Onions have been cultivated for more than 5000 years, research shows that onions were probably consumed by pre historic man although they may not have cultivated them they grew wild in many parts of the world. While the place and time of the onion's origin are still a mystery, there are many documents, from very early times, which describe its importance as a food and its use in art, medicine and mummification.
In the time of the Pharaohs the Egyptians worshipped onions as a symbol of eternity because it was believed the scent was so strong it could wake the dead. Onions were commonly used in mummification often found in the pelvic regions of the body, in the thorax, flattened against the ears, in front of the collapsed eyes, attached to the soles of the feet and along the legs. Flowering onions have been found on the chest. King Ramses IV, who died in 1160 B.C., was entombed with onions in his eye sockets.
The Egyptians saw eternal life in the anatomy of the onion because of its circle-within-a-circleCredit: google images structure. Paintings of onions appear on the inner walls of the pyramids and in the tombs of both the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom. The onion is mentioned as a funeral offering and onions are depicted on the banquet tables of the great feasts - both large, peeled onions and slender, immature ones. They were shown upon the altars of the gods. Frequently, a priest is pictured holding onions in his hand or covering an altar with a bundle of their leaves or roots.
Throughout history the onion has been revered and used in medicine known to be a diuretic, good for digestion, the heart, the eyes and the joints. Greek athletes would consume onions before competing in the Olympic Games, drinking onion juice and rubbing onions on their bodies. Roman soldiers famous for walking massive distances ate onions regularly and carried them on their journeys to distant lands. Pliny the Elder, catalogued the Roman beliefs about the efficacy of the onion to cure vision, induce sleep and heal mouth sores, dog bites, toothaches, dysentery and lumbago.
Credit: google imagesOnions were so prized they were also used as rent payments and wedding gifts.
American Indians used wild onions in syrups, as poultices, as an ingredient in dyes and even as toys. According to diaries of colonists, bulb onions were planted as soon as the Pilgrim Fathers could clear the land in 1648.
Onions may be one of the earliest cultivated crops because they were less perishable than other foods of the time, were transportable, easy to grow and could be grown in a variety of soils and climates. In addition, the onion was useful for sustaining human life. Onions prevented thirst and could be dried and preserved for later consumption when food might be scarce.
Onions prefer a sunny position with a rich but light soil - however they will do well in most soils as long as it is firm. For this reason it is best to prepare the soil well in advance of planting. Dig the soil to 45cm (18in) deep, working in any organic matter available – remove any stones in the soil during the digging. Just before planting, tread the soil down so that it is firm. Onions are ideal plants for growing in small confined spaces and they particularly thrive in raised beds. Today we eat onions as part of our daily diet - some people enjoy them raw. They are included in salads, stews, soups, pickles and accompany many dishes.
Credit: google imagesOnions belong to the same botanical family as Garlic and share common compounds the most important being sulphur and quercetin strong antioxidants known to neutralize free radical damage in the body and protect the membrane of cells. Sulphur is called the “beauty mineral” because it keeps your hair glossy and smooth and keeps the complexion clear and youthful, essential to man, it makes up to 0.25% of human body weight. There is more sulphur than salt in the body with the highest concentrations found in the joints, hair, skin and nails. Sulphur also has an important relationship with protein, necessary for collagen synthesis, found in insulin a hormone that regulates CHO metabolism, plays a part in tissue respiration, works with the liver to secrete bile and helps maintain overall body balance. Sulphur is also known as the great cleanser. Quercetin specifically helps reduce mucus that builds up in the sinuses, an important bioflavonoid in immune support.
These compounds help with many common ailments, consuming one raw onion daily, can raise blood levels of good cholesterol by as much as 30%. They have a useful range of medicinal benefits, among them anaemia, bronchitis and asthma, urinary infections, arthritis and rheumatism, gout and premature aging. They star in hundreds of traditional recipes e.g.: Colic for babies: Slice an onion, infuse in hot water, cool and give the baby a teaspoon of the water. Many of the historical medicinal uses for onions are now being confirmed in modern research. Onions have even been shown to be more effective than insulin to lower blood sugar levels in studies with rabbits, subcutaneous injections of onion extract lowered blood sugar levels more slowly than insulin, but for a longer period. It is thought this action is due to the glucokinine in onions. They are also strongly diuretic, dissolving and eliminating urea, and they have powerful antibiotic activity.
One of my favourite ways of using onions is Curry sauce - I have a recipe that my grandmother used which I use as frequently as I can in winter to ward off winter ills and chills.
4 medium onions, 50gr butter, 1 tablespoon of hot curry powder or paste, 250ml chicken stock, dessert spoon of your favourite chutney.
Peel and chop onions. Melt the butter in a deep frying pan and add the onion. Cook on a low heat until they are brown, stir occasionally to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Take off the heat, cool and mix in all other ingredients, then puree. The quantity of curry powder or paste can be altered to your tastes. This is a great hearty sauce that can accompany any meat or vegetarian dish.