Q. I recently read online that if you cut an unpeeled onion in half and put it in an open jar in the bedroom of a sick person, the onion will absorb the germs and speed recovery. Dishes of onions around the house are said to prevent the flu. Is this true or just a bunch of nonsense?
My daughter and her two children live with us and we watch two other grandchildren while their parents work. All the kids, ages 5 and under, have been sick with bronchitis and bad coughs that will not go away. Would putting cut-up onions around the house help or just stink up my house?

A. This time of year the onion story circulates on the web. It is hooey. Onions cannot attract the viruses that cause colds and flu and leaving an onion in a room will just make it smell.
This urban legend may have its roots in a folk remedy that uses onions to make cough syrup. Grandmothers used to chop onions finely and simmer them with a small amount of sweetener for a few hours. The resulting syrup was administered as cough medicine. We have many other natural approaches in our Guide to Colds and the Flu including advice on helping kids kick a cough.
Perhaps a little extra vitamin D will help protect your grandchildren. New data suggest that supplemental vitamin D (4,000 IU daily for adults) can cut the number of infections and the amount of antibiotic needed (BMJ Open, Dec. 13, 2012). Studies in schoolchildren also demonstrate that vitamin D (300 IU/day; 1200 IU/day) can help reduce respiratory infections (Pediatrics, Sept. 2012; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May, 2010).

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  1. Beth
    Reply

    For what it’s worth…. As a child I would have the worst bouts of bronchitis…my mom always made me the onion elixir…. I would be healthy within a day versus 2 wks on penicillin!
    Don’t doubt what you don’t know!

  2. Amy
    Reply

    I’m scheduled for major surgery on Tuesday, but got a bad cold/flu bug one week before. Knowing my surgery could be rescheduled if I am not healthy, I took matters into my own hands and tried sleeping with onions last night. I cannot believe how well I slept. First thing I noticed is that my fever broke around 3 hours after placing the onions next to me. Then my clogged sinuses were gone and are still gone, and that tickle you get in your lungs when you lay down only happened a few times during the night. For being sick, I slept miraculously well. I’m at work now combating my cold and the need for surgery in a few days, but I think at the rate I’m feeling after sleeping with onions, I will be over this in no time.

  3. benjamin
    Reply

    Is this true? To be honest I have no idea if this works or not. haha. Though this is indeed a very good article, so interesting. Gotta try it when I got cough LOL.

  4. Grace
    Reply

    As children our mother made us a cough syrup by slicing an onion and covering the slices with sugar. the sugar sucks the juice out of the onion which makes a clear syrup of the sugar. I have had a raw cough and my lungs hurt from congestion. I used 1 Tbsp. and it stopped the coughing. Then I used more as needed. I used it about 4 times yesterday and today my cough and lungs are much better. So safe you can give it to a baby without danger. Onions are a super-food. Taste is like caramelized onions, Almost pleasant.
    I used 1 oz. plastic shot glasses from party supply store and froze my syrup 1/2 full in these for use (and freshness) when I need it.

  5. Dona M
    Reply

    I read this article in my local paper today and just want to share a story with you.
    As I child if I had a cold my grandmother would come over and rub me down with Vick’s salve. She also brought a baked onion, which she made sure I ate by feeding it to me with a spoon. I hated it, of course, but many times it seemed to be the turning point in my recovery. We called her the witch doctor!
    Today I actually like baked onions, as well as raw onions and eat some most days of the week. I rarely get a cold or flu and feel somehow that the onions have much to do with it.
    I have always believed in natural “medicine” and enjoy your articles very much. Keep up the good work.

  6. Flo M.
    Reply

    Unlike the author above, i firmly disagree the onion antidote is NOT “hooey”. The onion is miraculous. And I agree with you, it does work. Like its cousin, garlic, it is akin to nature’s “penicillin”, almost medicinal qualities. God did not put it here on earth for nothing!

  7. KS
    Reply

    This may be related to the well-known use of homeopathic Allium Cepa (onion) extract for cold and allergy symptoms. Perhaps very sensitive subject may be reacting to “treated” air.

  8. Francis
    Reply

    I have used onion ends and it worked for me, getting rid of my cold/ flu symptoms quickly. Recommended this to a friend who told me everyone in his office was ill. She went out and bought a bag of onions, cut the ends, & placed them in every one’s office on Thursday. All came back to work on Monday, CLEAR of any symptoms.
    Also place onion ends in the kitchen and the bananas had rust spots the next day. Never did that happen to bananas before.
    So, urban legend has worked for me and others. Go figure!!

  9. VPee
    Reply

    I suffer from the allergy yearly, severe sneezing,runny nose,itchy eyes,and nasal congestion. I am unable to get a good night sleep because of the constant sneezing. I read about the legend of the uses of onions and decided to give it try as nothing else worked to ease the sneezing.
    I cut about 2-3 slices of the onion,put it in a small dish and placed it in my bed room,or wherever I am in the house. I was able to sleep like a baby throughout the night without sneezing. I have done this each time I begin sneezing and it did help. The odor did not matter as long as I got some relief. I know it worked for me.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE:
    Helen,
    This approach makes no scientific sense to us…but we have a motto:
    If it won’t hurt and might help and doesn’t cost very much, why not give it a try and see what happens.
    In this case we think the mantra applies. We can’t figure it out…but then there are lots of home remedies we cannot explain. Thanks for sharing.

  10. RB
    Reply

    This year when I had my head cold and coughing and sneezing, of course, I ran out and bought cough syrup etc. Then I rec’d the email mentioned above. Onion in the room sounded too far out but I did slice onion vertically, took a layer and placed it on my tongue. Left until softened I then chewed the onion up and swallowed it.
    AMAZING, to me, the coughing and sneezing went away immediately. I did this 2 times a day while I was a little congested and along with 4,000 units of Vitamin D, within a few days I felt great.
    I’m 72 and did not get a flu shot. But a friend of mine did the flu shot and was sick for over 2 weeks, much worse than mine and he went to the DR. and did all the prescriptions etc. I could not convince him of the onions. I know they work and work well!

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