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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?
Discussion (20 Comments)
Thanks for the post! I already loved onions before, but I didn’t know they were this good to my health. Do you have any suggestions about the best way of consuming unions? Is it the best to eat unions raw? Do they lose their vitamins while baking them? And how much do I have to eat per day or weekl? I am very curious!
Also, when I cut unions, I’ll be reminded about it for the next 4 days.. I was also wondering if there is anyone who would like to share some tips or advice about how to get the smell off your hands?
Katie - Wellness Mama
From what I’ve read, they have benefits both ways. For getting the smell out, I have a stainless steel bar that looks like a soap bar. I use that with water to remove the smell.
Well, that’s nice, since I like them raw or baked :)! I didn’t know about the stainless steel bar, so I had to Google it first.. but I ordered some kind of ‘metal’ stone and I hope it works! Thank you!
Hi! I want to add that onion juice is very good for hair growth and tonsillitis.
Thank you for the reminder and the facts & remedies for onions! Especially good to have references to studies.
I love onions and will use more of them.
Great ideas, but just thought I’d add that onions technically aren’t root vegetables, as you say in the first paragraph; they’re bulbs.
Do you strain the onions out or drink the honey with the onions in it?
Have the same question.
Im wondering too!:)
Interesting! Informative as always
I got stung by a yellow jacket/wasp in a diner. Quick as a wink my mom grabbed a piece of onion from my Daddy’s burger and slapped it on the sting. It was 3, maybe 4 seconds and the pain completely vanished. There wasn’t even a bump anymore! I was shocked- and thankful! Never forgot that…
How do you make onion juice?
Jennifer C Pendergast
I love onions and do actually place them in a bowl in the room when sick, or in a cloth around the neck when someone has a cough or head cold. However, it should be noted, that in some cultures, like the Hindu culture, they don’t eat onions, and meditators are instructed to eliminate onions and garlic from their diets as they are agitating and disturb the mind. Just something to think about if you’re planning a meditation retreat!
Not everyone in the Hindu culture but just a few.. I am a Hindu and we eat onions everyday.. :)..
Jennifer C Pendergast
Ahh, yes! Thanks for correcting me. I suppose I should have said specifically those that are actively following the spiritual path of meditation/yoga. Even in ayurveda, onions and garlic are used as powerful medicines!
I LOVE ONIONS!!! So when I shared your post with a friend this morning, she sent me this post in return.
Now I’m confused. Not confused enough to stop completely, I love my onions! <3 but would love to know if you have any rebuttal or research on the toxic side of onions you can share?
Katie - Wellness Mama
Planning to update this post with more info soon, but in short, I don’t think regular amounts of onions and garlic are harmful in any way. Most of the animals mentioned have genetic or digestive differences that make them not able to tolerate onions (dogs should never be given onions, for instance), and aren’t comparable to humans in this way.
Thankyou sooo much Wellness Mama! I love your posts. You are a genius. God bless you!