Conservation Comment: In defence of onion weed

Triangular Allium (Allium triquetrum) flowers in full bloom. The plant is edible. Photo / 123RF

My mother wrinkled her nose one day 60 years ago when I brought her a bouquet of beautiful white flowers that I thought smelled strongly of onions.

Like many of her peers, Ellice Keys never knew what a culinary treasure Allium triquetrum (pronounced try-kwet-rim) actually was. If she had noticed this, our diet would have been enriched. Mom would have been very happy with the savings from the free onion picking.

Many species of the genus Allium are an integral part of our diet: leeks, spring onions, shallots, garlic and chives can be easily grown in our home gardens. Red, brown and white onions are the basis of many cuisines around the world.

But because it’s invasive, a triquetrum has been maligned as a pest plant. It’s called stinky onion or onion weed by most people I know.

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Triangular garlic describes the triangular stems of the species.

Allium triquetrum grows in the unsprayed wasteland of Castlecliff adjacent to te awa o Whanganui, off Mosston Rd and the common path through James McGregor Park.

It thrives in acidic, alkaline and neutral soil, in partial shade and outdoors.
Many home gardeners spend money on herbicides or dig the bulbs out of the ground and then send them to the landfill. What a waste and travesty. Every part of A triquetrum is edible.

I would grow three-cornered garlic in my own garden, but because it’s considered a pest, it’s banned.

So I go foraging at least once a week when I’m out on my bike. The stalks can be added to soups, stews, fritters and scrambled eggs. The pretty white flowers and chopped stalks stick in my delicious weed salads, along with marigold, borage and dandelion blossoms, miner’s lettuce, chickweed, self-healer, yarrow and arugula from my garden.

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Just as I want more people to learn about and consume edible weed for their health and wallet, I want to change people’s minds about A triquetrum.

Every change in our thinking and behavior starts with motivation.

If your motivation is saving, triangular leeks are a practical option. An onion currently costs about 70 cents in the supermarket. Replacing an onion with a large clump of A triquetrum three times a week will save you about $102 a year.

Start by picking one succulent stalk per serving and add to a green salad. You can save yourself the tedious task of peeling onions.

If taste is your motivation when eating, you will be pleasantly surprised, and so will anyone you serve dishes made with this precious wild plant. Just don’t tell them until they compliment you on your cooking. Sulfur gives A Triquetrum a milder flavor than brown onions.

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And if nutrition is important to you, the benefits of eating onions are well known: they contain vitamins C and B6, potassium, manganese and copper. Leeks are known to lower cholesterol and are good for high blood pressure.

Some people have an aversion to edible weeds. “We don’t have to eat weeds,” they say. If only they would open their minds.

I prefer fresh foods that have not been sprayed.

All alliums attract pollinators and are popular with bumblebees, honey bees and butterflies. We all know how important it is to provide food for these insects.

Just don’t let your dog or cat eat onion herb, usually not that they want to. They are known to be poisoned by large amounts of it.

Allium triquetrum is native to the Mediterranean: southwestern Europe, northwestern Africa.

Margi Keys is the secretary of the Whanganui Museum’s botanical group.