Alliums is a big family of ornamental and edible bulbs that include shallots, onions, garlic, leeks and chives. References cite that allium species could have originated in Central Asia, the Americas and elsewhere but it is difficult to establish the origin because their tissues do not leave any trace. The cultivation of alliums started about 5500 years ago and many cultures – including Egyptians, Chinese and Sumerians – considered them as sacred. In Egypt, garlic was found in tombs as an ingredient for embalming and an offering to gods. About 600 species of alliums are found throughout North America, Europe, North Africa, Near East and Asia.


Alliums are herbaceous, i.e., have non-woody stems, and have underground structures made up of rhizomes, roots and bulbs. Leaves grow alternately from the base of the stem. Flowers grow in clusters with stalks radiating from the same point, called “umbel”. Alliums flowers are pollinated by insects and bear capsule-like or berry-like fruits. Most Allium species have onion or garlic-like pungent smell.

The plants grow well in amended soils with good drainage and in full sunlight. Furrow irrigation is recommended. Restraint must be used when fertilizing as over-fertilization causes weak plants. Alliums are good companion plants - e.g., for squash and tomatoes - because they repel pests. Some of the pests in onions are onion fly, armyworm, cutworm, aphids and thrips. Common diseases are leaf blight, neck rot, downy mildew, onion white rot, pink root, purple blotch, smut and Stemphylium blight. The practice of crop rotation is effective in preventing the build up of soil borne diseases to dangerous levels.

Alliums are used mostly as seasoning for cooking but they can also be a good source of Vitamin B1. Alliums are also used for medicinal purposes. Garlic has been reported to have anti-cholesterol, antibacterial, antiviral, antibiotic, anti-HIV and antifungal activities. It is also used in the treatment of heart diseases and hypertension, diabetes, tubercolosis, cough, colds, dysentery and other digestive ailments, parasites and fungus. Various parts of the onion bulb have been reported to cure a long list of diseases and ailments including relieving stomach ache, acts a blood purifier, expectorant, antipyretic, diuretic, treatment for acne, urinary problems, regulating blood pressure and many others.
More information about alliums can be found on

For more information about the performance of allium cultivars in relation to agro-ecological conditions, cultivation practices, the occurrence of pests and diseases and timing of the production, search the FAO data base at:

Click the list below for more crop specific information

  1. General Information: Origin, distribution etc.

  2. Production / Productivity

  3. Allium pests / diseases
  4. Post Harvest: