Wild Onions, found but not common locally

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:

Wild onions/garlic, set bulblets on top

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.

Ramps have wide leaves

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.

Camp Salad

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.



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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 sandra stanford April 20, 2012 at 15:59

I would like to know where I might purchase the seed or seedling for wild onions or wild garlic, would you have any idea how I might obtain this plant or weed? as some call it. Any info would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you in advance,
Sandra Stanford


2 Green Deane April 23, 2012 at 15:16

B&T Seeds usually has everything. Or I can send you the email address of a fellow in North Florida who has some growing on his property now.


3 deborah ivery September 19, 2013 at 20:55

Please send me information also on how I can purchase wild onions? Grew up eating them. Unable to find them for sale in San Antonio.


4 Makayla Meese March 27, 2014 at 23:16

I live in OK and they grow numerous in my front yard. My sister and I make salads out of dandelions and onions with some soy sauce, it’s pretty good


5 liz April 9, 2014 at 22:23

No need to purchase when u can find them everywhere in early Spring, near or in woods. Good Luck. If it does not smell like onion and has NO odor it is not onion or garlic! Could be poisonous.


6 liz April 9, 2014 at 22:25

Look for them in early Spring in woodlands and roadsides everywhere and in lawns. In lawns they are darker than the lawn and very noticeable.


7 Em February 5, 2013 at 15:46

Are these the same as Egyptian or Top Onions ? I grow these since I like their looks and easy to grow.


8 Green Deane February 5, 2013 at 16:24

Egyptian onions are a related species.


9 liz April 9, 2014 at 22:23

Egyptian Onions however and huge and tall compared to the wild ones.


10 terri brittingham April 27, 2013 at 11:29

Thanks for the information and recipe. Very informative.


11 Nathaniel May 15, 2013 at 14:55

I’ve really come to love the wild alliums. Several varieties pop up either in my yard or the surrounding area and I have taken to gathering them up whenever I find them. I particularly like including the wild garlic in making kimchi because the bulbs retain their crunch nicely and their flavor really lends itself to the whole pickling.


12 Christopher Wanjek May 15, 2013 at 17:32

I’m rather confused. I thought wild onion and wild garlic were two different plants. I thought wild garlic was the one with long, thin, hallow leaves (like chive) and wild onion had long, thin, flat, grass-like leaves. Am I wrong?

Also, I’m curious what “onion grass” is. I thought it was in fact wild garlic.

I hope Green Deane can help here.


13 Green Deane May 16, 2013 at 09:16

They vary a lot… some solid stems, some round leaves, some flat leaves. The common name isn’t too important as long as they are an Allium.


14 Christopher Wanjek May 16, 2013 at 21:13

Thanks. But I thought it is Allium canadense (onion) versus and Allium vineale (garlic). But I guess colloquially, anything goes. Are you saying that Allium canadense is commonly called wild onion, wild garlic, and onion grass? Can Allium canadense be hollow and chive-like, or is it always flat? What I have in my backyard is hollow and chive-like.


15 Green Deane May 17, 2013 at 07:03

The common names are just that, and whether it’s common name is onion or garlic is rather irrelevant. A. canadense usually had a solid main stem and flat leaves. Other Alliums are different.


16 Bekah H. August 19, 2013 at 13:55

Christopher, that’s the same way the wild onion/garlic is around my house. I’ve always called them wild onions, but then a friend of mine said that it was wild garlic, and it greatly confused me.


17 Green Deane August 19, 2013 at 15:16

Wild Allium covers both bases.

18 liz April 9, 2014 at 22:03

Wild Onions are like chives, they grow in clumps and are hard to distinguish from each other. Wild garlic on the other hand, is a single hollow stem, growing to 2ft with a round bulblet of seeds on top in early summer. Ramps are totally different though from the onion family but have 3 flat leaves , not hollow and are strongest scent. All can be used the same ways. SO, anything in a clump is wild onion or chives, single is garlic and 3 flat stems, Ramp. Hope this clears it all up.


19 liz April 9, 2014 at 22:20

Christopher, U are correct! Onion grass grows in a clump like chives! So closely related u can use the same way.


20 John Williams May 15, 2013 at 21:35

We have these onions growing wild in every part of Texas that Ive been in. I’ve wondered about drying them and using them as a spice maybe?


21 Johnny Mosley May 17, 2013 at 23:46

We have plant that has oblong leaves and smells like sassafras when crushed,is it the real thing? the leaves are not like the ones on your video.
Really enjoy your work Thanks


22 Green Deane May 24, 2013 at 07:26

The leaves can vary.


23 Robert May 19, 2013 at 09:28

In our lawn the chive type grow wild each Spring. They get mowed off and the smell is great.
Might they be transplanted into the garden for use in cooking? Will they transplant well or do they then need certain care to survive.

I’ve thought of digging clumps of sod to place into one area of the garden. But then the chive would have grass to compete with. Is there a simple method for moving the chive without the grass? I’m sure it would be easier to obtain seed, but where’s the challenge with that.

Just curious.


24 liz April 9, 2014 at 22:05

Yes, u CAN dig them up in the clumps an separate grass from the chive or wild onion clump. Cut back the top a little after planting and water well unless it rains.


25 Penny May 31, 2013 at 23:45

Today on one of the cooking shows they garnished the baked chicken with wild garlic flowers. We know it is a weed, but they talked about it like it was some rare flower. You are giving us a good education.


26 Joyce A Matuzak July 2, 2013 at 20:41

I have what I believe are wild onions growing crazy in my yard. The tops of the plant are curled into “pig tails” above a small white bulb; and the bulb in the ground in small, white, but segmented like the cloves in a garlic. I have never seen a flower per se. The whole plant smells like a pretty strong onion. Are we talking about the edible “weed” wild onion?


27 Diane October 24, 2013 at 21:49

I’m trying to identify a 4 foot tall round stalk with a three inch round blossom at the end of the stalk that opened into tiny lavender buds. When dug it had about 4 cloves with no husk. The cloves smell like garlic but I can’t find anything online that shows garlic with no husk. Any ideas what this is?


28 Green Deane October 28, 2013 at 08:55

None… you can post a picture on the Green Deane Forum on the UFO page, unidentified flowering objects.


29 Margaret Ducharme January 9, 2014 at 18:46

In B.C. canada, We have a Pink/lavender flowered onion called as a common name “nodding onion”. It has seeds much like chives, small black, cornered seeds. I collected a small head of seeds from a plant I found on a coastal shore, and have used them in my garden as dry area plants.They start with a tiny thin tube then as they mature,the leaves are tall,thin and flat,After 2 years, they grow like multiplier onions After 4 years, I separate them ,and share . I use them as the center flower in hanging baskets. then save
the seed. they really are lovely. They also taste good, and garlicky.they grow larger,and nicer to cook with when they are in rich soil, but will grow in fairly dry rocky areas. I saw the seed for sale in a wild plane website.


30 liz April 9, 2014 at 22:15

WILD GARLIC FLOWERS, are actually the top of the garlic plant with the eatable bulb being on the bottom growing int he ground. U can pull it up and eat it. Or pickle.


31 Kate December 22, 2013 at 03:19

I love finding this website. I have always loved foraging and learning about plants. I did not know that there ever was a site like this. THANK YOU for what you are doing.
Do you know if Ramps grow in Arkansas? I would love to find some. I do have wild onion, garlic and garlic chives. I am also interested in all recipes on wild edibles.
I live in southwest Arkansas, near the Oklahoma border.


32 Kate December 22, 2013 at 15:33

I would love to have some ramps, if anyone has any. I would be glad tp pay for them.


33 liz April 9, 2014 at 22:19

Basically, anything with FLAT leaves is wild ramp or wild leak which are basically the same. Hollow leaves is always onion or garlic chives or grass. TALL hollow leaves are a single wild garlic plant with pink or purple flowers on top in late spring, bulb is on the bottom and should be dug up after flowering. U can transplant all of these. Keep well watered in Spring.


34 Steve April 16, 2014 at 12:21

I live in northeast Oklahoma. Around here a wild onion has flat blades that look more or less like grass. Wild garlic has round spiky leaves. They often grow in much the same kind of places, although not really mixing. We consider them very different plants. If you confuse the two and bring wild garlic to a wild onion and egg breakfast the Cherokee ladies will have your head and throw you and your garlic out! It is really easy to tell them apart even from a distance due to the erect stance of the garlic. The difference is greater later in the season when they are too rank to gather anyway.


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