Bouts of influenza are not only miserable; they threaten the lives of elderly people, young children and other vulnerable populations. The respiratory virus causes problems ranging from body aches and fatigue to fever and coughing. Because people with the flu may develop dangerous secondary illnesses, it’s important to consult your doctor rather than rely on folk medicine or urban legends such as the onion remedy. In some cases, however, onions may ease some of the symptoms of the flu.
In the wake of the 2009 HIN1, or “swine flu,” health scare, new myths and old folk remedies for flu were unearthed. Among them, according to “The Wall Street Journal,” was an persistent urban legend about onions’ curative powers. According to the rumor, people who placed onions around their shops or homes escaped the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions. The story that was circulating also claimed a similar effect was occurring during the H1N1 epidemic. The onion cure rumor posited that unpeeled onions somehow absorbed pathogens from the flu virus.
Unfortunately, onions don’t appear to possess the kind of powers implied by the urban legend, notes the WSJ’s “Health Journal.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the only known way to avoid H1N1 was to get a vaccine, and that no verified natural remedies or herbal preventives existed -- including the placement of unpeeled onions around the home. Onions, when eaten, contribute antioxidant nutrients and have a history of easing certain cold and flu symptoms. No evidence, however, exists to prove that the pungent vegetable diverts and absorbs viruses from the atmosphere.
The World Health Organization recognizes products made with onion extracts as legitimate treatments for symptoms such as coughs or respiratory distress. Home remedies using onions may also provide relief for the lung congestion and coughing sometimes associated with colds and flu, according to natural medicine author Barbara Griggs. One traditional remedy involves eating a cooked, chopped onion at the first sign of body aches or coughing to help ward off the worst of an illness. To ease labored breathing and coughs, you can pour boiling water into a mug containing a slice of raw onion. Strain and drink the infused liquid after it cools slightly.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, eating a diet rich in vitamins A and C bolsters your immune system, which helps you resist certain illnesses or reduce their severity. A serving of 1/2 cup chopped, cooked onions provides 10 percent of the recommended daily value for vitamin C. The same amount of raw onions contributes 8 percent of the daily value for vitamin C. Onions also offer calcium, iron and dietary fiber.
- "The Wall Street Journal"; Home Flu Cures: Bad Medicine?; Melinda Beck
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Seasonal Influenza (Flu)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Vegetable of the Month: Onion
- World Health Organization; WHO Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants - Volume 1; Bulbus Allii Cepae; 1995
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2009 H1N1 Flu ("Swine Flu") and You
- "The Green Witch Herbal"; Barbara Griggs; 1994
With a focus on food, nutrition, cocktails and the latest dining trends, Melissa J. has been a freelance writer for more than 15 years. Her specialties include articles for such publications as SF Chronicle and National Geographic Green Living, as well as blog posts for the hospitality industry. Her previous positions include newspaper staff reporter and communications specialist for a nonprofit agency.