The People's Perspective on Medicine

Onion Cough Remedy

Onion syrup, made by cooking onions with honey or sugar, is a homemade cough remedy that can help ease a persistent cough.

Q. When we were 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 and makes a clear syrup.

I have had a raw cough and my lungs hurt from congestion. I used a tablespoon of the syrup and it stopped the coughing. I used more as needed, and today my cough and lungs are much better.

Onions are a super-food. The taste of this syrup is like caramelized onions, almost pleasant.

A. This seems to be quite a traditional recipe. A friend told us that her Hungarian grandmother made this syrup for her several decades ago.

Much longer ago, in the mid-18th century, American settlers used the juice of roasted onion to treat children with croupy cough. One advantage of roasted onion juice is that, like many pioneer home remedies, onions were almost always available.

Household Antimicrobials

Onion and honey (sometimes used instead of sugar to make onion syrup) are both active against some microbes, including Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Klebsiella, Pseudomonas and Candida (West Indian Medical Journal, Sept., 2003). These are pathogens commonly found in the throat or pharynx and often associated with sore throats or infections that cause cough.

Another favorite remedy for cough, thyme, might be added to your sliced onion as you are creating the syrup. Ingredients in thyme such as thymol have been shown to be helpful in calming coughs. If you would like to learn more about home remedies for a cough, you may be interested in our Guide to Colds, Coughs and the Flu.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I have been nine weeks with allergic asthmatic bronchitis. Trip to ER, two trips to urgent care, two courses of antibiotics, and two courses of steroids (gained 5 lbs). The cough gets worse and worse. At 74 my heart can’t take much. Remembered Mom’s onion and peppers and butter sandwich. The cough is leaving.

My husband has been sick for 3 weeks, flu for a second time and coughing non-stop, especially night time. Been to dr twice, using antibiotics. I just stood up at 11, couldn’t stand his coughing after I remembered about the onion recipe.

I cut up an onion and put it next to his head on the side cupboard. I then made the onion and sugar mixture to stand for the next day. When I returned to bed, he was fast asleep and the cough was gone. But I must add, I did all of it prayerfully. Hopefully he will sleep through, he really deserve a night’s sleep.

You can just drink boiled onion water and it will work the same I was told to cut an onion in half and add just enough water to cover onion add some sea salt boil for 20 minutes and drink while hot cough gone

My son is having persistent cough from past 4 months now.everything v tried nothing v worked out.I gave him onion juice n sugar. He slept better without coughing allowing me to sleep peacefully.yes it worked wonders.

I have had a postnasal drip and intermittent cough for about six months. Unfortunately I cannot handle any of the antihistamines on the market. I checked all the websites for natural remedies and found the recommendation of the chopped up onions by the bed along with several others. I tried everything that was recommended. Then, a few nights ago, I cut up some slices of red onion and put it by my bed. I slept better that night. I did not attribute this improvement to the onion, and only to that I am getting better. The following night I did not do the onion. The problem with the postnasal drip was present again. The next night, back to the chopped up onion and I was able to slept better. Last night I went to bed a little bit later than usual and forgot to do the onion thing. Guess what, the postnasal drip misery was with me again. At two o’clock in the morning I got up, chopped up the onion, left it by my bed and I was finally able to get some sleep. I find that it helps me breathe better and opens up my nostrils. I cannot prove it works, but it surely is making a difference with me. It might be that there is another human being out there that could be helped with this. From now on my bedroom is going to smell like onions.

My grandmother, Mami Margarita, used to make a version of this many years ago. I think it worked great. I was almost never sick with my Mami around to dose me with her home remedies as needed (all except the castor oil and that was my biological mother’s favorite weapon).
The honey onion syrup she made not only worked well, but tasted nice. She used to also use a drop or two of “Agua Ardiente” (Crystal)…if the honey onion syrup did not fix ya, the alcohol for sure did (you had to get better in self defense or more would follow!).

I am convinced that this works based on an older person telling about onion tea and honey years ago in my twentys.

I want to know if I make this syrup of onions and sugar where do I store it and for how long?

People do not realize how much cure are in certain foods, I would and only do natural home made remedies for myself and my family. Many man made medicines will harm you not help you, with side affects worse than what you started out with!! If most people only knew that the cure is in their kitchen cupboard. Onions and garlic are amazing antibiotic without the side affects, gods cure for mankind. Believe in it and see the results.

Because the sugar is a preservative, onion syrup stores indefinitely in a tightly sealed glass jar in the fridge. If you have it long enough it can crystallize, so put a few doses in a glass in a pot of heated water and it will soon be ready to use.

I made it, and it really seemed to help! Heck the codeine did nothing for me. I am also wondering how long it keeps before having to make a new batch? While my cough is almost gone, I think I’ll continue taking it purely for the health benefits!

My grandmother (who would have been 99 at the end of the month) used to make this for us as a child. I remember onion and sugar but thought there was something else in it. Nope, that’s it! I just made it for my 5yr old son who was never sick before starting school and now got a bad cough. It still works like a charm. I switched it up a bit and add raw local honey and it seems like that works just as well.

You have stated above that ” When we were 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 and makes a clear syrup.” Could you please inform per return of mail whether the slices of onion should be raw onion. please suggest.

My mom who would now be 106,! Before she passed at 95 ,she gave me the onion recipe said it’s what her mother always used on them as children my grandmother would be 132 years of age so recipe goes back always!
There was a recipe my mother couldn’t remember it all there was sulfur and honey maybe castor oil? (They used a lot of that then ) but not sure you took in spring and it cured acne ? I’d be interested if anyone knows that one.

When my kids were babies and got croup I made onion syrup on the stove, cut a few onions in half and cover with water bring to a boil, then simmer real low & slow with enough water just to cover (a couple of hours) sweeten with a little sugar or honey (depending on childs age).
Nothing worked better, croup gone in a day or so.

I am on Day 5 on having a cough and it is driving me crazy. I am sure it is others also. I mentioned this to someone at work today and was told about cutting an onion in half placing sugar over it and leaving it in the bedroom overnite.
Will be trying this when I get home from work. Upon looking up this on the web (as I hadn’t heard of it before) I could I could also make a syrup so will be giving this a go also.
If I don’t find something soon it will be off to the doctors :-(
From now on I think I will be looking around the net or asking friends and work collegues and giving things a go as its usually A LOT cheaper than a doctors visit and / or medication.
Thank you to all who post these remedies and also to all who respond with comments / suggestions :-)

I love the Onion recipe for coughs. I just couldn’t find the “STARS” to click on.

Wonderful, hope someday to have the nerve to eat a sandwich of onion and garlic with honey and mustard; but I’d probably ruin it because I put mayonnaise on everything.

When I was young I always eat onion and mustard sandwiches on home made bread cause we did not have store bought bread. I also ate sugar sandwiches.

Sounds very interesting. Our son has an ongoing cough and we will try this before going to the doctor’s office (where we will probably pick up some germs). How do you prepare the syrup (the recipe!)?

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.

If I ever have a really sore throat, I also chew a piece of fresh garlic… actually hurts at first, but then there is great relief from the soreness and it doesn’t develop into a full blown cold. Sure onions would be good too…….and I agree with foodie, that my gourmet meal could just be a nice crusty roll. Cheese and fresh sliced onion. delicious.

This reminded me that my mother used to make an onion “syrup” when we were young, I don’t remember if she used sugar or honey, but remember that it was pretty good tasting! Thanks for the memory.
Does anyone have a “recipe”?

My husband has suffered for many years with post-nasal drip, sore throat and the cough that results. He’s been seen by two eye, ear, and throat doctors, and had surgery on his sinuses. The problem still exists, even though the surgeon said that his sinuses are now clear. Just this morning we have tried the onion and sugar, or honey, recipe and hope that this might make a difference.

I’ve had the same issue for about a year now. It seems to be helping me, along with using the Neil Med sinus rinse.

In the 1940’s when I was 5-6 years old, my grandmother gave me hot onion tasting tea. My cold was making me miserable and this sweet onion drink was a magical cure. We never went to doctors in those days but my babies in the 1960’s had medical doctor care and pharmaceutical prescriptions (often causing side effects). Our “advanced” society of health care ignored the tried and true. Thanks to Peoples Pharmacy for this venue to learn and become better informed.

i have heard that raw onion reduces ldl cholesterol and raises hdl cholesterol. HTML have you noticed your cholesterol numbers to align with this thought? i would love to hear back from you about this.
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Onion might not be the only “spice” that can have an effect on cholesterol:

A few years ago I had bronchitis (had asthma) while I was traveling. A cousin of mine told me to cut an onion in half and place it near my head night stand. I stop coughing almost immediately and was able to sleep all night until I was able to go to a doctor and get medicine. In an emergency, it works. You must open the windows the next day… the whole room smelled onion. I believe that the fumes from the onion, helped to opened the passage and I was able to breathe better.

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, 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 Dr. 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, my take is to add sliced tomato – ummmm good.

In the 1930’s Depression, we couldn’t afford a doctor. When my sister got croup my mother boiled onions in a little water with a dash of sugar until they became a syrup. One or two tsps of this would control most any cough. Wish I’d remembered that earlier but will try it now. Thanks for the reminder. KJM

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.
Does anyone have any idea as to why this might be? Why the love of raw onions?
You aren’t the only one who loves onions (and onion sandwiches). They are comfort food for Joe too. No idea why, but there is something about an onion sandwich. One modification…a little aged cheddar cheese with the onion is heaven. Together this combo is a taste treat…though we suspect that most folks wouldn’t find the flavor as delectable as we do.

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