Could an Onion Be the Cure for Your Next Cold?

Some people swear by onions to feel better when sick, but is there any scientific evidence to back that up?

Are you the type of person that will do just about anything to feel better when you're sick? You have your favorite recipe for chicken noodle soup at the ready, your medicine cabinet is stocked with your go-to decongestants and nasal sprays, and you’ve got your heating pad and weighted blanket on standby. But what about onion tea? Have you tried that to combat your cold? Read on to find out if there’s any merit to consuming it to cure your next cold.

What is Onion Tea?

Onion Tea (Home Remedy for Cough)

Onion tea is essentially a broth made with whole onions. Any onion can be used, but organic is preferred, since the onion skin is not removed. To make the tea, the onion is cut and added to a pot of water. The water is brought to a boil and then simmered for an hour or so. The liquid is strained and then a bit of sweetener, such as honey, is added to help it all go down a bit easier.

How Does Onion Tea Taste?

Let’s just say it doesn’t hit the spot like chicken noodle soup does, but it’s not awful either. Embracing it as a broth might put you in a better mindset when it comes to enjoying the flavor. Adding sweetener is a personal choice. Honey might be nice if you’re suffering from a sore or scratchy throat or if you have a cough.

Should You Try Onion Tea to Help Cure a Cold?

Some people swear by this remedy, claiming they do feel better after drinking it. So if you’re up for it, go ahead and give it a try as it shouldn’t be harmful to healthy adults. However, if you suffer from any pre-existing health conditions, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor or healthcare team first, just to be sure. 

Does Onion Tea Really Help Cure a Cold?

There’s no scientific evidence that supports onion tea as a remedy for the common cold. Instead, there are some theories that might support why it may be beneficial. 

Onions are part of the allium family of vegetables, along with garlic, shallots, and leeks, says Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist. And onions specifically contain flavonoids and sulfoxides, two compounds, she says, that have numerous health benefits, including the ability to help fend off certain cancers, as well as keep blood and cells healthy with antibiotic properties. 

She adds that onions are high in the flavonoid quercetin, which has been shown to stimulate the immune system and lower the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines—a bonus when you are sick and need immune support. So, Retelny says, steeping an onion in hot water to make a tea may impart some of the beneficial compounds into the water and soothe a sore throat while going down. 

But it may just come down to the comforting role warm liquids play when you’re sick, says Qula Madkin, MS, RDN, LDN, CDCES. That’s because they soothe sore throats, chest congestion, stuffy noses, chilliness, and tiredness. Confirming, she says, that like any hot beverage, onion tea could be a nice option, especially if you like onions. 

With all of the noted health benefits of onions, it may make more sense to actually consume the onion versus a broth made from it. Madkin suggests using onions as a base for soups—hello, French onion—and stocks. Plus, onions are a flavorful food and a natural addition to dishes that can be enjoyed even when you aren’t feeling sick.   

The Bottom Line

While scientific evidence supporting onion tea's role in curing the common cold is lacking, it shouldn’t hurt you if you want to give it a try. Consult your doctor first, especially if you have other health concerns, and don’t forget that cooking and consuming the actual onion has its benefits too.

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