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Herb of the week: Onion.

Botanical name: 

Photo: Allium cepa 4.A short-short profile:

Latin: Allium cepa.
Family: Onion family, Alloideae (Allieaceae).
Parts used: Bulb. (Leaves.)
Taste: Raw: acrid. Cooked: sweet.
4 humors:Cooked: Moist, warm to hot. Raw: Hot, dry.


  • Great for coughs, in syrups or boiled, given with hot milk or hot tea.
  • Raw: great to keep the respiratory tract open.
  • Baked, fried, cooked or otherwise prepared onion is great for earache.

Food Uses:

  • Mmmm. Caramelized onions. Y-u-m.
  • Cooked onions will moisten up otherwise dry dishes.


  • Some people are sensitive to onions; some onion sensitives have been very influential, and some of their followers are still adamantly declaring all onions to be toxic. Disregard them, at least if you're not sensitive to onions.
  • It's a good idea to include carminative herbs (caraway seed or similar) if a meal consists mostly of onions. This is even more important if the meal is given to a cooped-up group of people ... else, the stench in the dorm will be indescribable.
  • Onions contain sulfur, which is necessary for a working immune system. If you can't eat onions try to ingest sulfur in other foods.
  • Some people are sensitive to the sulfur of sulfured dried fruit, but have no problems with onions.


  • I've put chopped-up onions in a pouch near my little one's head, in flu times, when her nose has been plugged up. This helps keep the airways open, which means better sleep and thus a better immune system both for her and for her parents. It also meant easy breastfeeding, back when she was still at the breast.
  • Boiled, fried or otherwise prepared onions are a nice remedy for earaches, when you don't have that mullein ear oil handy.
  • A onion syrup is great for coughs. There are many ways to make that: do tell your recipe in the comments!

Comments on Facebook:

  • From Merry Lycett Harrison:
    I am currently loving the red onion. It caramelizes nicely and tastes great raw. Here's an easy, tasty recipe. Saute sliced red onion in some oil till edges brown and the drizzle some very good quality balsamic vinegar. Stir up all the bit in the pan and then you can use this as a topping on sandiiches or meat. Grat with portobellos, and arugula on toasted sourdough!
    December 12, 2011 at 7:25am
  • From Irene G.:
    I just like onions! When I was a child my Mom said I used to take a bite out of every onion in the pantry, like they were apples!
    Of course, my breath wasn't too great, but my blood work is fantastic!
    December 12, 2011 at 1:20pm
  • From Missy Rohs:
    Yes! I make my onion syrup by slicing thickly, layering in between with brown sugar, and letting it sit for 30 mins. or more in a bowl. Presto! Onion syrup.
    December 12, 2011 at 9:53am
  • From Ann G.:
    To Missy Rohs: This syrup is only for immediate use, right? Or does it store in the fridge? Is there a formula that will store for a longer time w/o refrigeration? Thank you!
    December 13, 2011 at 3:15am
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    Ann: you can strain the syrup and store in the fridge, or just use it right away.
    December 13, 2011 at 11:14pm
  • From Dace K.:
    In Latvia, onions are a year round staple. Used as you described, in foods with plenty of caraway, etc. And also used virtually daily in an immunity boosting syrup (variations with and without honey or alcohol or vinegar) during the loooooong, cooooold winters.
    12 December 2011 at 14:03
  • From Susan Marynowski:
    My fav easiest syrup ever (and the first one I teach to beginners): Slice one whole onion in thin round slices. Layer the slices with liberal amounts of granulated sugar in a half-pint jar until the jar is packed full. Cover and allow to sit at room temp for a few days. Viola...syrup. You can then refrigerate or can strain off syrup and just refrigerate the syrup. Easy to keep on hand for coughs and colds.
    12 December 2011 at 17:15
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    Dace: we do that here, too, but with a relative: garlic ...
    12 December 2011 at 17:58

Comments on the herblist:

  • From Zoe Hawes:
    Date: 2011 12 12 - 15:19:33 +0200

    Something from Dr Jean Claude Lapraz Endobiogenic lectures.

    Slice 11 onions.
    Put in a large pan just covered with water.
    Boil for 25 minutes.
    Strain and drink the water to relieve urinary retention in prostatic enlargement. It works by reducing pelvic circulatory congestion.

    I this once successfully for an elderly patient with BPH. He had relief in the form of good urinary flow and complete emptying for about 2 weeks.

    I will eat 3 chopped fried onions (with a few fried eggs) for breakfast if I feel like I am retaining fluid from hormonal reasons. Diuresis usually increases in volume and frequency about 4 hours later for the remainder of the day.

    Kicking myself going against my instincts and not cooking and pureeing the onion before adding it to a lovely fresh lambs liver pate mix that I made yesterday. The recipe called for minced raw onion to be added before cooking the whole pate. It ruined and completely over powers what should have been a delicious flavoured pate. And it gave me terrible indigestion all evening- relieved by some bitters.

    Alliums forever.

  • From Annette Wass:
    Date: 2011 12 12 - 19:38:49 +0200

    Hi Zoe
    what sort of doseage would that have been over a day and would that quantity of onions/water have lasted over a couple of days (or else it would need an awful lot of onions !! )

  • From Zoe Hawes:
    Date: 2011 12 13 - 22:47:17 +0200

    That is a one off/stat dose! All drunk in one day. About 1.5l water.

  • From diane:
    Date: 2011 12 12 - 16:29:47 +0200

    Henriette wrote: "A onion syrup is great for coughs. There are many ways to make that: do tell your recipe!"

    this may have been repeated, but this recipe is incredible .. working when even codeine doesn't work for a cough. And .. my older kids, in their 20s, don't balk at it.

    I take a pungent onion (fresh red ones are quite nice) and slice it thinly. I put a layer of honey/ sugar in a bowl, then sliced onion, honey or sugar, onion, etc - topping it off with a layer of honey or sugar. Cover and put in frig, preferably overnight. The next day, pour over a strainer and squeeze the last bit of juices out of the onion. Bottle and take ad lib.

    The leftover onions are great over pork chops or any pork dish combined with chunks of apple or guava.

    But the onion syrup is phenomenal and works a charm!

  • From Christophe Bernard:
    Date: 2011 12 14 - 14:33:27 +0200

    One of the most important factor for keeping a cigarette smoker healthy is ingestion of those sulphur compounds from onion and garlic. Lots, everyday.

    Liver detox phase 1 turns tobacco chemicals into carcinogenic compounds. Liver detox phase 2 neutralises them. Phase 2 uses sulfur compounds to work properly.

  • From Marcia:
    Date: 2011 12 14 - 13:46:10 +0200
    The above is an extensive article on onions. People who make stews probably have an intuitive knowledge of the benefit of onions. Has anyone dealt with or experienced some of the unmentioned (so far) benefits?

  • From Art Sackett:
    Date: 2011 12 14 - 15:04:39 +0200

    Marcia wrote: "Has anyone dealt with or experienced some of the unmentioned (so far) benefits?"

    I always include alliums and lot of 'em in my heart health regimen. Of them all, garlic is the heavy hitter but all of its cousins convey some benefit.

    My general purpose "food as medicine" broths always include the tough outer skins of onions (and garlic) along with whatever else seems good that would otherwise leave the kitchen in a garbage bag, things like brassica trimmings, carrot peels and tops, and so on, which I keep bagged in the freezer until I've got a sufficient quantity for the next batch. The best broths I've made are those that start out with a pot nearly brimming with these things before the water goes in. You can feel something happening after taking in a bowl of the stuff, as if the body is deeply hydrated and somehow gently flowing.

    Most of the time I include some kind of animal parts in my broth, but the purely vegetable broths give that feeling while the mostly meat broths do not. It seems to me that the more alliums, the more pronounced the effect. Most of my bag o' stuff is onion skins anyway.

    Whether or not this broth actually has the benefit that I intuit it does, it is yummy and deeply satisfying during those winter months when it's entirely too easy to load up on other things that might be implicated in atherosclerosis.

  • From Tracy:
    Date: 2011 12 14 - 20:17:48 +0200

    Henriette wrote: "Boiled, fried or otherwise prepared onions are a nice remedy for earaches, when you don't have that mullein ear oil handy."

    We always reach for an onion as soon as someone begins to get an earache.

    We chop it fine, put it in a dish towel, and squeeze several drops of the juice into the ear. It brings fast relief.

  • From Miriam:
    Date: 2011 12 14 - 22:51:46 +0200

    A young man with an hugely inflamed lymph gland near his inner elbow called me for advice. His doctor wanted to lance it. I told him to roast an onion wrapped in tin foil till soft, then cut it in half and put one half, still warm, on the inflammation. Told him to tie it down with a scarf or clean diaper and keep it on for 4 hours, then exchange it for the unused onion half and to go to bed. He called next day to say that the gland was no longer swollen or red and that he was out of pain. Didn't say if it had drained out - I assume some fluid dispersed internally and some exuded.

    I had him follow up with bathing the area with sage decoction for 3 days and taking kyolic garlic pills for a week. No recurrence of infection and everything cleared up. Gotta love them alliums. The sage kept things clean and started tissue healing.

  • From Sharon Hodges-Rust:
    Date: 2011 12 14 - 23:23:28 +0200

    I have used for years onion poultices for cold, flu or what ever settles in the lungs. Cut up the onion and sweat them till clear could even brown some but over the years I have found that can be too far, still useable but probably past the peak point, anyway do this in a large frying pan and then add something to thicken, oatmeal or grits or flour. And some water to deglaze the pan.

    Then put this on clean old cloths and place over the lungs. I use it on the back first, now you have to be careful to not put it on too hot you want very warm but not burning the skin. After a few minutes apply to the front of the chest over the lungs.

    If it has cooled off too much, then first put back in the pan and heat up again maybe adding a bit of water.

Please add your own experiences etc. in the comments!