18 October 2010

FIGHTING WEED INVASION BY EATING ALLIUM TRIQUETRUM

Allium triquetrum. Angled onion, onion weed, three-cornered leek or garlic. You might notice it growing beside Melbourne creeks or popping up by the roadside – either by the garlicky smell, or by the distinctive clusters of white, bell-shaped flowers nodding in the breeze. It’s very pretty (looks a little like snowdrops), but it’s an extremely invasive weed (in Australia), and authorities are fighting a constant battle to contain and eradicate it.

Allium triquetrum: pretty flowers in the sun

And . . . it’s edible, so grabbing yourself some for the kitchen (if you do it correctly) means you’re doing the local environment a favour! The flavour of the leaves has been variously likened to garlic, onion, spring onion, leek and garlic chives. The bulbs are described as being slightly milder than most garlic. The flowers are also edible.

Today I decided to try it out for the first time. I thought others might be interested in this, too.

Identification:

This plant looks like a number of others, some of which are poisonous. If you’re unable to make a positive identification, don’t eat it.

Rinsed Allium triquetrum flowers

Make sure that the flowers have stripes down the middle of the petals, NOT dots on the edges. Make sure the flowers are white, NOT tinged with pink. Make sure the leaves have the tell-tale ‘keel’ on one side and. Make sure that when you crush the leaves you get a garlicky/oniony scent.

Click here for a little video on identifying the weed and suggested recipes (from the UK).

Harvesting:

You will need: a plastic bag, a trowel, identification aide if you’re not sure, gloves if you want. Also a sense of adventure and righteousness, so that when people look at you strangely you can just smile at them and get on with your work.

In Australia, this is a weed. Make sure that the council hasn’t sprayed it with weedkiller before you touch it – and don’t eat it if you’re not sure (in Melbourne the weedkiller is often coloured blue-green or pink so you can see it, but rain could wash the colour off).

Find a patch (easy to identify by the flowers), and disentangle it from the surrounding vegetation until you can see around the base of the patch.

Isolate the patch, disentangle from surrounding vegetation

As it is a weed, it’s ideal that you take not only the leaves and flowers, but also the bulbs and roots. It is almost impossible to get the bulbs simply by pulling the stems of the plant - see following picture:

Loosen the soil at the base or the bulbs will stay in the ground

Your best bet is to loosen the earth around the base of the plant with a small trowel (you might find you have to dig right underneath it) before pulling it up. Grasp close to the roots and jiggle it gently if you need to.

Loosen surrounding soil with a trowel (& maybe dig under the bulbs)

Pull gently (with an occasional jiggle if you need) to remove from the earth

Shake off excess dirt, but keep an eye out for any tiny bulbs that might try to escape. Put the lot (plus any other bulbs you can see stuck in the soil – remember, it’s a weed) into a plastic bag.

If you are mainly after the leaves (used like chives or spring onion), you probably don’t need a huge amount. I took three small patches, which was plenty in the leaf department. If, however, you’re also keen on the bulbs, you might need to harvest more.

Cleaning:

Again, Allium triquetrum is a weed, so it’s important that you don’t let any bits get away to infest new places. Keep a strong plastic bag handy for all offcuts and seal it well before throwing it out.

Discard of offcuts properly to avoid further infestations

Pop everything into a big colander and rinse (into a sink with the plug in to catch runaway bits). You want to make sure that there’s no dirt, bugs or dog piss on that stuff! You might need to do it in batches. Here is how I cleaned and separated the various parts of the plant:

1. General rinse to remove most of the dirt, plucked off discoloured leaves and put into the plastic bag as I went along.

Rinse thoroughly to remove soil, bugs and other nasties

Rinsed Allium triquetum bulbs and stems

2. Pinched the bulbs off the end of the stalks, then rinsed the bulbs (and peeled them in some cases) in a fresh bowl of water before putting aside.

Tiny Allium triquetrum bulbs, cleaned

3. Pinched the flowers off the other end of the stalks, discarding any discoloured ones into the plastic bag. Rinsed the flowers under running water, shook off excess water, put aside.

Rinse the flowers and discard discoloured ones

4. Rinsed the leaves a second time to make sure there was no dirt left on them.

A word from the wise: this stuff smells. REALLY smells. I actually felt a little ill when I was cleaning it. My advice to you (which I will try to follow next time) is to crush the leaves as little as possible when harvesting and cleaning, and to make sure that the window by the sink is right open! My illness faded when the smell from next-door’s lunch wafted through the window, so perhaps the other option is to have something on the stove that matches well with the garlicky/oniony scent!

Cooking:

The leaves can be used fresh as you would garlic chives or spring onion (chop them into salads, use as garnish, pop into garlic butter), or you can cook them very lightly (toss through a stir fry just before serving, or stir into a soup just before plating). I had some angled onion freshly chopped onto a gorgeous sandwich made on fresh sourdough, with perfectly ripe avocado, a big squeeze of lemon, and a couple of coarse grinds of salt and pepper. The rest I chopped and put into little tubs to freeze – I will use them in soups, stews, and perhaps veggie patties later on (my guess is that they’ll be too slimy for salads after being frozen).

Chop leaves and use like chives or spring onion

Chopped Allium triquetrum leaves ready to freeze

The bulbs are tiny at this time of year, but apparently grow bigger and may be harvested when the leaves die down in summer. I might see what I can find in a few months! As it is, I have half a tiny jar of tiny bulbs! I crunched on one and discovered that slightly milder garlic flavour, with a bit of acidity to boot. I decided to make a simple pickle with them: I popped them into a sterile glass jar with a couple of bay leaves (from my parents!) and a big teaspoon each of black peppercorns and brown mustard seeds, then covered it with white vinegar. I’ll keep it in the fridge for a week or so before trying them out.

Edit: A month later I tried the onions and realised that they also needed a bit of sugar in the pickling mix. I added it then, and a couple of weeks later they were tasting much better.

Ingredients for pickling: black peppercorns, brown mustard seeds and bay leaves

Allium triquetrum bulbs, peppercorns and mustard for pickling

Pickled onions (Allium triquetrum)

The flowers can be used as garnish, but might also be tossed through salads. This website suggests making tempura with them (it's is a great post, actually). When I was doing the prep I didn’t know if the flowers were OK to eat, so I shoved them all into a sterile glass jar and covered them with vinegar. If they don’t discolour completely, they might be mixed with the bulbs as a side/condiment or sandwich topping.

Edit: The flowers didn't discolour too much, but they are not as pretty as they were. I probably wouldn't bother with these again.

Pickled flowers (Allium triquetrum)

So that’s that! A real suburban foraging adventure - with the added bonus of doing a good deed for the Australian environment!

Angled onion (Allium triquetrum): A threat to biodiversity. But also tasty.

And as a disclaimer: everything we do (or don’t do) carries a degree of risk. It’s up to you to assess those risks for yourself. As I’ve said, if you’re not sure you’ve made a correct identification of Allium triquetrum, don’t eat it. If you think it’s been sprayed, don’t eat it. Make sure you clean it properly. Don’t eat a huge quantity on your first try in case it makes you ill. I am really, really not responsible if something goes wrong for you!

14 comments:

  1. i can't believe you're eating these! it's so cool but weird!

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  2. That knocks my English hedgerow fruit into a cocked hat, fantastic stuff!

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  3. steph - i've been having such issues getting chives to grow on the balcony (little bugs smother them) so i'm pretty chuffed that i have found a free alternative! it's funny to think they're a foodsource growing all over the place (in melbs, anyway).

    s-j - sometime in the next year you and i need to go and pick nettles!

    jenny - according to my sources (the internet!), this is pretty common in southern england, too. maybe you'll be able to try some in spring!

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  4. Awesome! My garden in the UK is infested with this stuff.
    Eating it is the last thing it will expect :D

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  5. It grows all over Tresco, where we are at the moment. It may be a problem in Oz, but I could do with some invasive ground cover in my garden. All parts are edible, including the flowers. Plant is often mistaken for white bluebell.

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  6. My garden is 'infested' with this plant, I have just thought that maybe I could eat it - fantastic, but I don't think I will be able to make too much of an overall impression on it, at least I will have some satisfaction out of eating it. I wonder if it could be marketed? Ba.

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  7. weird? how is this any weirder than eating chives? Eat away, I will go gathering in a few days. If it smells like onion, its onion weed, pretty distinct.

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  8. Great to have found your blog post on this. I ate it at a weeds workshop yesterday at CERES in Brunswick, but since I'm a super-careful type, I'm doing some further research. Thanks for sharing your methods.

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  9. iv got this all over my garden, each year i try pulling it up but it keeps coming back, never thought you could eat it. dont think i want to, just want to get rid of it.

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  10. I actually grow this plant on purpose and I have never had a problem with it. Love the flowers and use them as I would any other flower. And as you have stated you can eat them. Great little plant.

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    1. Except for the part where it chokes out natives and is a weed -which okay depends on definition a plant where you don't want it I 'spose.

      Please don't let them wreck native bushland. But yes, otherwise (big otherwise) it is pretty cool.

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  11. I actually grow this plant on purpose and I have never had a problem with it. Love the flowers and use them as I would any other flower. And as you have stated you can eat them. Great little plant.

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