Foraging in the yard: Wild Garlic (Allium vineale)

Edible wild garlic
Edible wild garlic

A familiar lawn “weed” is popping up now: wild garlic.  Numerous plants are called “wild garlic,” but this is Allium vineale.  It is often confused with wild onion, which is also a lawn weed popping up right now that looks almost the same and also has many cousins sharing the same common name.  Unfortunately, due to the number of species’ with these common names, there is a lot of internet flotsam about how to tell the difference between the two, for example saying wild garlic has flat leaves or that the leaf stems of wild garlic are hollow and wild onions are not — vice versa.  When you add in garden chive escapees, it adds to the confusion.  In my region, the local variants can have hollow leaves or not and neither has flat leaves.

Wild garlic looks almost exactly like wild onion in the lawn
Wild garlic looks almost exactly like wild onion in the lawn

Fortunately, the confusion is mostly academic.  If you find a plant in the southeastern United States that looks like the one above AND smells strongly of onion or garlic, it is safe to eat, but BOTH must be true.   If in doubt, don’t eat it.  All parts of the plant are edible, with the bulb being the strongest tasting and least fibrous.  Bulbs may be up to 1/2 inch in diameter.

The plants growing in my yard are usually wild garlic.  Upon dissection, the key identification difference is that wild garlic has a papery membrane (just like cultivated garlic) and wild onion bulbs are covered with a reticulated mesh.  Further, if the plant has side bulblets growing off the main bulb, it is wild garlic.

Wild garlic: note the papery husk
Wild garlic: note the papery husk

A native of Europe, north Africa and western Asia, in some areas wild garlic is considered invasive.  Like all alliums, these are toxic to dogs and cats, particularly small dogs and cats.  Your animals are unlikely to eat them in the yard, but if they do it’s a practice you want to discourage or else attempt to remove the plant from areas they can access.  Those with dairy animals are not going to view this as a welcome weed either, since it imparts an unpleasant taste to milk.  For the rest of us, however, wild garlic is an abundant plant in the early spring that can be a tasty addition to your kitchen.  Once warm weather sets in, they will vanish, so collect them while they are available.

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