Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


1.  Heat a whole onion. When warm, but not hot, place in an old pair of tights and hold it to the ear as relief from ear-ache. My mum did this for my sister in the 1970s [Liss, Hampshire, June 2013].

2. Cut an onion in half and leave in a room that is being decorated in order to absorb the smell of the paint. Essex [Natural History Museum, London, June 2013].

3. My grandmother, from Derbyshire, used to cut a small onion in half and pour sugar on the halves. Then she would toast it until the sugar caramelised on the onion. This was given as a hot dish to family members with heavy colds. It seemed to work [Childwall, Liverpool, August 2011].

4. My mother showed us how to write on paper with an onion and then hold it in front of the fire, when the writing would show up [Redhill. Surrey, December 2009].

5. A boiled onion was often mashed and inserted into a sock and tied around a sore throat as a cure until about the mid 1950s [Holbeach, Lincolnshire, January 2004].

6. I’ve been told that during the First World War nasty people used to rub their bullets on onions. This meant that any wounds caused by them became infected with germs [West Wimbledon, London, November 2003].

7. My grandmother used to make her own cough medicine by placing a Spanish onion with the root end cut off on two tablespoons of demerara sugar in a saucer. She then left it in her larder for a week and collected the resulting syrup which was administered to anyone with a cough up to four times a day [West Wickham, Kent, April 2003].

8. My mother-in-law made cough mixture from onion and brown sugar, to give to her grandchildren. Cut up the onion and add the sugar, then use the juice [South London Botanical Institute, London, March 1997].

9. When I was living in Orkney in the early 1950s, I had no refrigerator or anything like that, just cold marble in the pantry. I used to put half an onion in the pantry to keep away the germs. I used to have to tell the children not to use it as it ‘collected all the bugs’ [Canterbury, Kent, November 1993].

10. My mother was a country person and believed in living off the land. She was 94 when she died in 1987 …
A half of onion was hung in the house every winter; a cut onion was supposed to take the germs [Hill, Worcestershire, October 1991].

11. Half a strong onion eaten raw twice a week – a preventative remedy for germs.
Wasp sting – rub with a slice of raw onion.
Severe bruising – rub gently at regular intervals with a slice of raw onion [Stockport, Cheshire, April 1991].

12. From my own childhood at East Cowes during the late [19]20s and 30s … Onions – chopped and stewed in milk – to cure colds and coughs. In the days before the NHS (1948?) home cures were essential [Ryde, Isle of Wight, November 1988].

13. My informant is Elsie Rebecca Smith, nee Lees, born in Lancashire, 1897, and lived most of her life in Liverpool … A cut piece of onion should never be kept as it will attract all the bad from the air into it [St Andrews, Fife, September 1988].

14. Onion seed must always be sown on 10th March [Reading, Berkshire, February 1987].

Image: Balham market, London Borough of Wandsworth; April 2016.