Foraging Wild Fruits Blog

Wild onions in the foothills

5/13/23 -'s been just a little while since I added to this blog. Oops. This summer I'll do my best to keep it up, though, so stay tuned.

Taking in a hike to view the spring wildflowers in the foothills of the Rockies, we noticed the following plants on the side of the trail:

Cylindrical stems (think like dandelions), with multiple buds surrounded by a large papery capsule is characteristic of plants in the Allium genus. Thick, grass-like leaves emanating from the base of the stem also helps to confirm our suspicions. This genus includes anything from onions and garlic, to leeks, chives and ramps.

What we have here are characteristic wild onions, a plant whose species name is most often given as Allium canadense ("Canadian" onion), but with all of the hybridization with other alliums (including cultivated varieties), the species name is not terribly important.

The reader should be greatly cautioned, however, as there exists a toxic lookalike, the death camas (Zigadenus venenosum), displayed at the right:

Death camas. Photo credit Colorado State University Guide to Poisonous Plants

The reader can likely notice a few of the characteristic differences between the wild onion versus the death camas. In particular, note the color of the flowers: white for the wild onion, and butter-yellow (although they can extend to white/off-white) for the death camas. Even more, allium flowers will take colors in the range of white-to-pink-to-purple, meaning that if ANY pink/purple hues are found on the flowers, it is likely an allium. Secondly, the flowers for the wild onion are bunched closely, originally emanating from a single papery bulb. The death camas flowers spread from the top few inches of the stem, and don't originate under a single bulb, rather a paintbrush-like collection of buds.

But...what if one wishes to harvest wild onion before it flowers? Herein, we come to the easiest way to distinguish the two.

Only onions (alliums) smell like onions (alliums).

That is, all one must do is

If the smell is of onions, garlic, chives, etc. the plant is an allium. To the right you can see me enjoying a wild onion stem after smelling that it was, in fact, wild onion. The taste is most similar to the green/fibrous part of a leek, perhaps mixed with a chive. They are best enjoyed in stews, to break up the fibers.

My first (so-far my only) mistake

8/21/20 - Aww!!! Look how cute my wife and I are at the Minnesota renaissance festival! Little did I know that among the turkey legs, jousting, beer, and artisanal wares, I would make my first foraging mistake.

Take a look at the vine-covered building below:

If we zoom in on the leaves, we see:

These are grape leaves. One would be hard-pressed (pun intended) to find much else in the photo. Even more, we can find

Grapes! Yes that's right! The bunch in that photo is grapes! I've eaten wild grapes before, I know what they look like.

But wait! There seems to be TWO kinds of grape bunches in that photo. There's a densely-bunched, green-stemmed variety, and a loosely-bunched, red-stemmed variety. Some of you might be starting to think "Hey...those loose-bunched red stemmed grapes look funny." That's because they ARE funny. Those aren't grapes at all! They are five-leafed ivy (Virginia creeper) berries!

So guess which ones I accidentally ate!?!

If given the chance to identify the difference, I could do so in a heartbeat. I was simply too comfortable with my identification of the grapes that I didn't even consider the presence of something else. Five-leafed ivy berries contain calcium oxalate crystals, which can tear up anything soft they come into contact with (like microscopic sandpaper). Needless to say, my mouth was a bit stinging and sore for a few hours. I DID go back and grab grapes later, though, just with more caution. They were delicious!

Moral of the story: just because you've successfully identified a wild edible, doesn't mean the entire patch is the same edible.