all allium to eat?
Wed, 02 Nov 2005 20:57:04 PST
I searched in vain this evening for the proper reference that I know I have, 
but there was a study done in the 1950s or 1960s, I believe done by Harold E. 
Moore and published in Baileya (a journal of horticultural taxonomy, part of 
Cornell University), that states that all allium are edible, although not all 
are palatable.  There's lots of information on Allium species being used as a 
food source by indigenous populations, in most of the Northern hemisphere, 
numbering well over 100 species out of the family total of approximately 850 taxa 
now recognized.  It's interesting that there are whole sections of the genus 
allium, where the plants have no onion smell at all (perhaps these are the 
unpalatable ones?).

Regarding the term "winter garlic", what the hey is that?  Just spent 1/2 
hour google search on it, confirms my scorn for common names... they are quite 
meaningless.  I still don't know what botanical entity is meant by such a 
nebulous term as "winter garlic".  One would assume it refers to a form of Allium 
sativum (garlic), but of course common names are often quite unrelated to any 
botanical sensibility, and can even suggest the wrong genus, let alone the 
specific species.

The following is an excerpt from a message I wrote to someone inquiring about 
"Egyptian AirOnions":
The Egyptian Onion is indeed a form of Allium cepa (the latin name for the 
common yellow onion).  If you do a Google Search on "Egyptian Air Onion", you'll 
get about 90,000 hits.... just tons and tons of information out there, 
including sources where you can by them.  But the best sources for buying them would 
be in some of the bigger food and produce markets, particularly asian food 
markets.  The name Egyption Air Onion also goes by a variety of other (equally 
silly) names such as Egyptian Walking Onion, Egyptian Tree Onion.

An excerpt from one such site (note:  like many web links, it's full of 
informational errors, but you get the idea):

"Wild onions presently grow in Central Asia where the whole family of onions 
is said to have originated, though some say it was in the area of Iran, 
Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Those familiar looking, round, mature bulbs are in the 
Allium cepa genus that is part of the lily family. There are 325 species of 
onions [MMcD: actually, there are about 875 species worldwide), 70 of which grow 
in North America [MMcD: about 110 species grow in North America]. The grand 
allium family includes onions, shallots, green onions (often called scallions), 
chives, leeks, and garlic. "

"Food historians shake their heads regarding the exact origin of the onion. 
Some varieties of onions have been given popular names like Egyptian onions or 
Welsh onions with no evidence that they actually grew in those countries. For 
instance, the Welsh onion, A. fistulosum, is considered quite primitive in 
that it has never developed a bulb, but rather resembles a scallion with a 
slightly thickened stem. The Welsh were not inclined to cultivate them on any large 
scale, and they weren't even introduced into the country until 1629. " 
"More confusing is the Egyptian onion, a tree onion that was actually unknown 
in Egypt. A specimen of this unique onion variety came to the attention of 
Frenchman Jacques Dalechamp, in his country in 1587. The Egyptian onion, never 
having developed a substantial bulb, did not become popular because it has 
difficulty developing seeds to reproduce itself. This variety was officially 
introduced into Great Britain in 1820 from Canada. Historians have been puzzled to 
see the tree onion, along with the Welsh onion, growing wild in North America."

So, in summary, the so-called Egyptian Onion has little bulbs that cluster at 
the top of the flowering stem (common in Allium species), looking like a 
cluster of shallots.  These will sprout with green leaves, I suppose giving the 
appearance of a trunk (the stem) and a tree top (the sprouting bulbils), thus 
the rather silly name "tree onion".  It's also called walking onion because when 
the stems eventually collapse, the bulbils take root where the stem falls, 
thus it's "walking".  There is volumes and volumes of information on this 
variety of yellow onion, and lots of sources of seed and bulbs of this variety.

end or article

Moving on, regarding "garlic chives", Jim McKenney is quite right that this 
refers to Allium tuberosum, a late summer to fall blooming Asian species.  It's 
quite invasive, and I do not recommend growing it, even though pretty.  The 
foliage easily detaches from the tenacious roots when pulling it, requiring a 
tap-root digging tool to get it out.  It is "apomictic"; that is, it is self 
fertile and sets seed very quickly without the need of cross fertilization.  It 
can have fresh flowers and ripe seed capsules on the plant at the same time... 
making it a menace in the garden.  

It varies slightly in flower color... always white, but sometimes with an 
intense red midvein apparent on the outside of the tepals (noticeably in the bud 
stage only).  Typically it is an erect plant flowering at about 18"-24" tall 
(45-60 cm).  For some bizarre reason, it is often confused with Allium ramosum, 
but that species flowers in early summer, and looks completely unlike A. 
tuberosum, except perhaps that it too has white flowers.  Allium ramosum is a 
perfectly good white-flowered species to grow, reaching 3' (90 cm) or more in 

Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon, or "snake garlic", is a "way-cool" plant.  
Not showy on account of it's flowers (there are none.. the flowers are 
replaced by bulbils) but because the erect stalks coil in serpentine fashion at the 
top of the stems, in a most intriguing fashion.  It's worth growth just for 
the coiling snake-like growth habit, and in my experience, the bulbilliferous 
heads are not invasive... never seen a "self-sown" bulbil-induced plant growing 
in my garden so far, and eventually I lost this plant.

>The Allium "odorum" [A. tuberosum] plants arrived from 
>the dealer, were planted, grew well, bloomed - but sure 
>didn't smell like tuberoses: another big disappointment. 

In the many forms of Allium tuberosum I've grown, some are fragrant and some 
aren't.  I've never smelled a "tuberose" for comparison, but indeed some forms 
of Allium tuberosum are sweetly fragrant.

I was gathering together a PBS posting on "autumn crocus", but have been 
trying to take in the explosion of messages on Allium sativus on PBS, and haven't 
yet read the litany of messages.  I'm glad Arnold posted a photo of C. 
sativus, as it was long overdue given the discussion-thread, and trumped my 
introducion of pertinent photos. Perhaps by this weekend, I hope to upload 
approximately a dozen photographs of autumn crocus or more.  No one has mentioned the 
Turkish Crocus pallasii var. pallasii, one of my very favorite autumn crocus that 
blooms in very late October though mid November.  More on autumn crocuses to 

Mark McDonough Pepperell, Massachusetts, United States "New England" USDA Zone 5
>> web site under construction - <

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