Foraging: Wild Onions
The first time I ate wild onions I thought they were a godsend. I was a couple months into my Appalachian Trail thru-hike and totally craving anything green and fresh. I had been living off instant beans and rice, instant potatoes, oatmeal, and granola bars in between restaurant stops on hitchhikes into town. I dug and ate handfuls of them in front of weirded out day hikers without any remorse.
Today my love for them really hasn’t diminished. In this house two of our favorite flavors are onion and garlic. I think almost every recipe I make starts with one onion and several garlic cloves chopped and sautéed in olive oil. Wild onions are kind of a garlicky onion combo. Perfection.
So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that many people (even foragers who know what they are) don’t ever harvest them! They’re easy to find, identify, and harvest plus they’re just so good.
I know from my trail experience that you can find onions along the east coast but more predominantly south of New England. They love any cleared, grassy area. The ones in the picture are actually just growing right in my front lawn.
They’ll stand out from the grass especially this time of year when the grass isn’t very green and look like a clump of chives. The stems are also hollow and feel similar to chives. They have small white bulbs. You can just eat the tops like chives or dig the whole thing. You will probably smell the garlic/onion scent as you harvest them. If you find a plant like this that does not have the garlic/onion smell and flavor, it is NOT wild onion and shouldn’t be consumed.
Depending on the type of soil they’re growing in you may need to loosen the soil with a garden fork or trowel before pulling them up if you want to harvest the bulb. After harvesting all you need to do is rinse them, slice the roots off, and they’re good to go.
We eat them on salads, our homemade pasta, and really any meal I normally put onion in. They’re versatile but they cook much faster than domesticated onions so it may be best to add them after other ingredients are already cooked.
- As part of being a good forager and environmental steward I don’t recommend taking more than 50% of any cluster. This means more will grow for you to pick later too!
- Wild onions may seem easy to identify but as with any wild edible you should use caution before deciding to eat a bunch of them.
- Wild onions don’t keep long in the refrigerator but can be dehydrated for later use. Use the lowest temperature or herb setting. The tops may dry faster than slices of the bulbs. I use and love my Excalibur dehydrator.