Q. I was born in 1931, the youngest of four siblings. Mother would slice onions and cook them in “sugar water” for cough syrup.
Warm cooked onions would be wrapped in flannel or old blanket pieces and applied to our chest as a “poultice” for cough. I would fake a cough so I could have that delicious syrup!

A. Most people assume that onion syrup would taste terrible, but we have heard from many readers that this old-fashioned cough remedy actually tastes delicious. Some of that might be attributed to fond childhood memories, but hardly anyone has such an association with cod liver oil that was administered for similar reasons.
Here are a few other readers’ responses:
Onions seem to be good for just about everything.
I’m from a family who came from Alabama and we never sat down to supper without having a raw onion on the table, which we assumed was as common as having bread and butter.
Now, at age 66, I crave raw onions, especially when I’m feeling stressed or am getting sick. An onion sandwich is my idea of heaven, and I’ve eaten at some of the best restaurants in the U.S. and in Europe, too.

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The onion remedy has really proven itself this winter. I had a bad cough so I laid a ‘leaf’ of onion on my tongue until it became soft, then I chewed it up and ate it. My cough was gone in 24 hours!
My niece was going to have surgery, but she developed a cold and cough. I had shared with her (as I do my remedies with all my friends and family) my experience and the onion theory. The doctor told her they may have to postpone her surgery if the cough persists. She called me long distance to thank me. She tried it and the cough subsided, she was able to continue with her surgery
I love onion sandwiches especially with sliced tomato – ummmm good.

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My mother also prepared “onion syrup” when I was a child in the 40s & 50s, but she used honey instead of sugar.
On my first trip to India in 1986 I accompanied a local doctor to villages where she was teaching assistants to distinguish minor ailments that could be treated with local remedies from major problems that needed professional care in the nearest large village. One of the remedies used for minor coughs was an onion syrup sweetened with natural sugar processed from the local sugarcane fields.

You will find other home remedies for coughs in our Guide to Colds, Coughs & the Flu.

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  1. D L
    Reply

    My grandmother has told me that she believes she cured my dad of going into pneumonia My applying an onion poultice to his chest. That was around the year 1950. Later I had the symptoms of pluersy and cured it by the same poultice. Also, I read on the internet recently that chewing a raw onion will kill all kinds of bacteria in the mouth.

  2. alan
    Reply

    A number of years ago when I’d get home from work I’d be hungry, and being unimpaired by the thought process, i’d peel a large onion, gouge out the root, them microwave it. it was ALWAYS sweet, and if it was a noonday, 1015, vidalia or other sweet variety it came out TOO sweet. no wonder kids’d look forward to drinking “onion syrup!”

  3. Paul 43
    Reply

    I would like to hear more about the onion remedies as love onions.

  4. Mary
    Reply

    Around 1918 my father had diphtheria His mother dropped onion syrup down his throat to keep it open. He always believed that onion syrup saved his life.

  5. MDP
    Reply

    What is the recipe for onion syrup? Do cut the onion in slices or just in half, how much sugar, water, etc. How long does it cook. How often do you take it and when. How do you store it…refrigerate or room temp.

  6. Meris
    Reply

    Onions have many healing properties. A friend of mine who suffers from rheumatism in her hands, soaks a whole peeled onion in lukewarm water overnight, drinking it in the morning. She has had no pains since doing this, but must drink the remedy every morning to keep the pains away. She says the taste is not unpleasant.

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