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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - July 07, 2006

From: Phoenixville, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Edibility of native and non-native wild onions
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I'd like to know if the seeds of the wild onions found in southeastern Pennsylvania (possibly called Allium ascalonicum) are edible at all- these are the seeds that grow on top of the stalk, after a wonderful purple flower has dropped off in July. thanks!

ANSWER:

There are several species of wild onions that grow in Pennsylvania—some native, some not native. You may, perhaps, have seen Allium ascalonicum, a non-native, introduced species. However, it is possible that the one you encountered is a widespread, common native Allium canadense. You can eat all of the parts—the bulbs, the leaves and the bulblets (the small bulbs that form on the flowers on top of the plant) of all of the species of Allium (the onions, garlics, shallots, leeks, and chives). Be sure that when picking any part of the plant that you detect a distinct onion/garlic smell. There are other plants in the Family Liliaceae (Lily Family) that look like wild onions or garlic, but whose bulbs are poisonous. Those in the Genus Allium will have the typical onion/garlic smell and will be safe to eat. You should be aware, however, members of the Allium spp. can cause gastric distress if eaten in large quantities. Euell Gibbons in Stalking the Wild Asparagus has a chapter dedicated to finding and using "The Wild Onion Family." The book is probably available at your local library.
 

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