The cultivated market garlic and onion most familiar to us range in color and size and come by different names: Shallot, scallion, leek, red, yellow and white onion. Garlic we know and love includes the elephant and common white garlic.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could find onion, garlic and chives in our backyards?
Well… Wild allium does not share the same diversity as cultivated varieties, but there are at least two varieties of uncultivated allium that can be found growing in Arkansas and Missouri.
Crow Garlic or wild onion (Allium vineale) is found in pastures and on disturbed ground throughout the states and is on the USDA invasive weed list. All parts of the plant have a strong garlic odor. At full size, vineale’s aerial parts look like many other allium with a tall stalk topped with an inflorescence of white, reddish or pink color that are replaced by bulblets or corms. The root bulb usually forms several smaller bulbs and is enclosed in a thin, papery covering.
Unlike many alliums the Canadense is native to the states and common in wooded areas or near waterways of NW Arkansas. The Canadense can grow to more than a foot tall, topped with a white or pink inflorescence that is replaced by small bulbs.
Crow garlic bulbs and roots
All parts of these plants are edible and contain the same chemical constituents of other members of the allium genus and can be used as substitutes for market onion and garlic in most recipes.
Harvesting wild allium is fairly easy; the species I found for this article is A. vineale. The plant grows in small patches of lawn in NW Arkansas and if it survives the mower the whole bunch can be taken at once. The young ones I dug for this article are small, but tasty. They are sweet and a little more pungent than the common green onion (Allium fistulosum) found in stores.
Chive seed bulb
Crow garlic also contain small seed bulbs within bunches. The bulbs look like any other bulb, but are not attached to a stalk or leaf and have a thin brown covering that can be wiped off fairly easy and used as the rest of the allium.
· The allium genus of plants is one of the largest plant genera in the world and one of the oldest cultivated vegetables with earliest uses of the plant recorded from Mesopotamia and the Chinese Steppes more than five-thousand years ago.
· The first known use of the word we know for onion today comes from the 12th century use of the French word, “union” and goes through several changes including the Latin, “unionem” and old French “oignon.”
· According to the USDA annual consumption of allium has been on the rise over the past three decades. Onion consumption in 2000 was approximately 20.7 pounds per person and 2.6 lbs of garlic per person in 2004.