July Flora Spotlight:
Nodding Onion, Allium
Nodding Onion or
As a suggestion of our Garden Manager Jay Kranyik, I began researching this plant
thinking another onion that invades your lawn and is impossible to completely remove. I
knew Jay was excited about this plant for several years. He propagated it to sell at our
plant sale. My research has made me a fan of this plant as well. As an artist I appreciate the grass-like
leaves and tiny bell-shaped, pink to lilac pink flowers that appear in loose, nodding
clusters (umbels) rising slightly above the foliage. Wild nodding onion is distinguished
from most other native alliums by the fact that its stalk turns sharply downward at the
top just below the flower so that the flower umbel nods (hence the common name).
Nodding onion is easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soil in full sun to
light shade. Best in full sun, but it appreciates some light afternoon shade in the heat of
summer. Plants will naturalize by self-seeding and bulbs in optimum growing conditions.
Deadhead flowers before seed sets to help control any unwanted spread. Foliage
persists past flowering into late summer before dying back. Plants are easily grown
from seed which should be planted in spring or from bulbs which should be planted in
This plant is edible and has medicinal uses similar to garlic. Eaten sparingly by Native
Americans, they were steamed in pits lined with cedar boughs and covered with lichen
and alder boughs. They were eaten, dried on strings or pressed into cakes. Leaves,
bulbs and flowers are edible. Harvest leaves during spring and fall, bulbs in the second
year when they are large enough to use like onions. Collect flowers during the summer..
Bulbs can be used raw, boiled, pickled or for seasoning. Their strong taste can be
reduced by parboiling and discarding the water.
Nodding Onion was used medicinally by the Cherokee. The juice of the plant was
given to children for hives and croup, as well as for colds and sore throat. A poultice of
chewed plant parts was applied to the chest for pleurisy pains, croup, and otherwise
applied externally for infections, sores and swellings. A poultice of warm onions was
applied externally to throat for sore throat as well.