Weeds can be a avenue of gastronomical adventure. Today I’ve had my first taste of a weed called Onion Grass (Romulea rosea) of the Iris family (Iridaceae). The scientific name actually refers to the Roman emperor Romulus and the specific epithet ‘rosea‘ alludes to the flower’s pink rosy petals. Other common names of this plant include Guildford Grass and Rosy Sandcrocus.
Onion grass is an endemic of the Western Cape Province in South Africa. It is actually a rather attractive plant, the pink flowers having a yellow center with dark streaks radiating from it. The green unripe fruits of the Onion Grass appear in late spring, on a stalk that curves downward toward the soil, presumably getting ready for seed dispersal. In summer the fruits dry out and split, releasing numerous brown seeds.
Perhaps as a result of it’s efficient dispersal strategy and it’s ability to produce corms, Onion grass has become a permanent fixture in grassy landscapes in Australia and Tasmania, and pops up unfailingly every spring.
I highly doubt that the Tasmanian aborigines had much opportunity to make Onion grass part of their diet but there is no reason why WE cannot included it as a bush tucker plant. However, please see my DISCLAIMER if you should attempt to eat any plant described under my Bush Tuck posts.
Though small (c. 1 cm in length), the unripe fruit of the Onion grass makes for a nice snack. It might appeal to those with a sweet tooth. I could graze on this all day. My partner took an instant liking to it too. Apparently, we are latecomers to this bush delight. Many older Australians on the mainland have relished the Onion grass fruits in their childhood days (see discussion on Flickr). Some people even refer to the fruits as ‘Plum Puddings‘.
Peeling the fruit wall off to get to the fleshy seeds seems pointless for such a small fruit. It was simpler to just bite into the fruit and chew till the sweet juices of the seeds are exhausted.
The small pea-sized turnip-shaped corms are edible too. Assuming what I can only hope approximates the flair of an aborigine, I dug up some corms using an ad hoc digging stick, pealed away the brown outer skin, and chewed on white-fleshed interior.
The initial taste was one of very concentrated water chestnuts (Eleocharis dulcis) but this was followed by a rather bitter aftertaste.
I probably wouldn’t eat too many corms if I could help it. However, I have read that Long-billed Corellas (Cacatua tenuirostris) and Water Hens (Porphyrio porphyrio) seem to like the corms.
Next spring I’d be looking out for more ‘Plum Puddings’.