Onion Remedies

Onion remedies are at your fingertips in the average kitchen. The humble onion can surprisingly treat many ailments very effectively.  They are the basis of many a historic remedy. I explore the onion nutrition and ingredients that make it such a potent remedy in this past post. Today we’ll talk about how and when I use onion remedies at my house.

Onions as Medicine: Actions
Used externally, on the skin, onions are rubefacient…which is a fancy word for they’ll make your skin turn red.  Onions stimulate the skin, making the blood rise to the surface, giving the skin a red appearance.

Internally, onion is a stimulant, an expectorant (loosens phlegm), and a diuretic (increases urination to flush impurities out of the body).  Onions, especially the skins, are loaded with a compound called quercetin.  It has great anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy properties, stabilizes membranes (think sore throats and irritated bladders), and is a proven anti-viral. (6)  It’s metabolized quickly-within a couple of hours, the blood concentrations peak…so if you’re using an onion remedy, be sure to take that into consideration and re-apply or sip on some broth every couple of hours.

Onion remedies are useful for things like:
Bladder Infection
Sore Throat
Chest Congestion
Swollen Glands (2)

My favorite onion remedies are:

The Onion Press
Another trick that helps loosen chest congestion is the warm onion press.  Cut an onion into thick slices, and warm slightly*.  Lay the warmed slices down in the center of a tea towel or large bandanna/hankie.  Cover with a plastic bag, and fold the corners up over so you have a pack.

Lay the pack, onion side down onto the person’s bare chest or back, and cover with a rather warm hot water bottle or warmed rice pack.  (My model was unwilling to go bare backed for the camera.)

Keep your patient nice and toasty warm with extra blankets, while you let the onions do their work.  The skin will be red where the onions touched (rubifacient!) but if the patient is uncomfortable, then the poultice should be removed.

Leave on for about 30 minutes, or as long as the patient is comfortable (for young patients, I will hold this in place while reading a good book together).

Repeat 2 hours later for best results.  Quercetin is used up and excreted within a few hours. (1)

Soothing a Bladder Infection
Sipping on French Onion Soup is very soothing and healing for a bladder infection…I can attest to this first hand.

Ear Infection Remedy
Onion juice in the ears, or even just a warm onion half held over the ear for 10 minutes per side, allowing the juices and/or fumes to get down into the ear is an effective and historic remedy for ear infection.

More Onion Home Remedies…
and real life experience and testimonials from my friends:

* An onion poultice or just a slice of fresh onion has worked well on boils, bee stings, and other bites to draw out the pus, proteins, etc.  It even works BETTER than garlic for boils. ~ Judi M.

* I make a cough honey by thinly slicing a large yellow onion and then pour a good 1/4 cup honey over it. Put that mixture over a double boiler and let it go stirring occasionally until there is a good amount of liquid and the onions are soft. This last time I also sprinkled turmeric in. Strain and give by teaspoon as needed.

1/2 an onion cut small and eaten with bread will relieve gas pains and heartburn.  [My} book also says that, “externally, onion juice can be applied to suppurating wounds”. Suppurating…means to form or discharge puss. So would that be for like an infected blister? <ick, but great to know!>Great for slow healing stitches, too. ~ Kerri B.

* Onion juice for a bad ear pain, ear infection and once just to clear out excess wax. It worked for all three situations.~ Jennifer J.

* I’ve put drops of onion juice in my ear for a BAD, BAD ear infection (did I tell you I wait until things are bad?) and it worked amazingly. I also have warmed it and chopped it up and put in a sock and hung it next to my kids while they were sleeping to help with congestion…worked again!!   Didn’t work as a poultice but I don’t think I kept it on long enough…wriggly babies. ~Sandra H.

* When my kids complain of their ears hurting I cut an onion in half, heat it up in my steamer, chop it up in my chopping thingy put the pieces into a cloth tea bag, and squeeze the warm juice into their ears (I do both even if they are only …complaining of one ear hurting) Then stop it up with a cotton ball. (I do this before bedtime) It works every time! I love it. I also chop up warm onion and rub it on my babies chest (if it is really warm I put olive oil on her chest first) then wrap saran wrap around her to keep it in place. This works great for getting the congestion broken up. ~Laura M.

* I cut an onion in half and steamed it. Wrapped in a towel and put by each ear. I’ve only done it once but it did seem to work well. ~Melissa H.

* We always grate our [onion], suck up the juice with a medicine dropper (from past Tylenol days) and put 3 drops in the ear of those suffering from an ear infection.  We have proof that it works as we took one of our children to the doctors who confirmed said ear infection. We were given a prescription for an antibiotic, but tossed it out.  Used the onion juice protocol.  Went back to the doctor who checked the ear and said it was completely cleared.  When asked if we used the antibiotic, we said no, but we used onion juice.  We were told not to do it, again as we could have caused damage to the ear drum. Whatever. ~Jillian M.

* I use onion packs on the chest for croupy cough. I slice them and place the slices in a hand towel. Place the towel on the chest and put a hot water bottle on top (could probably use a heating pad). I usually have the child cover up with… a warm blanket. I try to leave the pack on for 15-20 minutes. I do this several times/day.  I also slice them and place the slices in some honey. I let that sit for a few hours then give 1 tsp of the honey as needed for cough. We’ve had great success with those 2 things.~ Dawn O.

*  IMPORTANT NOTE!  Onions heat extremely quickly, especially in the microwave.  I have heated thick slices for ten seconds, and they are steaming hot…nearly too hot to handle.  So please be careful if you microwave onions to make sure they are cool enough before applying externally.

1.    http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69346.cfm
2.    http://www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/ellingwood/allium.html
The American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, 1919, was written by Finley Ellingwood, M.D.


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  1. Beth Brown says

    Gwen, would you please consider publishing a book on all you’ve learned about natural remedies (for us seniors)? ;)

    • Gwen says

      I’d love to Beth! :) I love to write…trying to get back in the saddle with my health and family, and fold in writing as well. :)

  2. violet says

    I make onion syrup for coughs. Melt a half cup of sugar until is golden, add 2 cup of water and two hands full of onion peals, let simmer until you have one cup liquid. Strain and get a teaspoon when you cough.