Ryan balances a career in higher education with a serious gardening passion.
Can You Eat the Wild Onion Grass That Grows in Your Yard?
Yes, you can eat the onions and garlic you find growing in the wild. The wilderness is full of edible plants. Although we humans cultivate most of the things we eat, many of those things can also be found growing in the wilderness. Many other edible plants that humans never cultivated can be found, too.
Onion grass belongs to a family of plants that grow from bulbs, collectively known as Amaryllidaceae. Within this family, the genus Allium can be found in agriculture and in the wild and includes not only onion grass but also shallots, scallions, onions, leeks, chives, and garlic—all of which are edible.
There are some inedible Alliums and lookalikes, however—some that can even make you very sick or even kill you. So before you eat wild plants, it's important to educate yourself.
Other names for wild onions:
- onion grass (Allium vineale)
- wild garlic (Allium canadense)
- wild chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
- wild leeks (aka ramps) (Allium tricoccum)
- spring onions
These are not all different names for the same plant: Although they are all in the Allium family, these are all different plants. Still, people confuse them because they sometimes look alike and they're all edible.
Below, you'll find out how to tell the difference between wild onion and wild garlic and their inedible relatives, how to eat them safely, and how to cook them (with recipes).
How to Identify Onion Grass
To distinguish between onion grass and inedible lookalikes, check...
- Smell. Check for that distinctive, onion-like smell. It is unique to the plant. If it doesn't have that oniony-garlicky smell, then don't eat it.
- Leaf Shape. The leaf will look like a blade of grass with a slightly curved u shape. If the leaf is hollow and tubelike, it might be wild garlic instead. Both of these plants are edible, but there are toxic lookalikes, so don't judge a plant by its leafs alone.
- Bulb. Make sure it grows from a bulb. The bulb might be round and small or long and stem-like (like a scallion).
- Flowers. If the plant is in flower, the flowers will be white with six petals. If you see pale purple flowers, it might also be wild garlic.
If you can't smell that oniony smell or if you don't see a bulb, it is not onion grass. Words of caution: When in doubt, keep it out of your mouth.
Which Part of Onion Grass or Wild Garlic Can You Eat?
The bulb, stem, flower stem, and flower are all edible, although the flower's stem tends to be a bit tough and woody.
You can enjoy all parts of wild onions and garlic, either raw or cooked.
How to Pick Onion Grass
Don't just grab the stems and pull like a weed or you may tear the stems and lose the edible bulbs. Instead, get a spade or a shovel and dig around the bulbs to lift them out of the soil. Some wild onions' bulbs will be several inches below the surface, while others will be more shallow, so dig deeply at first to find out how far down those delicious bulbs are buried.
If you're harvesting from a yard or lawn, please make sure it hasn't been fertilized, as those fertilizers are likely toxic.
How to Tell the Difference Between Wild Onion and Wild Garlic (Both Are Edible)
How to Cook Wild Onion or Garlic
You can use wild onion in any recipe where you'd use onions, scallions, shallots, chives, leeks, or garlic—whenever you want a little onion flavor. You don't have to cook them (they taste great chopped up in a salad or as a soup garnish), but you can. Here are some ideas:
- If you have a lot, you might just serve them as a side dish like this Garlicky Sautéed Scallions With Cilantro recipe.
- You could also use them to make this Green Onion and Sunflower Seed Pesto Sauce and eat it with pasta or crackers.
- This Creamy Mayo Potato Salad Recipe is a perfect way to use those wild green onions from your yard.
Does Onion Grass Taste Good?
Yes, it tastes good! Here's more about the flavor of wild vs. cultivated onions and garlic:
- Wild onion and garlic taste very much like their cultivated counterparts, although their flavor might be a little stronger.
- Their flavor may diminish with cooking, so keep this in mind when you're deciding whether to cook them or use them in a salad or as a garnish.
- The wild types might be tougher or stringier than a cultivated plant. If so, cooking will help make them more palatable.
How to Tell the Difference Between Wild Onion and Death Camas
Death camas, or Toxicoscordion venenosum, is a plant that looks a lot like wild onion, but isn't. This could be a very dangerous mistake. In fact, it is poisonous to both humans and livestock. How can you tell the difference?
- The death camas leaf is more dry and grasslike, not as tender or succulent.
- Death camas has a v-shaped leaf structure with a long central bend in the blade, while wild onion has a more curved and u-shaped leaf.
- Wild onion will always have a oniony smell and taste, mild or strong.
When in doubt, skip it. Don't eat the plant if you don't know for sure that it is safe. Death camas are very toxic, and there is no antidote for zygacine poisoning.
Wild Onion vs. Death Camas
Frequently Asked Questions
What plants look like wild onions?
All Alliums look similar, so you might see wild shallots, scallions, onions, leeks, chives, or garlic and mistake them for wild onions. There are also some inedible and toxic lookalikes, however (like Nothoscordum bivalve and Toxicoscordion venenosum), so it's important to know exactly what the plant is before you eat it.
Are there poisonous wild onions?
No, wild onions are not poisonous...but there are some plants that look like wild onions that are extremely toxic.
What toxic or poisonous plants look like wild onion or garlic?
- Crow poison (aka false garlic or Nothoscordum bivalve). There was a legend that told how Cherokee people used this plant to make a poison to kill crows and prevent them from eating their corn.
- Death camas (aka Toxicoscordion venenosum). All parts of this plant are poisonous for humans and animals.
The Onion Family
What is a "bulbous" plant?
Bulbous plants are characterized by a bulbous base and long, tube-shaped leaves that grow upward. Many are edible, but some are poisonous. For the edible varieties, the bulb is the most commonly eaten part of the plant. When eating garlic, onions, or shallots, you are eating the bulb of the plant.
Can you eat the leaves of bulbous plants?
Many varieties are edible, some are not. In the edible varieties, some of the bulbs are very small, so those plants are cultivated more for their leaves. Chives, for instance, are the leafy part of a bulbous plant. Wild onion grass is similar but less well known. Its long tubular leaves have a distinct onion flavor that many find appealing. However, there is no reason that one couldn't eat the bulbs of onion grass, too.
Is onion grass poisonous?
No, it's not. This is probably the biggest concern when deciding whether to eat a wild plant. Just because it's a wild species does not mean it's dangerous. Onion grass has gotten a bad rap because it looks very similar to death camas, or Toxicoscordion venenosum, a plant from the lily family which is very poisonous.
Is onion grass a weed?
Onion grass is commonly classified as an invasive weed, so gardeners everywhere try to control wild onion grass. Many don't realize that it can be a very easy and useful plant to grow in their garden. It just needs a little extra care so that it doesn't take over.
Foraging and Agriculture
Very early in our ancestry, before 10,000 BCE, when humans were still hunter-gatherers, humans subsisted on whatever edible things they could find in the wild. They managed to find enough to sustain small groups, but life was tough. Many plants contained powerful chemicals that killed naïve consumers. Worse yet, the threat of being eaten or injured increased with every step in the unforgiving, predatory landscape.
The shift from foraging to agriculture:
Around 9500 BC, a cultural revolution completely transformed human's lifestyle. This time period marked the first plant domestication. Humans began to select and cultivate grains with favorable qualities. For example, traits such as large yield, good flavor, and robust growth allowed larger numbers of people to flourish on smaller plots of land. Agriculture was more dependable than hunting and gathering. It was also much easier and less dangerous. This led to the development of the fertile crescent, an area that roughly included modern-day Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Jerusalem. Agriculture made modern civilization possible.
What did early humans eat?
Wheat was the earliest known domesticated wild plant, but other grains were domesticated, too. Rice and corn were cultivated in China and the Americas, respectively. Bulbous plants like shallot, garlic, and onion were also cultivated.
Yes, You Can Eat Wild Onion Grass
Onion grass is very similar to food you already eat. Its onion flavor will be both familiar and flavorful. So next time you run into some on your property or any place that you can be sure is safe to eat from, try it! Humans spent thousands of years living off the wild things around them. True, many of them died eating poisonous things, but all those years of naïve choices made it very clear that onion grass was not one of them. And the best part about finding wild onion grass is that it's free and easy to grow.
How about you?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Christy on June 20, 2020:
I'm pretty sure mine's the wild onion. When they were out in full force last month, it finally dawned on me why I had tears streaming down my face when cutting the grass where they were. Thought was my allergies till I realized how strong the smell was.
Logan547 on May 04, 2020:
Wow never knew that. Really cool.
Jake on May 02, 2020:
How do I grow it in my garden
Anonymous on March 29, 2020:
I'm surprised that yards purposefully populated by moss instead of grass exists while the same thing for wild onions/garlic at least aren't common enough to look it up.
Spurwing Plover on May 21, 2019:
Sometimes the oder will attarct you to wild onion its realy not hard to miss
RYan on May 02, 2019:
Just dont give any to ur dog
Llgirl on October 23, 2018:
It is edible, but don't let your dairy animals eat it unless you like onion milk. Also, it'll give you worse breath than regular onion or garlic.
Joe on July 25, 2012:
Botanical name of the plant.
What is known locally as 'onion grass' varies from one place to another in this country (Australia), let alone across the world.
Secondly, it should be made very clear that not all bulbous plants are edible --- some are very poisonous (eg. Narcissus. Genus ie the daffodils/jonquils)
This is not made out sufficiently clearly in the text.
Ryan Buda (author) from Windsor, Connecticut on July 16, 2012:
No problem! Wild onion grass is one of natures best kept secrets.
hisandhers from Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 14, 2012:
It's true- onion grass can be found almost anywhere in my area and it seems to spread with very little maintenance. I always knew it was called onion grass but I never knew that it was actually edible until now! Thanks for the info.