onion grass growing on a hillside near our house, note the curly ends on some stalks
Onion grass is very plentiful this time of year. In fact, it’s been up since March…it is one of the first things to come up, along with garlic mustard.
Onion grass is distinct: it comes up in patches in lawns and hillsides, it’s darker green and longer than the grass (especially in early spring, when grass has barely come back yet!), has a hollow stalk and a distinct onion smell and taste.
It can be used as you would use chives, and the bulb can even be dug and used like small shallots or scallions.
However, recently we were hiking along a creek bed, and came across a patch of plants that could potentially be confused for onion grass, especially because there was onion grass growing very close by.
NOT onion grass
This plant was likely a lily, so when digging it up it had very similar looking bulbs to the onion. However, looking carefully at the greens you’ll see this plant looks more like grass: flat, uniform in height, and very straight. The onion grass, on the other hand, grows rather messily: each stalk is a different height and some curl. Also, as I said before, onion is hollow, which you can tell when you break the stalk.
NOT onion grass: flat, even, looks like grass, no onion smell
This IS onion grass: curly hollow stalk, smells like onion
The final very important distinction is that onion grass smells undeniably like onion, while the imposter does not. If one were to accidently taste a bit of the imposter (which we do not recommend) it would taste awful and bitter: a sure sign the plant is not meant to eat.
- use multiple senses when identifying a plant, even one you feel very sure of.
- if you plan to eat a plant, dry it or use it in any other way internally, and feel 100% certain it is what you are after, it is still wise to taste a tiny bit of the plant to make sure it is what you seek. If it the taste is unpleasant or not what you expect, spit it out and discard it.
- Be absolutely certain when foraging wild edibles. There are plants which are dangerously toxic, even lethal (including death camas…which grows out west and can be confused with wild onion…see below…,poison and water hemlock and foxglove, to name a couple.)
Thanks, be safe and enjoy the spring!
onion grass I harvested today: VERY oniony smell, hollow stalks, curly uneven ends
Here is a very important comment added by Jason. (I am adding it in the text because our comment section is still a bit hard to find/understand.):
Everyone should read this post and understand it. Before you eat anything in the wild, make sure you are educated, especially on poisonous look-alikes.
I’ll add and important tie-in. DEATH CAMAS is often confused with Wild Onion and is EXTREMELY POISONOUS
It is in the same Order as Lilies, and also has an oval bulb that looks like wild onion. Sometimes they’ll even grow together!
As you point out, an important distinguishing feature is the lack of an “onion-smell”.
When foraging for food, if in doubt, go without.