When I was 6 years old and suffering with a bad cold, my mother told me that my grandfather always swore by raw onion sandwiches. While I opted for chicken noodle soup and hot tea, I never lost my curiosity about the healing power of onions. Decades later, I can say that my grandfather was right. Onions have been a staple of my nutritional medicine protocols for over 30 years.

As with their cousins garlic, chives, and leeks, onions are in the Allium family, a plant group known for its medicinal properties. Alliums contain strong antioxidants called flavonoids and lots of vitamin C. Both can help prevent cancer and heart disease. Onions also contain folate, B6, calcium, potassium, and iron, nutritional inflammation fighters. Onions are mucolytic: The same compounds that make your eyes water also work to break up mucus and congestion in your nose, sinuses, and lungs. Onions also nourish healthy bacteria in the gut, reduce inflammation in the walls of the gastrointestinal tract, and are an excellent source of plant fiber.

For acute illnesses, such as a cold, sinusitis, bronchitis, cough or sore throat, onions are a great go-to medicine. Most folks have one or two in the kitchen and can quickly sauté a batch. To help reduce fever and mucus production, speed recovery time, and suppress a cough, eat ½ cup of sauteed onion at two meals per day until well. For ease of preparation, keep freshly sautéed onions in the refrigerator and add them to broth, soup, or serve as a vegetable with a small portion of protein such as chicken or fish. Cooked onions will retain their medicinal value for up to three days if kept cool in a tightly covered container.

To reduce a cough and relieve shortness of breath from bronchitis and acute asthma, use an onion poultice. Wrap hot sautéed onions in a moist cotton cloth and place over the upper back (lungs) for 15 minutes. Cover the person receiving the poultice with several blankets so they stay warm. Repeat as often as needed for symptom relief.

For sore throats and respiratory congestion, onion syrup is helpful. You can make your own to have on hand. Layer thin slices of raw onion alternating with thick layers of honey in a pint-size glass jar. Cover with a tight lid and store in the refrigerator for up to two months. To use, stir one tablespoon of honey/onion syrup into 8 ounces of hot water and sip as a tea or eat the syrup directly off a spoon several times a day until symptoms resolve.

For long-term good health, eat onions regularly. You don’t have to eat platesful; just try to make onions a part of your diet at least three times a week. Put a slice on a burger, dice them for a salad or on a baked potato, grill them on the barbeque, or add some to soup, spaghetti sauce, or an omelet. Maybe even follow my great-grandfather’s advice and try a raw onion sandwich the next time you have a cold.

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