heads and cloves of garlic

Q. When I am sick with a cold I crave onions. I am not sure why and I don’t know if they actually help me get over my cold any faster.

I just read an article that is circulating on the web that farmers and their families placed unpeeled onions around the room to ward off the 1919 flu. The onions absorbed the flu virus and kept people from getting sick. Is there anything to this story?

A. We have received lots of inquiries about onions. Here is another:

“I recently read an article claiming that if you cut an unpeeled onion in half and put it in a jar and then put it in the bedroom of a sick person, the onion will absorb the bacteria, helping the sick person get better faster. It also claimed that if you put dishes of onions around the house, the onions will prevent you from getting the flu and other illnesses.

“Have you ever heard of this and is it true or just a bunch of nonsense? My one daughter and her two children moved in with us temporarily after her divorce and we watch two other grandchildren while their parents work. All the kids, ages 5 and under, have been sick with bronchitis, pneumonia, tonsillitis, ear infections, strep throat and bad coughs that will not go away.

“We constantly clean the house and wipe things down with Lysol and other antibacterial products but even after several rounds of antibiotics, the kids still cannot get completely well and then start over being sick again. It seems they just keep passing the illnesses back and forth and it is impossible to keep them completely separated. Would putting cut up onions around the house help or just stink up my house?”


We’re afraid that putting raw onions around the house will just stink up the house and won’t prevent people from getting sick. There is no reason to believe that flu viruses have an affinity for onions. Flies may be attracted to honey, but the viruses that cause colds and flu cannot propel themselves through the air and selectively hone in on raw onions. This is an urban legend.

Eating raw onions, on the other hand, might have some medicinal benefit. For one thing, your breath is likely to smell so strong that most people will want to keep a healthy distance.

Whether there is something special in onions that would speed recovery from a cold or the flu has not been well established. That said, any self-respecting grandmother will tell you that chicken soup IS good for the common cold and that you need some onions in the soup to provide flavor. We have also heard that a Philippine recipe for Chicken Adobo made with garlic is a great way to deal with cold symptoms.

We have some fabulous recipes to fight off colds and coughs in our Recipes & Remedies book from The People’s Pharmacy.

  • Helen Graedon’s (Joe’s mom) famous Chicken Recipe is on page 27. It contains 6 cloves of garlic in addition to the onion, parsley, parsnips, bay leaves and carrots.
  • Chicken Adobo on page 118 has vinegar, fresh ginger, garlic and soy sauce. It is incredibly delicious!
  • Coconut Chicken Soup is easy to make in a jiffy. It has chicken broth, coconut milk, ginger and red pepper flakes in addition to lemon juice, (page 26).
  • And best of all, there is Ginger and Thyme broth for coughs, Thyme cough syrup and a hot toddy recipe that you will love.

If you would love to get the details on these recipes we have a special sales opportunity. We hope you find our onion recipes far more appealing (and effective) than the idea of putting raw onions around your house in bowls.

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  1. Alexandria Wright

    Putting sliced onions Around your home does prevent others from getting sick. I’ve been using this remedy for many years. It works!

  2. Pediatrician Fishkill NY

    Putting cut up an onion around the house may not actually help to prevent colds and flu. Thanks for the post.

  3. John

    I’ve found that chopped garlic mixed with avocado and spread on rye (with butter) works wonders for colds. Mix 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic to half an avocado. If it’s too strong, use the whole avocado.
    My wife had a serious sore throat infection. She couldn’t talk. She took two tablespoons of chopped garlic every two hours during the night. The next morning she was totally normal. No fever, no cold, & no sore throat.
    Before I used avocado, I’d take the garlic a teaspoon at a time, after chewing it, then I’d wash it down with milk. I’ve never had a cold last more than 2 days, more like I get the symptoms, & the next day it’s gone.

  4. fbl

    The grandparents who wrote in should give their grandchildren vitamin D and vitamin C. My mom was given cod liver oil as a kid and didn’t wish that evil on her kids. Yeah, we got everything that came along!
    My son got his first cold at age 13 when he decided he was mature enough to decide if he needed his vitamins or not. After two weeks w/o the vitamins he got his first and only cold. He thought he was going to die. Yes, he started them again and I never said a word.

  5. ml

    Whenever your children get sick, you should give each child a new toothbrush after they have gotten over being contagious. Also putting a toothbrush in the dishwasher and using the sanitize feature will help.

  6. Judy Z

    My grandfather told this story: When the early century influenza hit, he had 12 children, ranging from infant to 21 yrs. Every morning, each child received from a few drops of whiskey for the youngest, and about a tablespoon with honey and hot water for the older children. Not one person in the family got the flu!
    My grandfather also took a small amount of whiskey with honey and hot water each night. He lived to age 99.

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