets are small cloves the plant sets where it blossoms. Harvesting them is a little easier than digging for bulbs but those are easy to find also. They’re usually four to six inches underground. The bulblets are on the tippy top of the plant.
Onions and garlic belong to the Lily family. The most common wild one is the Allium canadense. It has flattened leaves and hollow stems. On top there can be bulblets with pinkish white flowers or bulblets with sprouted green tails. When it sets an underground bulbs they will be no bigger than pearl onions. (See recipes below ITEM panel.) They were clearly on the Native American menu.
It is often said the city of Chicago’s name is from an Indian phrase that means “where the wild onions grow.” That is quite inaccurate. Chicago is actually a French mistransliteration of the Menomini phrase Sikaakwa which literally means “striped skunk.” We would say ‘the striped skunk place.” The skunks were there because Allium tricoccum (Ramps) were growing there. Skunks know good food when they smell it. The nearby Des Plains River was called the “Striped Skunk River.”
While northern Indians used the plants extensively there is no record of southeastern Indians using them, though various southern tribes had names for the onion. Some of the tribes considered onions not edible. Ramps, A. tricoccum, (try-KOK-um) right, are also in the onion family, and very common in Appalachia. Farther north they are called “wild leeks.” Unlike onions and garlic, ramps have wide leaves but are used the same way.
Allium was the Latin name for the onion. An alternative view is that it is based on the Celtic word “all” meaning pungent. “Alla” in Celtic means feiry. Canadense means of Canada, but refers to north North America. Tricoccum means three seeds. Roman’s called garlic the “stinking rose.”
Allium canadense in large amounts can be toxic to cattle.
Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: Wild Onion
IDENTIFICATION: Allium canadense: Grass like basal leaves, small six-petaled flowers, odor of onion or garlic, stems round, older stems hollow. Underground bulbs look like small white onions. Ramps, however, have two or three broad, smooth, light green, onion-scented leaves. Also see another article on a European import, Garlic Mustard.
TIME OF YEAR: Depends where you live. Ramps in spring, onions through the summer, bulbs in fall. Locally we see bulblets in the late spring which bulbs below.
ENVIRONMENT: Like most plants onions like rich soil and sun but can grow in poor soil with adequate water. Leeks like rich leaf-losing woodlands and can grow in dappled shade. Locally all of the Wild Onions I’ve seen grew in damp places.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: The entire plant is edible raw or cooked, in salads, seasoning, green, soup base, pickled. You can pickle them using red bay leaves, peppergrass seeds, and some vinegar
Recipes adapted from “Wild Greens and Salads” by Christopher Nyerges
Onion Soup On The Trail
Two cups onion leaves and bulbs
Two cups water or milk (or from powdered milk)
1/4 cup chia seeds (optional) or grass seed
four bottom end tips of cattails
A Jerusalem artichoke
Two table spoons acorn flour (or other flour)
1.4 cup water
Put chopped onions in 1/4 water and boil for five minutes. Add the rest of the liquid, cattail and Jerusalem artichoke. Cook at low temperature. Do NOT boil. When artichoke is almost done add flour and chia seeds. Mix. Salt and pepper to taste. Serves three.
One cup onion leaves and bulbs
1/2 cup Poor Man’s Pepper Grass or Mustard leaves
One cup chickweed or other mild green
Two diced tomatoes
Juice of one lemon
Tablespoon of oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Collect onions, dice, add other green items torn into small bits, added tomatoes and other ingredients, toss.