Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


Photo © Bruce W Leander


Use Your Nose to Find Wild Onions

Some native plants you smell before you see. Along creeks and rivers, and sometimes deep in the woods, you can catch a waft of onion, tangy and distinct. Yes, these are wild onions, of the Allium species, with many varieties scattered across our state.

Members of the lily family, these plants usually present as small purple or white bulbs under the soil, with long, green, flat or semi-hollow leaves that are also edible. Pink, white, yellow and purple flowers bloom each spring.

There are 14 species and several varieties of wild onions in Texas. Some of the plants we call wild onions are actually wild garlic, but it’s pretty difficult to discern between them. All parts of both plants are edible, even the flowers. Long after the green tops die down, the bulbs remain below the earth, ready to use. Make sure you leave some behind to multiply and reproduce for next year.

It’s thought that these wild onions and garlic were a staple of the ancient people who lived here. Archeological evidence suggests they were gathered in bulk and baked in earthen ovens. Hinds Cave deposits in southwest Texas on the Pecos River contained specimens that indicated the presence of the Drummond onion, Allium drummondii.

Use your nose and don’t be fooled by look-alikes. Rain lilies and crow’s poison plants look just like wild onions and can cause stomach upset. If it smells like onion, it’s safe to eat. If it smells like grass, it might be one of these and should be avoided. A small nibble can also offer certainty; you should note that familiar onion-y twang.

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