Gardening

Do You Know About This Onion?

onion bulbs

A few weeks ago we were over at our friends’ house taking a hike. There’s an old homeplace that’s marked by daffodils and what I thought was garlic.

Last week our friend went back to the area to move some of the garlic closer to their house, only once they dug it up they realized it wasn’t garlic but some sort of onion.

The leaves totally look like garlic to me, but a whiff and taste of the bulb reveals no garlic taste or scent whatsoever—it’s all onion.

Yesterday’s post about tater onions piqued my interest and a quick search led me to some information that said potato onions are sometimes considered perennial because they spread by the bulb instead of by seed and were once quite common in home gardens, especially ones in colder climates. You can read what I found here.

Yesterday Kathy left this comment regarding potato onions:

“Around here a tater onion and a walking onion are the same. The main onion head has little onions branched off to it side. Our tater onions aren’t very big but they are interesting to see and raise.”

Thanks to the generosity of Blind Pig reader Bill Dotson I’ve grown walking onions and the ones in the photo are definitely not them. But I know from personal experience things are called one thing in one area and called something totally different in other locations.

So now I’m wondering if the onions from my friends’ property are potato onions or some other type? Any information you can offer will be greatly appreciated!

Of course I can’t help but wonder about the folks who planted the onions and the daffodils growing near them here in Brasstown so many years ago. My wondering makes me wish I could go back in time and ask them about the onions.

Last night’s video: Easter Legends from Appalachia.

Tipper

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37 Comments

  • Reply
    Kathy Patterson
    April 18, 2022 at 10:29 pm

    Hi,
    What ever the mysterious onions are they look like they would be tasty with green beans, potatoes, and lettuce with hot grease poured over it with corn bread, butter, and milk.

  • Reply
    Tom Young
    April 18, 2022 at 9:57 pm

    Hello Tipper. I found that there is a Eurasian version of wild onion that was probably planted in the mountains by early settlers.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allium_victorialis#/media/File:ALLIUM_VICTORIALIS_-_GENTO_-_IB-888_(All_victorial).JPG
    Old time farmers in West Virginia and I suspect the Carolinas planted wild garlic, as we called it around the fields. They said it kept the Ground Hogs and rabbits out of the crops.

  • Reply
    Randy
    April 15, 2022 at 3:46 pm

    My mother had onions in our garden that she also called multiplying onions. They had round tops and if left alone would form little round balls on the tops. I guess this was seed because they would always come back up each year in the spring without reseeding or planting more of them. They would be ate just like the green onions we now buy in the grocery stores. Like someone else said, what you have are nothing like what we call wild onions.

  • Reply
    Glenda G. Page
    April 15, 2022 at 3:35 pm

    The first thing I noticed about the ‘green’ portion is that they are flat or flatter than the green onions I have seen…I bet they are tasty. When I lived in North Georgia, I would venture into Tennessee, near the Clarksville area, and would hear about ramp festivals and was fortunate enough to attend a breakfast where ramps were served. i was told at the time that they were rare and you were not allowed to hunt for them in the woods. Don’t know if that were true, but i never tried. Are ramps and whatever walking onions are buyable…if that is a word. Thanks for all the info you supply, Tipper, it is always a learning time for me. God Bless and have a wonderful Easter…HE IS RISEN.

    • Reply
      Tipper
      April 15, 2022 at 3:45 pm

      Glenda-thank you! You can buy walking onions from several seed companies. Ramps may be rare in some areas, but they are pretty plentiful in the mountains of NC 🙂

    • Reply
      Patricia J. DeWeese
      April 15, 2022 at 5:15 pm

      Never heard of potato onions. Learn something new every day.

  • Reply
    Ron Bass
    April 15, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    I grow multiplier (nest) onions, yellow and white onions they all have a hollow stem. The wild onions around here also have hollow stems and have a much stronger taste. I’ve never seen any type of onion with a flat blade.
    You can makeup your own name for these possibly the name of the people who once lived where you found them.

  • Reply
    wanda devers
    April 15, 2022 at 12:49 pm

    Mama had a row of some kind of onion in the garden pretty long term. They weren’t the walking onion and they never formed a bulb. We could use the blades like a spring onion and I don’t remember the blades being tough. They lived through the winter (West TN near Memphis) still looking green. I have always wished I could find some–I love green onions.

    • Reply
      Kathy Patterson
      April 18, 2022 at 10:32 pm

      Hi,
      The seed companies have bunching onions that might be what your mom had. I love spring onions too.

  • Reply
    Gloria Hayes
    April 15, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    We always called them wild onions and they grew in clumps not just one single big one. They definitely had a super strong smell.

  • Reply
    Mary Moretti
    April 15, 2022 at 12:19 pm

    They look kind of like a cross between leeks and spring onions

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    April 15, 2022 at 11:41 am

    Thank you, Tipper, for your beautiful Easter poem and for all the interesting stories.
    May your Easter abound with blessings! Christ is risen!

  • Reply
    Rod Weigel
    April 15, 2022 at 11:39 am

    Some have commented that they are “ramps or wild leeks” but the leaves are not wide enough for them to be ramps nor do they have enough burgundy color above the white root. I am curious about this variety and am willing to pay for a few starts as well as packing and shipping. Please advise. Warm regards, Rod

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 15, 2022 at 11:18 am

    My mother grew “multiplier” onions. Instead of one big bulb they grew a clump of smaller ones. Mommy said she couldn’t eat the bigger onions that most people grew but the multipliers didn’t bother her. Multipliers are also called potato or tater onions. I guess that’s because like potatoes you plant one in the spring and harvested several in the fall although she planted hers in the fall.
    The outer layers of her multipliers had a red or pink hue to them similar to a shallot. I don’t remember the taste exactly but I know it was milder than an ordinary onion. We mostly pulled them and ate them as you would green (spring) onions but you couldn’t pull just one, you got the whole clump.
    Sorry to say though, Mommy’s multipliers had round hollow leaves just like most onions. Flat leaves like that suggest leeks, garlic and ramps. I know you definitely know what ramps and garlic are but you might not be as familiar with leeks.

  • Reply
    sandra henderson
    April 15, 2022 at 10:53 am

    i was over in bryson city about dive or six years ago and a lady asked me if i wanted some garlic. i planted it and it looks like this. i went to eat some the next year and it was more like a leek to me. i use like leeks. the tops smell a little like garlic but it tastes, cuts, cleans, cooks , etc like a leek. i figured it was some old variety of inion, but this is the first ive seen anyone talk about it. thanks

  • Reply
    Kevin Knight
    April 15, 2022 at 9:54 am

    Hi Tipper. You have opened a can of worms for this one. They appear to be wild leeks.? They could be a variety of ramps.? A friend and myself did some seeding and propagation of ramps, got some interesting results. Make sure of proper identification thru an agricultural college. North Carolina does have some varieties of the death camas. Because they came from an old home place, they could have started from root scraps of onion trimmings. The best way is to have them tested. Thanx for sharing.

  • Reply
    Christine
    April 15, 2022 at 9:49 am

    I’ve looked up several of the suggestions from the other readers and after reading am still a little stumped. They don’t have the leaf shape or texture from what I can tell by your picture to actually be a true leek. I thought it might be ramps like a reader suggested, but didn’t see much red on the stem that is associated with mature ramps, but it could be young ramps because they don’t have a lot of red in their stems at that stage of growth. However, if it was a mature ramp, you would be able to smell and taste them for sure. They are way stronger than onions and garlic combined. After looking through several websites it could just be wild onions. Some people say wild onions and ramps are the same, but ramps have a distinctive smell and taste. It’s possible that it’s a combination of wild onions and ramps. It does happen in nature when things have cross pollinated or bulbs grow next to each other. My guess is that it’s just a wild onion. Some call them ramps, but once you’ve tasted a ramp, you never forget it.
    If you find out for sure, please let us know what it is.

  • Reply
    Patti
    April 15, 2022 at 9:43 am

    Oh my! Our fire department is having its annual ramp dinner tomorrow. In Tipton Hill, Mitchell County. (NC) Y’all come. Ramps and taters, ramps and eggs, streaked meat, corn bread and desserts.

  • Reply
    Bill Dotson
    April 15, 2022 at 9:27 am

    I don’t know what they are but they are not the type of wild onions in our part of the country.

  • Reply
    Kirsten Thomas
    April 15, 2022 at 8:51 am

    They look like ramps…early Spring onions

  • Reply
    Terry
    April 15, 2022 at 8:51 am

    Our yards were always full of those wild onions when I was little. When they would mow it smelled like we were
    harvesting an onion farm! My Granny wouldn’t let us eat them but I couldn’t see the difference between those and the ones in her little garden. We lived in SE Ky at the time.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 15, 2022 at 8:24 am

    Seems like the majority opinion favors leeks. I have some plants that I call leeks but really what I have might be a kind of mild garlic. They get big, way bigger than what you have pictured, about mid-calf. We’ve never used them for anything except I bring some bulbs in when fall comes and we use them like garlic but they are very mild. I have given some of the green ones away to someone who wanted to make leek soup.

    Without looking it up, I think the Israelites on the exodus pined for both the leeks and the onions of Egypt. So, as has been mentioned, those two are different. The KJV also mentions “garlick” I seem to recall.

    Whatever they are, I think it was a good find. Those “artifact” plants around old homeplaces are a story in themselves. As we know, plants were shared among family and friends and often had a story behind them; where they came from, who collected them, how they were carried from place to place and so on. When most everybody did some form of planting and growing, living things were a legacy handed down.

    • Reply
      AWGRIFF
      April 15, 2022 at 12:13 pm

      Ron, I grew leeks one year and they were large too. Only grew them one time, they were too mild for my taste.

  • Reply
    JC
    April 15, 2022 at 8:07 am

    Well now, those look like what my Cherokee relatives call ramps. Ramps have purple stems and the ones in your picture don’t so I would say those are what we would call ‘volunteers’. Plants that come up on their own. Some are from being missed in the harvesting then die back and come up somewhere else because of a squirrel that decided to try to eat it and carried it off. Usually it’s a squirrel. I’ve seen wild rabbits do it too.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    April 15, 2022 at 7:54 am

    From southern WV here and I say you got yourself some homegrown ramps! You cook them with some eggs, taters or Polk salad and you got one real internal cleaner right there! Ramp up the fun today!!!

  • Reply
    AWGRIFF
    April 15, 2022 at 7:52 am

    Mom and dad didn’t grow potato onions, but my grandparents did, and I wish I had paid more attention and asked more questions. I thought potato onions had blades like green onions and not like the blades in your picture. I know they are not wild garlic which I have coming up all over my property. Everyone around here calls wild garlic, wild onions. The wild garlic I have in my yard has round blades and small bulbs attached to the parent bulb. Leave just one of those little bulbs in the ground and it will grow a new top.

  • Reply
    Tammye R.
    April 15, 2022 at 7:32 am

    It looks like a big spring onions I’ve seen lately at my local farmers market. Tipper have you and I’m sure you have seen or grown walking onions? A man at my local farmers market 2 years ago gave me a plant and it just keeps coming back and they are like a big spring onion too, the leaves are tube like not flat. It’s interesting to watch them get tall and a little cluster form and when it’s heavy enough fall over and reseed itself hence the walking part. And congrats again on the Appy it’s well deserved!

    • Reply
      Ava
      April 15, 2022 at 9:59 am

      Tammye
      I know those onions as Egyptian walking onions. I have grown them for years and given away many. They never make a head but provide green onion tops for much of the year. The babies grow at the top of the blades, drop off & reseed themselves.

  • Reply
    MarthaW
    April 15, 2022 at 7:27 am

    Those are commonly called ramps or wild onions where I live (northern PA). They are just starting to come up around me. They are one of my favorites! Clean them off, chop up and sauté with eggs for breakfast. Or sauté in olive oil and herbs for a light pasta sauce like pesto. I gather extra when they are in season, chop them with a little olive oil in the food processor (leaves and roots together) and freeze packets so I can have them all year. Throw a packet in soup during the winter for a fresh Spring taste. Yum!

  • Reply
    Susan Warner
    April 15, 2022 at 7:26 am

    Looks like what is called a perennial leek. They come up real early around January. I found some on my place not knowing what they were- mr. Google helped figure what they are – different taste from onions, garlic or ramps!

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    April 15, 2022 at 7:08 am

    Tipper.
    They look like what we call ramps or Wild Leeks.
    https://www.thespruceeats.com › ramps-and-wild-leeks-3034534
    Ramps are a species of wild onion ( Allium tricoccum) native to the woodlands of North America. They look like scallions but have broad leaves and a purplish stem. Ramps are among the first plants to appear in the spring, typically showing up in the Appalachian region in mid-March and around the Great Lakes in early April. Featured Video
    Images for ramps vegetable
    Ramp Vegetable Plants – What Are Ramp Vegetables And Tips …Ramps Our Favorite Spring VegetableRamps Vegetable Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free …Royalty Free Ramps Vegetable Pictures, Images and Stock …Pin by Kathy Schaefer on Food & Drink | Scrambled eggs …Ramps – Organic AuthoritySimple Sautéed Ramps – New York Food JournalWild Ramps (Leeks) – A Seasonal Delicacy – Wild West …Recipe On The Go: Pickled Ramps | News From The TrailRoyalty Free Ramps Vegetable Pictures, Images and Stock …Growing Ramps: Best Varieties, Planting, Guide, Care …Ramps: Everything You Need to Know About the Wild Onions
    More Images
    How to Grow Ramps (Wild Leeks) – The Spruce
    Search domain thespruce.comhttps://www.thespruce.com › growing-ramps-in-the-vegetable-garden-1403463
    Ramps are a native plant found growing in moist woodlands of the Appalachian mountain range in eastern North America. They begin growth from a small bulb and spread and colonize over time. The leaves emerge in early spring, but the plants are ephemeral, disappearing within a month or two and remaining dormant until the following spring.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 15, 2022 at 7:07 am

    Oh if they are leeks be sure I want yo find some to plant. My favorite addition to stews and soupd

    • Reply
      nancy dillingham
      April 15, 2022 at 8:50 am

      I love the ramps. A spring ritual–and tonic. My family and I used to go in the mountains above Dillingham and dig time (forbidden now without a permit because of their scarcity). We’d wash them under a waterfall, fry bacon or streaked meat and potatoes then lay out the pone of corn bread we’d brought from home and eat in the woods. Good eating!

  • Reply
    Marlene
    April 15, 2022 at 6:46 am

    The picture looks like what my Mother called Leaks

  • Reply
    Angie Graeber
    April 15, 2022 at 6:39 am

    So many times I’ve wanted to go back in time to ask my grandparents something I didn’t think to ask when they were still with us. I miss them so much! Once when we were on our way out to Flat Creek in Buncombe County for Decoration Day and we passed her grandparents’ former home, she said, “Oh, I’ve walked these hills many a time!” She didn’t like hoeing corn either, but there are other questions that I now have in my genealogy research that I have no answers to.

  • Reply
    Ray Potts
    April 15, 2022 at 6:33 am

    The onions are Leeks. The flat leaves give it away. Very mild, sort of like young green onions, just a little more mild.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 15, 2022 at 6:29 am

    I’ve seen them, Tipper, we just always called them wild onions. I don’t recall eating them but as a kid, I wouldn’t have because I wouldn’t eat raw onions until I was grown. It is an acquired taste.

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