There’s nothing quite like foraging for food that grows naturally without anyone tilling the soil, pouring the water, or breaking his back. Gardening is a wonderful and gratifying activity, but it is a lot of work and worry, unlike the ease of strolling through a beautiful forest picking up pine nuts or harvesting mushrooms. Foraging is an excellent way to supplement your diet with delicious natural foods for free.
One such food I have been lucky to forage on my five acres in New Mexico is the wild onion. In spring, and after heavy rains, these fantastic pungent vegetables pop up from the ground in droves. Of course, the longer they grow, the bigger they will get, but rarely reach the size of the green onions you can buy at the farmer’s market.
However, you don’t need size for flavor with these little bulbs because they pack a flavor wallop. Wild onions are highly concentrated and one whiff will tell you if the plant you just pulled is a wild onion or an imposter. If it looks like an onion but doesn’t smell like an onion, don’t eat it! It could be poisonous.
The wild onion is a member of the lily family (Liliaceae). There are many varieties that grow wild. The plant I harvest is the Allium cernuum. Its loose cluster of small bluish purple blooms top several slender green stalks that shoot from one or two bulbs. The stalks grow around two to 10 inches tall in my neck of the woods, but vary in other parts of the country. Eventually the blooms go to seed, fall to the ground, and carry on the wild onion tradition.
Uses for the wild onion include remedies for relieving flatulence to curing colds. But the use I and probably most people are interested in is food. These onions are great to cook with because they are so “oniony,” yet their size makes cleaning them a little tedious. Fortunately, it doesn’t take that many wild onions to perk up any dish. Just peel away the papery skin layers to the juicy center bulb and either toss them into your mouth or toss them into your salad. They’re great!
Wild onions are a great natural food, perfect for foraging and punchy to the tongue. If you can find them, I recommend giving them a try, but just remember not to eat too many if you’re planning to hold lengthy conversations with family and friends later.