The star ingredient in this season's herbal recipe, onions are one of my favorite winter (and autumn) seasonal medicines. On top of being a good source of a variety of nutrients (manganese, vitamin B6, copper, vitamin c, and fiber) they're also packed with both antioxidants and sulfuric compounds - both of which - have a suite of benefits for the body. As a traditional food used to support lung health, winter seems like the perfect time to discuss this ancient wisdom-meets-modern-science medicine for the approaching months.
I always love when the traditional uses of a plant crossover with the research of the modern age, which by the way, happens all the time. Long-used as a lung-supportive remedy in herbalism, onions have been a staple in kitchen-based healing practices for centuries. As expectorants, onions are traditionally applied in situations where you would want to help clear the lungs. If you've ever sliced a bag full of onions (and if you haven't, try it out with this season's recipe), you have likely experienced the very expectorating and decongesting properties of this root vegetable. Onions have historically been used in syrups to help soothe and clear the lungs, as well as poultices for topical application on the chest/lungs for supporting the respiratory system.
A modern nutritional analysis of onions show us that they are an excellent source of antioxidants - most notably quercetin - which has been studied for it's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, specific to supporting the respiratory system. The quercetin in onions is found in the highest concentration in the outer layers (where the color is) and is most abundant in dark-colored onions (such as red) so be sure to chow down on a variety of colors when utilizing them for this special antioxidant. Not only is quercetin supportive to the lungs, but it is also a powerful antioxidant for the cardiovascular system, and is often used to support this very important body system.
In addition to it's value as a quercetin-containing food - onions are also a rich source of sulfur, which plays a beneficial role in supporting our body's natural detoxification systems, including both phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification.
As a seasonal food - onions are often consumed during the winter months, as they can easily be stored in cool, dry places for long periods of time. Harvested in Autumn (and spring) these hearty bulbs were one of the few veggies available during the colder months, just the time when our lungs need a little extra TLC. Some may call it serendipity - but from a traditional healing and ecologically based perspective, it seems as though nature might have just known what it was doing.
Interested in making onions a part of your winter diet? Check out this season's recipe for a simpler take on a very traditional dish - onion and thyme soup! Interested in growing them in your own garden this year? Check out one of my favorite local veggie suppliers, Grow A Pear Nursery, to stock up on starts this spring/summer for a late summer/fall harvest that will get you through the following year.
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Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: the Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press, 2003.
Kwak JH;Seo JM;Kim NH;Arasu MV;Kim S;Yoon MK;Kim SJ; “Variation of Quercetin Glycoside Derivatives in Three Onion ( Allium Cepa L.) Varieties.” Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28855836/.
“Beneficial Effects of Quercetin in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) - Full Text View.” Beneficial Effects of Quercetin in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) - Full Text View - ClinicalTrials.gov, https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01708278.
Grieve, M. A Modern Herbal: the Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic, and Economic Properties, Cultivation, and Folklore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs, & Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses: Complete Volume. Stone Basin Books, 2016.
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