onions


onions
   Long prized for medicinal purposes. Popular tradition lays particular stess on the efficacy of raw onion rubbed on wasp and bee stings, and on warm onion juice dropped into the ear for earache; they are also mentioned for kidney troubles, coughs and colds, chilblains, baldness, aching wrists and ankles, and as a general antiseptic ointment. They are also believed to dissolve hardened substances in the stomach - especially useful after eating hard-boiled eggs, regarded as indigestible - and to take away the smell of new paint.
   There was, and is, a widespread belief that onions attract and absorb impurities from the air. Many sources claim that peeled or cut onions kept in a room will destroy germs, thus preventing or curing any fevers or colds; their shrivelling and gradual blackening is held to prove this, and once they have done their work they should be burnt. This is supported by stories about particular epidemics such as the cholera outbreak in London in 1849 and the Great *Plague of the 1660s, when it was widely believed that tobacconists and onion sellers were largely immune. The same belief leads some people to think it unlucky or dangerous to keep a cut, raw onion, for fear it might attract illness into the house from the outside air; any unused part, and even the peelings, must be thrown out at once.
   An idea common among schoolchildren in the 19th and 20th centuries was that if you rubbed raw onion on to your palm, the pain of being caned on the hand would be much lessened, or, even better, the cane would split in half (cf. *hair, animal).
   *Love divinations involving onions were practised on *St Thomas's Eve.
   ■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 291-4; Vickery, 1995: 265-8; N&Q 11s:11 (1915), 68, 117-18, 409, 477; 11s:12 (1915), 101, 149-50, 167-8, 209, 245-6, 286, 367-8, 406; Culpeper's Complete Herbal and English Physician (1653; 1862 edn.), 109.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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