Nodding Onion

Plant Use(es):Food

Flowers - Photo by

Flowers – Photo by Walter Sieglund

Other common name: lady’s leek, wild nodding onion

Scientific name: Allium cernuum Roth

Family name: Amaryllidaceae (amaryllis family)


Wild onions, with the nodding onion as no exception, are herbaceous perennials with a distinct onion odour. The leaves are grass-like with tapered, pink-coated, clustered bulbs. The leaves remain green during flowering however, and flower stems have the characteristic of a nodding flower head.


The Straits Salish, Cowichan, Sechelt, Squamish, Comox and Halq’emeylem of the Fraser Valley ate the bulbs, either raw or steamed in pits. The Alberni people of Nuu-chah-nulth regarded the wild onion as “older brothers” of the fern rhizome. The Kwakwaka’wakw would mark the place of the onion in the spring, and return to the dig the bulbs in August. The plant was very commonly eaten between various groups in the Interior, and prepared in several different ways, varying from eating them raw with the leaves or steam cooked in underground pits with other plant species. The strong taste and smell of the wild onion made them great to flavor other foods such as salmon and meat. Once the onions are cooked, they can be eaten immediately or stored for later by drying them and braiding them where they are then pressed into cakes or laid onto mats. They can be reconstituted by boiling or soaking them with water.


  • Onion bulbs are very similar in appearance to the harmful Death Camas, and can be distinguished by the characteristic smell of wild onions.


Generally found throughout province of BC but not on Haida Gwaii. It is found quite commonly, from the coast all the way to the dry interior and can be found in rocky crevices and soil in open woods and exposed areas.


UBC Botanical Gardens

For information on nodding onion visit UBC E-Flora:



Turner, N. J., & Royal British Columbia Museum. (1995). Food plants of coastal first peoples. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Turner, N. J., & Royal British Columbia Museum. (1997). Food plants of interior first peoples. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Photo credits

Walter Siegmund (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from



Link to e-flora

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