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July Flora Spotlight:
Nodding Onion, Allium cernuum

Nodding Onion or Lady's Leek
Allium cernuum

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.

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