Almost everyone is familiar with the common onion. Its supremely edible qualities have universally placed it in the kitchen or by the campfire as a culinary additive or seasoning. However, few are actually aware of the wonders of onion medicine and how this vegetable can help with various health issues.
When it comes to onions, all parts of the plant (bulb, leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds) can be eaten raw, cooked or in prepared foods. What is not well known is the onion’s uses in medicine. The onion can relieve pain and prevent infections.
Onion medicine throughout history
The early Greeks and Egyptians were among the first to recognize its medicinal values. Modern research has now detailed its usefulness in the treatment of burns, cuts, wounds, and internal ailments.
Dioscorides, a Greek physician in first century A.D., noted several onion medicine practices. The Greeks used onions to fortify athletes for the Olympic Games. Before competition, athletes would consume pounds of onions, drink onion juice, and rub onions on their bodies.
Historically, onion extracts have been utilized by doctors in India to treat victims of the bubonic plague centuries before the feeble attempts made by European medicine. In India as early as the sixth century B.C., the famous medical treatise Charaka – Sanhita celebrates the onion medicine – a diuretic, good for digestion, the heart, the eyes, and the joints.
Interestingly, the Japanese utilized onion extracts on Hiroshima burn victims with favorable results.
Onion Medicine – Treating burns and cuts
To treat burns and scalds, slice a fresh onion bulb in half and squeeze the juice directly onto the burn. The juice will instantly relieve the pain. Daily applications of onion juice or a soothing compress of onion paste on a burn, aids in its healing.
Onion juice not only aids in healing extensively burned skin, but it also helps to reduce the formation of ugly scar tissue as well.
For cuts and wounds, cotton swabs soaked in onion or garlic (the onion’s closest cousin) juice makes an effective antiseptic and antibacterial bandage. Just tape into place and immobilize the injury. Studies have shown that infectious bacteria resistant to other antibiotics will succumb readily to onion juice.
Onion medicine – Heart problems and other ailments
In China, a daily cup of hot onion leaf tea is prescribed to patients suffering from various heart ailments. The tea has been found to help decrease the condition that causes hardening of the arteries.
A paste made of crushed bulbs can quickly relieve the pain of toothache, and the stings of insects such as bees, wasps, ants, and hornets. Also, it can be applied to ulcers, boils, and various skin diseases or infections, lowering painful inflammation and swelling.
Even today, onion or garlic bulb distillation is a major business enterprise. The fine oil extract is used in the preparation of medical shampoos for treating dandruff and alopecia.
For those persons who suffer a lot from the common cold or chest congestion, they would do well to drink a cup of hot onion tea each day. The tea assists in loosening up stopped sinuses and unplugging the bronchial system. This same dosage of tea will clean out any bladder problems too.
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The chemistry behind onion medicine
What kind of magical principles does the onion possess to be so medically promising?
Phytochemical analysis of the whole plant reveals the following beneficial properties: volatile oils, diallyl disulfide (the onion’s distinctive smell), vitamins A and C, glycosides (fallicin and glucokinin), starch, pectin and several trace minerals such as sulfur, magnesium, sodium, potassium and iron.
Fallicin is a germ killer. It is especially bactericidal to pathogens or germs that live in the soil. A derivative of fallicin has been produced for use in controlling infectious bronchial diseases caused by Mycobacterium cepae, a respiratory oriented germ.
Glucokinin, a plant hormone, has seen use as an oral insulin to lower blood sugar levels in the treatment of diabetes. It has been credited as being the stimulating agent that speeds up the healing of injured or damaged animal tissue. What was once seen as only folklore, onion medicine is getting more and more recognition due to various scientific studies.
Onion medicine and Cancer Treatment
The importance of onions or garlic to medicine ranges from simple first aid for burns and wounds, to the more complex therapy of infectious diseases and cancer. Studies have shown that continuous applications of onion or garlic juice upon malignant tumors can retard their development. In some cases, these daily applications have been known to prevent tumor reappearance or formation.
Taken internally, a small amount of onion or garlic juice will stimulate faulty digestion, increase bile secretion, lower blood pressure, and reduce blood sugar levels.
In larger doses, the juice will expel intestinal parasites from the digestive tract. Although breathing or contact with the irritating fumes of the volatile oils in onion juice will involuntarily cause the eyes to water, this unpleasant side effect has a great benefit to an injured person.
The act of crying actually gives the patient a definite edge in the healing process. Crying releases enzymes and hormones directly into the bloodstream, helping to accelerate scab forming and the regeneration of tissue in severe wounds. Furthermore, crying relieves pain and alleviates the extreme psychological stress experienced by the badly injured.
Onion medicine and other uses
Easy to cultivate, the onion should be included in everyone’s diet. Onions provide those essential vitamins needed to combat scurvy and provide relief from the misery of the common cold.
Onions have a use in the garden as a natural insecticide. If grown with carrots and beets, onions or garlic will naturally repel parasitic flies.
Organic garden sprays can be made from the diluted bulb juice. A homemade mosquito repellent can be made from the onion juice. Applied cautiously to bare skin, the results are somewhat mixed as apparently some mosquitoes are very attracted to the odor. Sprayed upon plants, it does repel pests.
Onions can be found growing in the wild. They are commonplace in all parts of the world and can be seen in open, rich soils of the lowlands on stream or river banks, in fields, and pastures, and in the shaded, rocky soils of hillsides and mountain ranges.
The wild onion likes to grow in dense colonies in favorable soils. An herby plant, the wild onion is much like its domesticated kin with white-pink flowers arising from a single flowering stalk that emerges from a bulb.
Bulbs (modified stems) may vary in size, from the tiny ‘h-inch to the larger 4-inch diameters, and are covered individually with a thin, papery sheath. Its leaves are long, narrow, onion-scented, somewhat fleshy, and in clumps surrounding the flowering stalk. The stalk may reach a height of 18 inches. Cut or slashed leaves and bulbs ooze a cleat mucous-like onion flavored sap.
Flowers are in a showy cluster 1 to 5 inches across the top of the stalk. Each flower is small and has six petals of equal size and color. The flowering period is in early spring to late fall depending upon rainfall conditions and altitude. Fruits are small 3-lobed capsules and may contain numerous shiny, black seeds.
The importance of the Lily Family
Closely related to garlic, leeks, chives, and shallots, the onion (Allium) is a member of the lily family and has many cousins resembling it. A few are very poisonous, such as the death camas (Zigadenus) and the star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum).
They can be superficially confused with large onions, garlic or leeks. A good rule to remember when collecting wild onions for food or for onion medicine is: If an onion type of plant does not smell or taste distinctly like an onion, then do not use it.
Never take a chance, as it is far better to be absolutely sure than to be made violently sick or worse. While onions are good food and are useful in the treatment of diseases, they do have certain side effects the reader should be made aware of. For like all good things, the onion has a bad side to it.
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A closing word
A person who has a steady diet of onions may develop an anemia-like condition especially if he is allergy prone. Take away the onions and more than likely he will return to normal health.
Too many onions for dinner can so upset the digestive system the individual may suffer great pain, excessive gas build-up, and unpleasant diarrhea. Raw onions can be very irritating. Cooking them will usually lessen this misery.
Lastly, a daily overdosage of onions or garlic in the diet can alter the chemical composition of an individual’s sweat into that of a strong, foul-smelling stench. This fetid odor will permeate his clothing, lingering upon anything he handles or touches.
No amount of deodorants or perfume can suppress it either. None of these side effects are fatal in nature, but they can literally raise havoc with one’s social life. The last side effect mentioned can guarantee a vacant seat on any overly crowded subway train or city bus.