Onions are an essential element to many great dishes, but to most people, an onion is just an onion.
Sure, some are red, some are white and others are yellow. If you want to get really crafty, you might even pick up one of the sweet ones, but in terms of looks, they’re all pretty much the same, right?
The reality is that onions grow in all shapes and sizes. There are skinny onions, fat onions, tall onions and stout onions.
And here’s another surprise - many of these onions are probably sprouting up right under your nose.
If you’ve ever heard someone refer to “yard onions,” they’re likely referring to one of the many wild onion species that grow natively across the country. No matter where you are, there’s a good chance wild onions grow somewhere nearby.
If you find yourself in California, however, one non-native onion that grows with a particular panache is the three-cornered leek (Allium triquetrum), a somewhat obvious specimen whose delicate white flowers make it an easy find for those who are new to the foraging game.
Like all wild onions, three-cornered leeks are members of the allium family, meaning they’re closely related to garlic, ramps, scallion, chives and true leeks. In addition to their tell-tale while flowers, the “allium” scent of the three-cornered leek is also a dead giveaway that you’ve stumbled upon some yard onions. If you’re confused about what to smell for, think of a cross between white onions and garlic.
Tall and lanky like the green onions you’d pick up at the store, three cornered leek is native to southwestern Europe and northwestern Africa but has been prolific in its spread across the globe. Today, you can find it from South America to Australia, with populations in the United States centralized in California and Oregon.
Like any foraged green, you’ll want to be mindful about where you pick these leeks. Avoid areas with heavy automobile traffic nearby, as well as grass patches that Fido might be using as his bathroom.
The good news is that if you find one patch, there’s certain to be more nearby, as allium plants tend to cluster together in dense patches.
In the kitchen, you can use the three cornered leek the same way you would green onions, being sure to trim away the top of the stems and stringy roots around the bulb. All parts of the plant are edible, with the delicate white flowers making an excellent garnish.
Sauteed, stewed or even grilled, these yard onions make an excellent side dish or can be make a central ingredient with some creative recipe work.