Bulbous, smelly, yet oh so good is one description of the Allium genus, or onions. These popular rhizomes can be either perennial or biennial. The onion is native to the northern hemisphere, Ethiopia, South Africa and Mexico.
Various species of onion have been cultivated since the earliest times and are universally important as vegetables, flavorings and medicinal plants. The smell that we associate with the onion is caused by sulfur compounds. These same compounds are what make the onion family good for our circulatory and digestive system. Garlic, a member of this group, is the most pungent and highest in therapeutic value. It is also one of the most ancient herbs, recorded in Babylonian times and placed in the tomb of Tutankhamun around 52 BC.
Look for rich, well-drained soil in full sun to grow your choice of Allium. A few varieties will tolerate more water or more shade. Farmers suggest planting onions, garlic and chives as companions to deter pests, weeds and diseases. You can try your hand at propagating by seed sown in spring or by bulbils planted in autumn or spring. Look for “sets” (small bulbs) at your local garden center for planting in your own container or garden.
There are lots of options in this rich, flavorful category called Allium. The Allium ursinum is a carpeting perennial with a pervasive garlic smell and elliptic leaves. Its rounded clusters of white, star-like flowers can be seen above the foliage in late spring and early summer. Leaves are used to taste in salads, sandwiches, omelets and sauces. Allium tuberosum (Chinese chives, garlic chives) have flat, solid long leaves. Sweetly scented white flowers appear in late summer. Chopped leaves and flower buds are added to salads, soft cheeses and stir-fries. Try your hand at growing an Allium.
Joette is an avid gardener and prides herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. To share your gardening news, e-mail joreger [at] msn [dot] com.