These roots are made for walkin’
and that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these roots
are gonna walk on over for you…
Although most rooted plants are stuck at the same address throughout their lifespan, not so the Egyptian walking onion. Its traveling abilities have taken it to new lands.
Allium cepa var. proliferum, formerly classified as Allium cepa var. vivparum or var. bulbiferum, is a cross between Allium cepa, cultivated onion, and Allium fistulosum, Welsh onion.
Some consider it rather a tall tale (like those magic beans of Jack’s) that a plant could move to another location on its own. However, the Egyptian walking onion – also known as tree onion, top set onion, top onion, perennial onion and winter onion – is such a miraculous plant.
These onions originated on the Indian subcontinent. Although they can “walk” themselves to their next rooting place, immigrants deliberately selected these hardy plants and carried them from Europe to the US circa 1850.
And hardy they are – down to Zone 3! Burr!!! Egyptian walking onions stay green until winter. Ground bulbs as well as the topset bulbils that fall over and replant themselves can be removed and replanted (in autumn) or be consumed on the spot.
Autumn planting provides for optimal growth, allowing bulbs to root and bulk up on provisions for overwintering. Leaves usually wither back allowing nutrients to concentrate in the bulb.
Plant bulbs with their roots down and the bottom half of bulb below ground, then cover halfway with richly amended soil. They prefer regular irrigation, a well-drained and sunny location to thrive, and a light feeding of balanced fertilizer.
Another unique feature is that bulblet production outdoes all other alliums. More bulblets can form on additional stems off of the existing bulblets making a second layer that resembles a Medusa-style hairdo on an onion plant!
Once established, bulblets at the tips of these green stems can reach an incredible 15” or more. As the top-weighted stems tip over, rooting bulblets (called bulbils) start a whole new generation, hence their “walkin’ on over” to a new location.
Concerned with invasiveness? Although you’ll have a continuous onion supply if they are left unattended, when harvested, Egyptian walking onions’ advancement is easily controlled.
Leaves reemerge in late winter to very early spring. Later in the season, new bulblets will form at leaf tips that will eventually tip over to continue the migration process.
Harvest ground bulbs as well as topsets mid-to late-summer by plucking them from dried parent stalks or from the ground where they’ve already toppled. These topset bulbils may be replanted (store in the fridge in paper sacks until replanting in autumn) or consumed.
What miraculous creations – the entire plant can be consumed! Base onions can be eaten like any onion, the hollow greens chopped like chives, and bulblets can be cooked in soups, peeled and fried, pickled, or roasted whole.
So, if you’re seeking a year-round source for alliums, try sowing some Egyptian walking onion sets. They will soon be “walkin’ on over” to be savored at your next meal.
Did You Know?
Topsets of Egyptian walking onions may fall as far as three feet away from the parent plant.
Ancient Egyptians worshipped onions and believed their spherical shapes and concentric rings represented eternal life. Onions were used in Egyptian burials for pharaohs and small onions were found in the eye sockets of Ramesses IV.
Sow True Seed
The Egyptian Walking Onion
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Both Baker Creek and Territorial have Egyptian onion sets but are sold out this season. However, you can get on their waiting lists.
Egyptian Onion and Pepper Relish
4 ripe sweet peppers (Bell, Corno di’ Toro, Marconi or other), washed, stems and seeds removed, then cut in strips
2 to 3 bunches of Egyptian walking onions (you can substitute 2 regular red onions), skins and roots removed and sliced. Put either type of onion in boiling water for 1 minute then remove. Skins will then slide off easily.
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
1 tablespoon each minced fresh rosemary, sage and lime thyme (can use regular thyme instead)
Zest of one organic lime
Fresh ground sea salt and pepper
In a heavy sauté pan, heat oil, then toss in peppers and onions. Stir fry until limp, about 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Slowly pour in the vinegar and honey, stirring to mix thoroughly. Sprinkle minced herbs on top. Continue cooking while stirring frequently until liquid is dissolved, about 10-12 minutes, and vegetables start to caramelize. Sprinkle over the lime zest and add salt and pepper to taste, tossing to mix in. Serve hot, warm or chilled.
Great over meats, poultry, seafood, salads, pizza and sandwiches. Store extra in fridge in covered glass or plastic container.