The Periodical Pickle
Six Unusual Uses of Onions
As I was digging into the history of the onion, I was amazed at all the different and weird ways onions have been used throughout time. Onions are a pungent vegetable with a lot of character, so it’s no wonder that strong opinions and strange properties have been associated with the onion. Even my Great Aunt Mary would tell me the secret behind her verve and longevity was her beloved pickled red onions!
But we don’t need to look all that far back in history to see onions used for strength. In the U.S. Civil War, onions were not just a staple in the soldiers’ diet, but onion juice was commonly used as an antiseptic to treat gunshot wounds and powder burns. When he ran out of onions during the war, General Grant sent a cantankerous memo to the War Department in Washington declaring, “I will not move my troops without onions.” Grant was immediately sent three railcars full of onions.
Perhaps the most fascinating accounting of this was written by Pliny the Elder, a famous Roman naturalist and philosopher living in 1st century A.D. He described 27 ailments that could be treated using onions, from vision problems to scorpion stings to dysentery! Pliny wrote, “The cultivated onion is employed for the cure of dimness of sight, the patient being made to smell at it till tears come into the eyes: it is still better even if the eyes are rubbed with the juice.” I imagine those Ancient Roman patients said they were cured just to avoid further treatments!
In 6th Century India, onions were deemed helpful for the heart, joints and indigestion. In Elizabethan England onions were used to soothe blisters, hemorrhoids, and many other health issues. You can still find claims online today about onions curing hemorrhoids.
In more recent times, science has shown that onions are extremely good for health as a potent antioxidant and nutrient-dense food. One unusual benefit of onions that surprised me came from a 2002 study (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12126069/) that tested onion juice as a topical therapy for baldness. And it worked!! This begs a question for those of us who are hair-challenged: is it more attractive to have a full head of hair that stinks of onions or to let balding happen?
The vast array of other proven health benefits of onions are too many to list here (perhaps in a future post).
3. Onions as a Fertility Test?
The Ancient Egyptians used the onion as a fertility test for women.According to the Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus (the oldest known medical text in Egypt), an onion would be inserted into the woman’s vagina and if her breath smelled like onions the next day, it indicated she was fertile (we don’t recommend relying on this as a form of fertility test, or even trying it…)
onions were more valuable than coins and were used as a form of currency.
Even though here at Boone’s we love onions, we wouldn’t go so far to say they inspire love-making. But believe it or not, onions have been considered an aphrodisiac and virility-booster throughout history. And now science is backing that up! Various studies have shown that eating onions (or onion extract) enhances testosterone in male humans and rats.* So bring some Boone's on your next date, guys!
* “Testosterone in Males as Enhanced by Onion (Allium Cepa L.)” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6406961/
In Ancient Greece, onions played a powerful role in protecting against spirit possession, maladies, and the evil eye. To this day, it is a Greek New Year’s eve tradition to hang onions at the front door and then wake up the children the next morning by tapping them on the head with an onion. This ritual is said to bring growth, rebirth, prosperity, and luck in the year to come.
This is Christopher, founder and owner of Boone's Red Onions.