Where to Find Field Garlic
A better question to ask might be, where can you not find field garlic? At least for us here in the Midwest, this stuff seems to pop up just about everywhere – lawns, garden beds, woodland edges, vacant urban lots and beyond. Field garlic reproduces in two ways: via aerial bulblets formed in the flower heads, and through underground bulbs that sprout adjacent to the parent plant. That’s why you’ll generally see it growing in patchy clusters wherever it’s found.
I should note that you will often see field garlic growing prolifically throughout conventional farm fields in winter and spring, when the land is otherwise barren. The plant’s unique physical properties—particularly its long, straight, waxy leaves—make it more or less impervious to chemical herbicides. Still, I wouldn’t recommend eating any plants, wild or otherwise, from such poison-ridden fields.
How to Identify Field Garlic
If you’re familiar with the appearance of chives then you should be able to spot field garlic from a mile away. Its hollow, gray-green leaves grow up to about a foot tall, emerging from dime-sized bulbs that resemble the cultivated green onions you’ll find at supermarkets.
You won’t often catch a glimpse of field garlic’s flowers, if only because the plants tend to get mowed down before they are able to bloom. Flowers grow in large, spherical clusters and are generally pinkish-purple.
Of course, the simplest way to be sure you’ve got an edible allium on your hands is to break off a leaf and give it a whiff. If it smells like garlic, it’s safe to eat.
When to Look for Field Garlic
Field garlic is easiest to spot throughout winter and spring, when little else is growing around it. Here in the Midwest we generally see the first signs of field garlic in late winter. Its patchy clusters of waxy leaves will start to rise up from the ground as everything else is dying back. By March it is becoming more prominent on the landscape, and by May or June the bulbs begin to mature.
Leaves, flowers and bulbs of wild garlic all edible
Ramsons and Three-cornered Garlic are both members of the large lily family. The genus or sub-division of the family that they are both members of is the onion genus and that group of plants comprises all the wild chives, onions, garlics and leeks.
Even without bruising the leaves of Ramsons, it is impossible at this time of year to escape the scent of garlic in the air on a walk through a woodland carpeted with their white, star-shaped flowers.
The true Garlic, beloved of some for seasoning and flavouring food, not to mention warding off vampires, is native to Central Asia and north-eastern Iran. It is cultivated in Ireland as a garden plant and horticultural crop and some throw-outs have managed to survive as casuals in the wild, mainly in coastal areas in the north-west. So, it is an alien introduction.
The Three-cornered Garlic is also an alien introduction from abroad. Its native range is the western Mediterranean. It looks like a white bluebell, has a tree-cornered stems when rolled between finger and thumb, smells and tastes of garlic, and grows in profusions along roadside verges as a very invasive weed, mainly in the south and east of the country.
Ramsons is our native wild garlic. Its range extends across Europe to the Caucasus and neighbouring Russia. In countries where wild boars occur these pigs root up the plants’ very small bulbs and eat them as a source of food. Similarly, bears seek them out dig them up when they emerge from hibernation and that proclivity has given the plant its botanical name Allium ursinum, ‘bears’ onion’.
Like the Three-cornered Garlic, Ramsons has tree-cornered stems when rolled between finger and thumb. It grows about knee-high. Its dark green leaves are long and pointed and its white-petalled flowers are borne in upright clusters. It thrives in damp, shaded areas and when suitable habitat occurs it can carpet the ground extensively.
The leaves, flowers and bulbs of Ramsons are all edible and are used to make pesto, are eaten raw in salads and sandwiches or are cooked to make soup. The small green bulbs are sometimes used as a substitute for capers. While Ramsons is popular with people as a wild food, it is said to be toxic if eaten by dogs.
New Ross Standard
- Attributes: Genus: Allium Species: canadense Family: Amaryllidaceae Life Cycle: Perennial Country Or Region Of Origin: Eastern Canada and North America Wildlife Value: Attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds Play Value: Wildlife Food Source Edibility: EDIBLE PARTS: Leaves, bulbs, and bulblets. Field garlic (A. vineale) is too strong for most tastes. HARVEST TIME: Only collect plants from areas you know have NOT been treated with pesticides. Gather leaves during spring and fall. Gather bulbs in the second year when they are large enough to use like cultivated onions. Flower stem bulblets are collected during the summer. SAFE HANDLING PROCEDURES: Wash leaves, bulbs and bulblets in warm water to remove dirt and debris. Do not use dish detergent or any type of sanitizer. These products can leave a residue. Use as domestic onions, for seasoning, or raw in salads. Bulbs can be used raw, boiled, pickled, or for seasoning. Their strong taste can be reduced by parboiling and discarding the water. To freeze onions or garlic, one should coarsely chop, blanch two minutes, drain, pat dry, and place them into plastic bags. The bulbs can also be dried for use as seasoning. Use flower bulbs to flavor soup or for pickling.
- Whole Plant Traits: Plant Type: Native Plant Perennial Poisonous Weed Wildflower
- Flowers: Flower Color: Pink Purple/Lavender White Flower Value To Gardener: Fragrant Flower Bloom Time: Spring Summer Flower Shape: Dome Star Flower Description: Flowers are small, 6-parted, and in a cluster at the top of a naked stem. The plant smells of garlic or onions. These flowers are a dome-like cluster of star-shaped pink or whitish flowers on a naked flower stalk. Some flowers may be replaced by small bulblets.
- Leaves: Leaf Color: Green Leaf Value To Gardener: Fragrant Hairs Present: No Leaf Description: Leaves are long, slender, flat or cylindrical and hollow. Grasslike leaves are flattened near base and have a strong onion-like odor.
- Stem: Stem Color: Green Stem Is Aromatic: No
- Landscape: Landscape Location: Meadow Attracts: Bees Butterflies Hummingbirds Problems: Poisonous to Humans Weedy
- Poisonous to Humans: Poison Severity: Low Poison Symptoms: CAUSES ONLY LOW TOXICITY IF EATEN. Poisonous through ingestion. Symptoms may include: nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. (Poison parts: All parts; bulbs, bulblets, flowers, and stems) Poison Toxic Principle: Sulfides Causes Contact Dermatitis: No Poison Part: Flowers Fruits Leaves Roots Seeds Stems
Eating Wild Onions Good Idea Or Not?
Ask the Expert: fake wild onion?
During an overnight trip on the Smith River, one of our guides picked a wild onion to show us. However, he said that there was another plant that was very similar but could kill you in 4 hours if ingested. He said it was called “death canis” (I”m not sure of the spelling). Can you tell me if this is true?
I have all these great wild onions but I’m afraid to eat them. Patricia
Plant Expert Reply:
Meadow Death Camas
I’m not sure what plant the guide was referring to – Montana has a poisonous plant called Mountain Death-camas (Zigadenus venenosus). The leaves might look like onion leaves but it would really be a stretch. See how flat the leaves are? They look more like a lily leaf than an onion leaf even through they are in the same family. Onion leaves tend look more cylindrical.
As for eating the wild onions in your yard, I probably wouldn’t. Not because the plant is poisonous, more because of the taste. The onion genus – Allium has many members. However, not all have a pleasing taste. The wild onion and garlic species tend to be more pungent than the cultivated species.
If your wild onions are in your lawn, you need to be aware of their exposure to chemicals. I am always cautious when it comes to eating wild vegetation. However, all Allium bulbs are edible even if not palatable.
The Meadow Death-camas picture comes from the poisonous plant section of the .
The Wild onion photo came from the Pacific Bulb Society Allium page.
Ramps, wild onions, wild garlic. These are some of our best wild foods come springtime.
More than 100 species of wild alliums call North America home — allium being the genus covering both onions and garlic — but it is the Eastern ramp, Allium tricoccum, that has been all the rage among chefs in recent years. They’ve become so popular I even see chefs here in California using them with abandon; no native ramp grows within 2,000 miles of San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Locavore issues aside, perhaps the trendiest thing about ramps right now is to bemoan their overharvest.
Is this happening? Certainly, in some places. I’ve seen some startling before and after photos. But most professional foragers I know harvest the same patches of ramps every year — and some of these folks have been picking for 30+ years. They know, as well as any good farmer, that you don’t eat your seed corn. The sustainability of any bulb, corm, root or rhizome harvest all hinges on how you pick the plant.
Here’s how you do it.
First and foremost, you must find your onions. Ramps are showy onions with large, wide leaves. They’re pretty easy to spot, especially in Eastern woodlands, where they can literally carpet the forest floor for acres. Most wild onions are not so easily located, although one, the invasive three-cornered leek of California and Oregon, A. triquetrum, is almost as gaudy as the ramp.
There’s an onion for pretty much every environment, from deserts to forests to streamsides to lawns to high above the treeline in Alpine meadows. My favorite is the dusky onion, A. campanulatum, which is common in the mountains from California to British Columbia.
Onions, being bulb plants, send up grasslike shoots first. This can be as early as January in the Bay Area for the three-cornered leek, to mid-July for Alpine onions. Onions, in general, like to live in large troops: It’s weird to find just one onion.
A great many onions have a rosy blush to the base of their stems. But not all. Your nose is your best tool when trying to figure out if that grassy shoot you are looking at is an onion. Anything that looks like an onion that also smells like an onion is an onion. Lots of bulbs, some of them poisonous, can look like an onion, but none will also smell like one, too.
Once you’ve found your onions, look at the patch. Are there only a few onions there? Or does the patch have hundreds or even thousands of plants? If there are only a few, consider moving on. I like to pick patches with at least 100 plants, and preferably patches even larger than that. Regardless, follow these rules when you do decide to pick:
- Pick only the largest individuals. See the photo above? There are a dozen little onions in that image, and only the largest one is worth picking.
- Stick and move. Pick that large one and move on. Look for another large one. By doing this, you will scatter your picking activity and leave the patch thinned, without large holes in it.
- Take only 10 to 20 percent of any given patch. And that 20 percent number is only really for private ground or ground you have a very good idea that no one else knows about. Think about it: If I collect 10 percent of an onion patch, then you come along and take 10 percent, then two other people come… well, we’ve screwed that patch, haven’t we?
- If you really need some wild onions, but the patch is pretty small, pick one large green leaf from each plant. That’s what I do with my Chinese garlic chives at home and they never appear to really notice it. It’s a good way to get that flavor you crave without digging up the whole plant.
Speaking of digging, know that the bulbs on most wild onions are very small. Do you really need that bulb?
It’s a fair question. I dig my onions, and I do take bulbs, but not always. Most of the plant is above ground, so picking off the tops gives you a lot of onion while leaving the bulb. My colleague Russ Cohen in Massachusetts harvests his ramps this way. But, I like to pickle the little bulbs, or feature them in dishes, so I dig.
Ramps and nodding onions, A. cernuum — which live in almost every state but California — do have decent-sized bulbs. When you unearth the bulb of most wild onions, you will see it surrounded by many tiny little bulblets. It’s very important to replant all those bulblets and any small onions you may have disturbed while digging the big one.
This actually can help the onion patch because those bulblets stay small and dormant while the large onion is in place. Removing it opens up space for the rest of the onions to grow; this is true for any bulb or corm plant, like camas.
Many onions also have a cool trick they can play with their roots. Their roots are attached to the bulb with something like a breakaway: You can snap off the whole root cluster, leaving the bulb clean. The cool part? You can replant that root cluster and it will grow a new onion. Try this with a store-bought leek sometime. It’s trippy.
Finally, if you are going after bulbs, you will want to wait until the foliage is dying down and the flowers have set seed. All onion flowers are similar: Loose balls of smaller flowers that smell like onions, usually pink or white. This is a cluster from a dusky onion:
This onion’s not ready to dig yet, because the flowers are just blooming.These Idaho onions, however, are in perfect shape to dig.
I found these on a mountainside while hunting blue grouse last September. Their flower clusters had long since set seeds, and in fact most of the seeds had blown away. I probably should have dug a bunch that day, because I never did see, let alone shoot, any grouse…
Keep your onions cool and as you collect, and point them in the same direction; this keeps the amount of dirt in the foliage to a minimum.
When you get home, clean the onions in a basin of cool water by gently rubbing them down to remove old, dry skin. Once cleaned, wrap in a damp paper towel and put them in a covered container or plastic bag in the refrigerator. Stored this way, the onions will keep for about a week to 10 days before they deteriorate.
Use them as you would any green onion. I like to put them into everything in springtime, from eggs to pasta sauce to meatballs and Chinese scallion pancakes. If you want to preserve your onions, I like to pickle the bulbs, make Korean kimchi, lacto-ferment the whole onion or dehydrate them and grind them to make your own onion powder. Did I miss any preservation methods I ought to consider? After all, it is onion season…
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