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.

  3. Rachel says

    just wondering…what to do with the onion once used. It seems wasteful to toss them out, but if the active compound has been used, would there be any benefit in using them afterward?
    Thanks for these great tips!

    • says

      I don’t reuse these for cooking, because it kind of creeps me out a little after using them for illness, but I bet you could. And the active part is not really used up…you can use the same onion press over and over again. The anti-inflammatory compound still lingers even after cooking with onions. :) So you’re good to go if you do decide to cook with them!

      • says

        I’ve read that you shouldn’t reuse the onion as it absorbs all the germs from the sick area, so maybe not a good thing to cook with after all. Even for cooking, if you don’t use all the onion for your recipe you should cut it up and freeze the rest in a small glass jar until ready to use for your next recipe. Never use a plastic wrap as it will also absorb the chemicals that are in the plastic wrap. This info can be checked by going to mistymountainhealthretreat.wordpress.com or by googleing Barbara O’Niel videos.

    • says

      Hi Sandra,
      For leg cramps, I look more at using magnesium and or a good electrolyte drink with kids…this can be caused by mineral imbalance. For asthma, I usually think about an herb called rabbit tobacco first, but onions may be a good choice to try. I also learned that digestive bitters can be a great choice for kids with asthma, since they help with lung inflammation according to a study that I link to here.

  4. Sherri Coffey says

    Onions for FEVER. This was passed down from my husbands side of the family, so naturally I made fun of it until we had children and used it:). The first time I used it my daughter who was around a year old got a fever, I gave her children’s Tylenol and my husband convinced me to cut a yellow onion in half sticking the wet side to the soles of feet then put 2 pair of snug fitting socks over it to hold in place (so she don’t kick it off at night.) Laugh if you want (i did) but it works every time! The only time it didn’t work was when she had an bladder infection from a bubble bath, which needed medical attention. This will eventually stop working because the child grows and the onion can not draw the fever out. It doesn’t work on adults for the same reason, you could maybe try more than 1 onion half on each foot ( I have never tried). Thanks for the info I will defiantly pin it:)

  5. Bob Hexokinase says

    Most of these don’t work. I don’t understand how these old “remedies” can still be believed by today’s society. Seriously people, seriously.

  6. Greg says

    When I was 13 I had a very sore and infected boil on my right arm down by my elbow. It was showing red up my veins. My parents cut white onion in half and placed the cut open side on the boil and taped it and wrapped an ace bandage round it. Sent me off to school. By time I got home the white onion was yellowish and sodden with pus it drew out. All sign of infection was gone (my reddish veins were back to blue and the wound healed up nicely.

  7. Khalid says

    Excellent information about onion which is commonl used in kitchens
    Natural home remedy is much better than using anti biotics
    Thanks & Regards