Allium sepa

This familiar garden vegetable has many medicinal applications, is easy to grow and can be administered in a multitude of ways.

Onions are milder in action, but provide the same health benefits as garlic.

The onion is an edible bulb. While it is a vegetable at heart, it also acts as a spice inasmuch as it can provide an aromatic undertone to various meat and vegetable dishes, without being a major ingredient.

The Durable Onion

Onion as an herbThe onion is believed to have originated in Asia, though it is likely that onions may have been growing wild on every continent. Dating back to 3500 BC, onions were one of the few foods that did not spoil during the winter months. Our ancestors must have recognized the vegetable’s durability and began growing onions for food.

The onion became more than just food after arriving in Egypt. The ancient Egyptians worshipped the onion, believing that its spherical shape and concentric rings symbolized eternity. Of all the vegetables that had their images created from precious metals by Egyptian artists, only the onion was made out of gold.

Onions as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

Onions are a valuable disinfectant. Country people hang up a string of onions as a protection against an infectious disease, and it has constantly been observed that onions will take on the disease while the people remain immune. For this reason it is important to examine onions before they are cooked, and to discard any which are imperfect.

Onions are remarkably anti-allergenic, due to the content of quercetin. Onions are used externally as an antiseptic. Internally, onions can alleviate gas pains, reduce hypertension, and reduce cholesterol.

In traditional herbal medicine, onion is a gentle herb for relieving toxicity and breaking up “clumps” of infections, that is, sores or abscesses. Onions induce perspiration to ‘sweat out a cold,’ and relieve abdominal pain and nasal congestion. Externally the herb is used for insect bites, wounds, light burns, warts, and in the after-care of bruises.

The inside of an onion skin placed on cuts and scratches has been used as a wound ointment.

Indian medicine: Onion preparations are used for dyspeptic conditions, respiratory conditions, wounds, pain and for malarial fever.

Folk practitioners have used onion for its medicinal properties for centuries. Onions have anti-inflammatory properties and have been used for upper respiratory problems, gas, insect bites, worms, and warts (Maiscott 2000; Moss 1999; Peirce 1999). Onion is claimed to be a diuretic, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, expectorant, and helps with blood circulation (Chevallier 2000). Slaves used it for medical purposes, such as treatment of tuberculosis. (There is no medical support for efficacy of onions as a treatment for tuberculosis.)

Chinese medicine: Preparations are used for worm infestation, fungal and bacterial infections.

Homeopathic uses: Allium cepa is used for acute inflammatory illnesses, pain syndrome, flatulent colic.

Popular pressed juice and onion syrup: made of 500 g onions, 500 g water, 100 g honey and 350 g sugar.

Onion Remedies

Oatmeal and Onion Facial Masks:  Oatmeal and onion masks work by less as moisturizers than as purifying agents. The onion has an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin and the spice can open up pores, while the oatmeal works to clean pores of impurities.

Extracting Compress:  Collect hot steamed cooked onions in a cheesecloth and this compress can be used for placing on the chest in the event of a chest cold, on the outside of the ear in the case of on a boil to help it burst, on an abscessed tooth to soothe the inflamation.

Onions for Whooping Cough

A mixture of onions and sugar in water was once a cure for whooping cough. Perhaps it will make a come-back with the growing costs of medical care. Herbalists swore by it and whooping cough is on the rise.

Onions for Earaches

Earaches are the bane of childhood, but also one of the most mysterious. You can never really know what is going on in that deep, dark tunnel of the ear canal. Most earaches are caused by fluid that has been trapped and thus caused infection. The antiseptic properties of onions can disinfect the ear canal, bringing quick pain relief. Boil an onion until it is soft. Once is has cooled enough to touch, squeeze the juice into a bowl. Using a medicine dropper, apply 2-5 drops of the warm juice into the affected ear.


Raw onion as a cataplasm (plaster) on the forehead is excellent for headaches related to sinusitis. This remedy can also be used to soothe bladder inflamation by placing the raw onion cataplasm upon the bladder area for approximately 40 minutes.

Antiseptic Plaster:  The fine translucent skin found between the onion layers makes a marvelous antiseptic plaster in the event of a light burn or scaffing of the skin. Apply directly to the affected area and cover with gauze. This method also reduces the possibility of tissue scarring.

Onion Cough Syrup

  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup warm watermelon1 jigger vodka (optional)
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Place the onions in a medium-size bowl. Pour the honey, water and vodka (if using) over them and let sit overnight in the refrigerator. Strain the liquid, discarding the onions, and transfer to a bottle; cover tightly. Will keep 1 week refrigerated. Take 2 teaspoons every 3 to 4 hours. Yield: 1-1/2 cups.

Onion Folklore

  • Egyptians believed onions had strength producing powers.
  • Alexander the Great ordered his troops to eat onions to improve their vitality. The Romans ate onions to gain strength and courage. Roman Gladiators were rubbed down with onions to firm up their muscles.
  • In ancient Greece, athletes ate large quantities of onions because they believed onions would “lighten the balance of blood“.
  • In Chinese medicine, onions have been used to treat angina, coughs, bacterial infections, and breathing problems.
  • Folklore credits onions as a cure for baldness and as an antidote to venomous bites. Although there is no evidence to support the baldness claim and there are many better ways to treat a snake bite, modern research suggests that onions can offer true health benefits.
  • During the Middle Ages, onions were a dietary staple in Europe, where they were often eaten with bread as a main course.
  • Captain James Cook also applied the onion remedy in the eighteenth century for scurvy on his voyages to the remote areas of the Pacific. At one point, Cook refused to sail until each man in his crew ate 20 pounds of onions, followed by 10 pounds two days later.
  • Early American settlers used wild onions to treat colds, coughs, breathing problems and repel insects.
  • During World War II, Russian soldiers applied Onions to battle wounds as an antiseptic.
  • Rubbed on the head, a mixture of onions and sugar in water was believed to be a cure for baldness.

Onions are approved by Commission E for:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Ateriosclerosis
  • Dyspeptic complaints
  • Fevers and colds
  • Cough/bronchitis
  • Hypertension
  • Tendency to infection
  • Inflammation of the mouth and pharynx
  • Common Cold

Culinary Uses of Onion

Onion is a basic flavoring in the kitchen. It is used as a vegetable, or as a spice to bring out the flavor of other dishes without overpowering them. It often accompanies meat – especially mince and meat dishes such as shepherds pie and meat loaf. Onion is also widely used in soups, pickles and cooked vegetable dishes, sauces, hearty casseroles, and bean and lentil dishes. It is a common ingredient in marinades, and an onion studded with cloves is often a main flavoring in stocks and bouillons.

Onions are added to food liberally in all its forms either chopped, diced, whole, etc.

Famous in India is pvaza, a dish of meat cooked with a, much as double its weight of onions. The shallot is frequently used in Mediterranean and American cookery, the rocambole in country recipes. Spring onions are common in fresh summer salads and in Chinese and Japanese cookery.

Onions can be used in teas. Onions and soy are used as a vegan alternative to chicken soup for colds.


Nursing mothers should use onion in small amounts, as the onion in breast milk can sometimes cause colic in sensitive babies.

Avoid when there is profuse sweating.

Raw onions when cut or bruised may irritate the eyes and nose.

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