In early Spring most brown lawns and fields in the Southeast are littered with bright green bunches of wild Allium. We refer to them all as wild onions, but most are in fact wild garlic; Allium vineale. There are many types of onions and garlic growing in the wild, but wild garlic is the common invasive yard weed that landscapers hate and foragers love.
Wild garlic are best picked in early Spring, when the leaves are fresh and tender. They are easily identifiable by the shape of their leaves and their strong garlic scent. The leaves are hollow tubes like garden onions. In contrast, wild onions have flat leaves similar to garden grown garlic. If you crush the leaves of wild Allium they smell like onions or garlic. There are no look a like plants with similar smells and features growing in your yard. If it smells like garlic and is growing like a bunch of chives, it is a yard onion.
Wild garlic can be picked from the edge of forest, in fields, on hiking trails and in your front yard. But before bringing it into your kitchen, be cautious about the growing conditions of the plant. Do not forage for wild foods in yards that have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides and if your pets have access to the area where the yard onions are growing, you might want to go pick them somewhere else.
Yard onions/wild garlic can be used fresh in salads, as a beautiful garnish, on baked potatoes: pretty much anyway you would use chives. They can also be cooked in breads, soups or any dish that could use strong garlicky flavor. If you pull a clump of wild garlic out of the ground, you will find very tiny garlic bulbs. If you taste them, they have a great strong garlic flavor, but I rarely use them. I think they can overpower many dishes, but can be ideal in some Asian foods. I might toss a few of them in with our next pan of Lo Mein.
Update: The tiny garlic bulbs were great in Quick and Easy Vegetable Lo Mein.
My favorite recipe that includes wild garlic chives is for Drop Biscuits with Wild Garlic and Cheddar. They are absolutely fabulous and could turn even the greatest skeptic into a front yard forager.
The leaves of wild garlic really are a delicious addition to many dishes, so don’t be hesitant to try these yummy yard weeds.