Wild Onions in Chicago

Wild Onions on birch bark in a field of onions.
A week of cold weather has slowed down the coming of spring plants. I just got back from a weekend of being in the Southern suburbs of Chicago. They have some really nice forest preserves that I always try to spend some time in when I’m down there.

This is a nice time of the year to get the lay of the land as you can see a lot further into the woods and have a better idea of what’s there. Latter in the summer you can barely see beyond the first few rows of trees.

Again I was glad I didn’t have to survive off the land as there is not a whole lot in plant food yet. Saw lots of deer and plenty of raccoon tracks. I love how there is such an oasis of animals and plants in the midst of one the biggest cities in the US.

This reminds me of how even in Tokyo, where I worked for a number of years, right down town I could find plenty of wild plants to eat and enjoy the wildlife. In a pond right near the Imperial Palace, thousand of ducks would come in from Siberia to spend the winter (I use to envy how they didn’t have to bother with visas and passports.)

It’s an awesome sight seeing V formations of ducks coming in for landing as the thread their way between the high rise buildings. I have found memories, of my birthday tradition, of my wife and I heading to these ponds. Here we would celebrate, my birthday, with the thousands of ducks who have flown thousands of miles to come to my birthday party. As we fed these ducks and they walked and swam all around us, I marveled at how in the city I could walk with the ducks right at my feet, but out in the wilderness they wouldn’t even let me get with in a hundred yards of them.

Anyway I digress. The wild onions were plentiful in spots and you could pull them up, bulbs and all, by the handful as they tend to grow in muddy areas. The bulbs are about the size of a pea. In about ten minutes I collect half of a recycled plastic grocery bag. (It’s easy to carry several of these bags in your pocket and then if you collect a lot of things just tie them to your belt to carry your booty home.)

Now because you have so many of these it can take a lot of time to wash off the mud and outer skins of the bulbs. If you want to avoid all this cleaning just snip the chive like greens off above the ground. A pair of kitchen scissors works well for this. Because I can’t stand to waste the bulbs even though they are tiny, I have discovered the best way to clean them is with the strong spray of a garden hose.

I then cut them up into about 1 inch pieces and stir fry them (collect lots as they really cook down) or add plenty to my salad. They are a very mild onion and even milder when cooked. As much as I love ramps (wild leeks) I like these even more.

ITEM OF INTEREST: Chicago comes from the Indian word Checagou, which means "the place of the wild onion or garlic."