Allium cernuum Roth
General: perennial, onion-smelling, the stem 10-50 cm tall,
round or flattened, curved down near the top, sometimes 2
or more successively produced from a single bulb. Bulbs
1-2 cm thick, usually in clusters, with membranous outer
layers with parallel fibres.
Leaves: basal, several per bulb, plane or concave-convex
in cross section, 1-6 mm broad, shorter than the flower
stem, entire or small-toothed on the edges, green during
flowering, persistent at maturity.
Flowers: several in a nodding umbel, the surrounding,
membranous bract soon dropped. Stalks slender, 2-3 times
the flower length, in fruit becoming stouter, elongating, and
bending upward. Tepals 4-6 mm long, elliptic-ovate, blunt,
entire or nearly so, pink or white, withering in fruit, the
midribs not thickened. Stamens projecting, anthers oblong.
Ovary crested with 6 distinct, flattened processes, the style
thread-like, projecting, stigma round, entire.
Flowering time: June-July.
Fruits: capsules, 3-lobed, with 6 crests at tip, about 4
mm long. Seeds dull black, with honey-comb pattern.
Widely distributed in moist to dry, open sites, plains to
montane zone, in w., c. and s.e. parts of MT. Also from
B.C. to WA, OR, ID, and to GA and Mexico.
Edible and Medicinal plant, see below.
(click on image for full size)
(click on images for full size)
Nodding onion is edible, and its bulbs were widely eaten by native peoples and European settlers, either
raw, cooked or dried for winter. Being strongly flavored, it is mainly used as a flavoring. Cooking removes
the strong smell and flavor, converting the sugar inulin to the more digestible fructose, and the bulbs
become very sweet. The leaves are edible, raw or cooked. They have a delicious, strong-onion flavor, and
are said to be very nice in salads. The flowers can be eaten raw or cooked. They have a delicious strong
onion flavor, somewhat stronger than the leaves especially if the seeds are starting to set. They make
a very decorative and tasty addition to the salad bowl.
Nodding Onion was used medicinally by the Cherokee, Isleta, Kwakiutl, Makah, and Quinault Indians. 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.
The juice of the plant has been used as a moth repellent. The whole plant is said to repel insects and
moles. The juice can be applied to exposed skin in order to repel mosquitos and other biting insects.
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