Neither cook’s garden nor herbal garden can be complete without onions. Their flavor and nutritional punch add immeasurably to a self-sufficient homestead and their medicinal properties are legion.
Onions are either biennial or perennial, and the onion sets from box stores come in white yellow and red and are biennials. Not a bad deal, less than $2 for 80 yellow onions. Even if you eat some as green onions, one or two bags are a year’s supply for most families.
Less common in the US are French Red Shallots (Allium cepa var. aggregatum). Red Shallots contain high levels of vitamin B6 and minerals, but also more flavonoids and phenols than other onions. These elite little onions are perennial, buy once and keep forever. Hardy in USA zones 2-9 which means that they last forever in my New Mexico garden, just like they did in my Texas and Washington gardens. Like all Alliums they bloom prettily even when mixed into your flower beds. If you want to store them, they last over six months under good conditions. I interplant these around my other vegetables, because all onion and garlic plants repel pests.
I’itoi’s Onion is a landrace clumping onion that was an old Allium cepa variety brought in by early Jesuit Missionaries. It was found naturalized on Babaquivari Mountain in Arizona. I’Itoi means Elder Brother, the creator deity of the Tohono O’odham tribe, who is called Man in the Maze. I just ordered these and hope I can get them to naturalize here as well.
For a second chance at a naturalized bunching onion, I have Evergreen Hardy Onion, another perennial. It is also Allium cepa and is called a true multiplier onion. These are seeds. In Texas and Washington I had wild onions lurking in my yard and garden. I have no idea what their Latin names were, but I ate them all year long. I hope I get a landrace bunching onion here.
I have grown Egyptian Walking Onions, but they are sterile. I only want genetically viable plants in my garden… darn! They are cute.
Indoors, I have Chives. I have kept this pot going for 4 years. Chives also grow outside, where I kept them in Dallas and Seattle. There they are available all winter; here, they have been living in my kitchen window and just moved to my indoor garden shelves. All year long these are my go to onion for salads. I snip them on top of soups also.
Allium cepa varieties all cross when close. Since Shallots and bunching onions propagate vegetatively, they maintain their genetic material. If I get a naturalized cross, I may have my own landrace onions. Allium cepa has no known wild varieties, but it can naturalize and become a landrace variety.
I ordered Rakkyo (Allium chinense), a mild and fresh tasting perennial bunching onion used in most Asian cuisines. It is commonly pickled in rice vinegar and served as a side dish. Although this is a native to China, it has naturalized in Japan, Russia, Mongolia, and Korea. It is a hugely productive variety and i look forward to planting it here in the mountains and using it to accent my summer stir-fry meals.
Red Beard (Allium fistulosum) is a Japanese bunching onion with vivid red stems much loved in Asian cooking. It matures in 40 to 50 days. This is a beautiful onion typical of Asian cuisine.
Now that I am retired I might take a cooking class… Vietnamese being my favorite Asian cuisine. My only training was from my former Chinese boss, who also taught me a few words in Mandarin. what she gave was a general concept that works no matter what the ingredients are, which varies from location to location.
I learned to cook many Mexican dishes while living in Mexico. Yum! Living in New Mexico is the ultimate, and I use the onion sets for Mexican food. I already bought sets, but in a week or two I will look through Seed Savers Catalog for good varieties to grow from seed.
Onions were given to Pharoah’s slaves, a couple pounds a day, to keep them strong and healthy. They rioted when the allotment was missing!