Learning how to gather food from the wild can be an important survival skill, but it can also make for an interesting and affordable meal at home.
Everything from mushrooms to berries can be gathered and prepared in a whole host of ways, and many wild-foraged foods are very comparable to their store-bought counterparts in terms of taste and nutrition.
But, as you might imagine, not all wild counterparts to our domestic produce are good, or even safe! How about wild onions? Are wild onions edible?
Yes, wild onions are edible and every part of the plant is safe. Though they don’t taste as sharp as domestic cultivars, they are nutritious and good in a variety of dishes. You must be sure to avoid dangerous lookalikes, though!
Wild onions are one of the most prolific, and tastiest, edibles you can get, and that’s good news since you can get them almost anywhere.
With just a little caution, you can easily gather a bunch of wild onions in no time and use them in a whole host of ways. Keep reading and I will tell you what you need to know about eating these tart little bulbs.
Are Wild Onions Actually Onions?
Yes, wild onions are indeed, actually, onions. In fact, they’re more than just distant relatives to the domestic onions we get at the store or grow ourselves; they’re part of the exact same family. The Allium family, to be exact.
This includes both the wild varieties, like the common Allium canadense, or true wild onion,and Allium oleraceum, known as field garlic.
These wild types are simply uncultivated members of the same onion genus. The next time you come across a wild onion in your backyard or out on a walk, know that it’s not an imposter.
Do Wild Onions Taste Like Normal Onions?
Yes, they do. But before you start imagining that strong, tear-jerking flavor that common onions are known for, manage your expectations.
Wild onions have a much milder taste as a rule. Especially when they’re still green and young, their flavor can even be subtle. Think of them as the milder cousins to the onions you dice up for your homemade salsa or soup.
This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily: that mildness might be an asset depending on your preferences and the dish you are making. They will still bring a lovely, oniony flavor to whatever you are adding them to, though.
If you’re someone who finds the taste of regular onions a bit too overpowering, wild onions might be worth seeking out instead of the more common kinds.
Are Wild Onions Nutritious?
Yes, they sure are. Wild onions are surprisingly nutritious, especially the green leaves. They’re low in calories- just about 10 to 20 calories per serving- but they pack in a surprising number of minerals and vitamins.
They’re full of good stuff like B-vitamins, folate, and vitamin C, all micronutrients your body needs, along with minerals like manganese, phosphorous, and potassium. Plus, they’ve got carbs and protein for energy.
And beyond the “list” of good nutrients, wild onions are also known for their tangible benefits. They can support gut, heart, and brain health, and even boost skeletal growth and repair.
Wild onions are not just a novel and tasty addition to your meal; they’re certainly a nutritious one worth tracking down.
What Parts of the Plant are Edible?
Every part of a wild onion is safely edible, from the roots to the leaves, though not all parts are good to eat.
From top to bottom, you can eat the whole thing, but before you start munching on the roots and the papery outer skin, know that they’re not exactly the tastiest parts of the plant. Both are a bit tough and unpalatable.
So while you could technically eat them, you probably won’t want to and they don’t have a place in many dishes. I’d discard these parts the same as you would with common onions of any kind.
The rest of the plant, however, is a different story: The stems, leaves, and bulbs are definitely delicious…
So don’t hesitate to add any of those parts to your salad, soup, stir-fry, or sandwich. Just leave the roots and skin out, and you’ll be good to go.
Do You Need to Cook Them Prior to Eating?
No. You don’t need to cook wild onions before eating them. They’re safe when raw as long as you give them a thorough wash to eliminate any lingering dirt and other contaminants. In a real pinch, you could eat them straight out of the ground if you had to; they aren’t toxic.
However, cooking wild onions can make them easier to eat and also taste better. A little heat can soften their texture and mellow out their flavor even more. Just like typical onion varieties, sautéing them brings out their sweetness and more nuanced flavor.
And don’t forget, wild onions can be used just as you would any others to season other foods, including hunted or gathered ones.
I can attest to this, having enjoyed a wonderful venison steak with a little cracked pepper and fresh, field-gathered onions alongside. One of the best meals of my life, truly!
Just imagine a fresh-caught fish filet seasoned with wild onions, or a stew made with other foraged veggies and the subtle, earthy flavor of wild onions. Sounds good, yeah? Grab your basket and get out there!
Warning: Wild Onions Have Several Dangerous and Deadly Lookalikes
Wild onions are wonderful, and I love them, but it wouldn’t be one of my articles without a stern word about what can go wrong. Yes, even with innocent vegetables.
Wild onions are indeed delicious and nutritious, but they do have a few doppelgangers that are anything but safe. In fact, some can be downright deadly.
Take the death camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum), for instance. This plant looks a lot like a wild onion on the surface and below, but eat this pretty lookalike and that could be it for you: it is dripping with potent neurotoxins.
Then there’s the autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale), another plant that can cause severe poisoning. Luckily this one is found in Europe and Asia, though it is suspected to be in some parts of the US and Canada as an invasive species. How do you tell the difference between these and wild onions? One way is by smell.
If a plant looks like an onion bulb but doesn’t smell like one, steer clear: It’s probably not a wild onion without that aroma! Other than that, learning the sometimes subtle differences in the leaves, flowers and other growth characteristics of the real thing and local imposters is essential for safety.
Remember this: when in doubt, it’s far better to be safe than sorry. Always be absolutely sure of what you’re gathering before you take a bite, and if you have no choice perform the universal edibility test for extra assurance.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.