If vegetables could be superheroes, onions would definitely be at the top of the list. This unassuming root vegetable boasts an impressive host of health benefits. Onions are also endlessly versatile, and the fact that most of us already have a few on hand at all times makes them an ideal home remedy you can whip up when a cold or flu is coming on.
The Powerful Health Benefits of Onions
Onions and garlic are both in the allium family and share many of the same health benefits. The word allium literally means “I smell,” and we all know onions are certainly known for their pungent scent.
Onions are potent in other ways too. They contain high levels of vitamin C, folate, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. They are also high in the antioxidant quercetin.
Quercetin has been shown to protect against many different types of cancer in the body, boosts immune response, and is even used to help with cataracts. The quercetin in onions has also been studied for its ability to improve heart health, prevent heart disease, and keep blood flowing freely throughout the body when used daily.
Yellow onions generally have more quercetin than red or white onions (and are usually the most affordable anyway!).
Other Interesting Facts about Onions
- Onions are high in sulfuric compounds that have been shown to kill even salmonella and E. coli. These compounds also help prevent cancer and heart disease.
- In the past it was recommended to place bowls of onions around the room so they would absorb any germs around.
- Onions build both bone and mineral density to help prevent osteoporosis.
- Onions are so healthy, that even in this study when they were fried, they increased blood quercetin from 28.4 ng/ml to 248.4 ng/ml. It also increased participants’ overall antioxidant ability.
- Chewing on raw onion will relieve a toothache, kill germs, and help prevent tooth and gum disorders. Just be sure to brush your teeth really well afterward!
- Onions are full of fructooligosaccharides that encourage beneficial bacteria, yet target harmful bacteria in the gut.
- Onions lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin levels.
7 Onion Home Remedies You Can Count On
Onions can be used in many different home remedies. Here are seven of my personal favorites:
1. Onion Poultice to Relieve Congestion and Coughing
Onions work like an expectorant. They help break up mucus and congestion in the chest and reduce spasmodic coughs.
Onions work best for a chest poultice if they’re heated first. To break up chest congestion and soothe a spastic cough, you can apply a poultice externally, or take an onion syrup or tincture internally.
How to make an onion poultice:
- Slice or dice an onion, add 1 tablespoon of water, and cook until the water evaporates.
- Allow the onion to cool to a comfortable temperature, then wrap the onion in a small towel, like a tea towel. Gather the ends of the towel together and secure with a rubber band.
- Place the poultice on the chest or back and leave it for 30 minutes, repeating the process every 3 hours or until the symptoms are gone.
An onion poultice is smelly for sure. To help with this I sometimes apply the poultice to the feet, wrap them in cloth or plastic, and cover with socks.
2. “Fire Cider” Immunity Booster
Fire cider is an age-old remedy made from onions, horseradish, garlic, cayenne pepper, and other aromatic plants steeped in apple cider vinegar. Onions are used in this recipe because of their potent antiviral and antibacterial compounds and their ability to support the immune system. You can get my easy recipe for fire cider (I call it “Spicy Cider”) here.
3. Onion Honey Syrup
An onion syrup is a delicious way to take your medicine. Some people use sugar to make a more traditional syrup but I prefer to use raw honey for even more health benefits. Take onion honey syrup for any cold or flu, especially if a cough or congestion is present. You can also take a spoonful every day during the winter months to help keep sickness away.
Don’t go overboard with drinking this, though, as too much can cause digestive issues.
To make an onion honey syrup:
- Thinly slice an onion and add it to a saucepan. Pour honey over the onion, just until covered. You should only need about ½ cup, maybe less.
- Gently heat the honey over very low heat until the onions are soft and translucent. You don’t want the mixture to get over 115 degrees, or the honey will no longer be raw.
- Take a spoonful of the onion honey every 3-4 hours, or until symptoms subside. To use as a preventative measure, take a spoonful or two every day during flu season.
4. Onions for Ear Infections
You may have used garlic oil for an ear infection in your kids before, but onion can be used in much the same way. A roasted or baked onion half can be cooled to a comfortable warmth and placed on the ear. This helps to relieve painful inflammation and fight the bacterial or viral infection in the ear. You can also squeeze the juice from the onion and place a few drops in the ear.
Be sure that the onion mixture is very well strained, since you don’t want any onion pieces in the ear. And never put anything in the ear if you suspect that there’s a possibility of a ruptured ear drum!
It’s always best to treat both ears even if your child only complains of pain in one, since the infection frequently spreads to both ears eventually.
5. Onion Soup
Soup is one of the easiest and tastiest ways to get more onion into your diet. Save your onion peels and add them to chicken bones and other veggies when you make bone broth. Researchers in this study thought that the onion as a whole, including the onion skin, contains higher levels of quercetin than just the onion alone. This means that saving your onion skins for a nutritious broth not only adds flavor, but potentially boosts the nutritional value more than the part you would eat.
My soothing garlic soup recipe includes onion and packs a powerful anti-sickness punch. You can also make some French onion soup to drink. The healing goodness of onion soup not only helps the body fight colds and flu but also bladder, kidney, and chronic urinary tract infections.
6. Onions for Sore Muscles, Sprains, and Strains
Onions are rubefacient, meaning they draw blood to the surface of the skin and increase circulation. The ancient Greeks rubbed onions on sore muscles to stimulate and warm them. Onions also reduce inflammation, making them perfect for bruises, strains, sprains, and even rheumatism. Just apply an onion poultice (above) to the affected area.
7. Onions to Draw Out Infection
Onions have been used for centuries to remove infection from damaged skin. Their properties will draw out pus from boils, bee stings, and the poison from an insect bite or bee sting. You can apply a fresh onion slice or onion poultice to the affected area.
Favorite Onion Recipes
Try these other onion recipes to get this health food into your diet. Since heat destroys some of onion’s antimicrobial properties, it’s helpful to eat them raw sometimes, like in the cucumber salad and pickled red onion recipes below.
Have you ever used onion as a remedy before? What are some of your favorite ways to use/eat this veggie?