Rumours claim that leaving unpeeled onions in a room can protect nearby people from the flu, since the onion is particularly adept at absorbing the virus.
This rumour is similar to an online warning advising against consuming unpeeled onions for this very reason.
A version of this rumour that claimed unpeeled onions can fight of the potentially dangerous flu virus can be seen below –
Wow- very interesting….Everyone should read 🙂
ONIONS! I had never heard this!!!
PLEASE READ TO THE END: IMPORTANT
In 1919 when the flu killed 40 million people there was this Doctor that visited the many farmers to see if he could help them combat the flu…
Many of the farmers and their families had contracted it and many died.
The doctor came upon this one farmer and to his surprise, everyone was very healthy. When the doctor asked what the farmer was doing that was different the wife replied that she had placed an unpeeled onion in a dish in the rooms of the home, (probably only two rooms back then). The doctor couldn’t believe it and asked if he could have one of the onions and place it under the microscope. She gave him one and when he did this, he did find the flu virus in the onion. It obviously absorbed the bacteria, therefore, keeping the family healthy.
If you’re looking for a classic example of an old folk remedy slash old wives tale successfully transitioning to the digital age, then look no further. The claim that unpeeled or cut onions can ward of disease has been popular for centuries, with many of its earlier permutations asserting onions were effective at protecting against the bubonic plague.
Of course that was long before the onset of modern medicine, so one may have assumed such folk remedies would have simply disappeared as our knowledge of the human body and diseases vastly improved. Not the case, however, since somewhere in 2009 this tale found its way on the Internet and it hasn’t really stopped spreading since.
The premise of this folk remedy is that onions are particularly skilled at plucking the flu virus from the air, preventing it from reaching human victims. However our understanding of modern science completely disputes such a premise. Onions, nor indeed any foodstuff, contain properties that would draw bacteria towards them. Joe Schwarcz from the McGills Office for Science and Society writes –
…the terminology that onions are “bacterial magnets” makes no sense. No food attracts bacteria, although of course some are more likely to support bacterial multiplication or viral contamination once infected.
And while many other science establishments have disputed the medicinal claims of onions, the rumours still persist typically accompanied by anecdotes like this –
Thanks for the reminder. I don’t know about the farmer’s story…but, I do know that I contacted pneumonia, and, needless to say, I was very ill… I came across an article that said to cut both ends off an onion put it into an empty jar, and place the jar next to the sick patient at night. It said the onion would be black in the morning from the germs…sure enough it happened just like that…the onion was a mess and I began to feel better.
Now, I heard this story from my hairdresser. She said that several years ago, many of her employees were coming down with the flu, and so were many of her customers. The next year she placed several bowls with onions around in her shop. To her surprise, none of her staff got sick. It must work. Try it and see what happens. We did it last year and we never got the flu.
The problem with anecdotes, however, is that they can be fallacious. Even if they are true stories, and we don’t know that they are, they are both subject to the Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy. Both claim that because event A occurred before event B, event A caused event B. Which we know is not necessarily the case.
In the first story a person is ill, but then had onions placed near their bed and began to feel better. Just because the onions were placed near the bed (event A) this does not mean it was the cause for the person feeling better (event B). The person may have gotten better through other means, or the virus may have disbanded naturally.
Similarly in the second story, just because a hairdresser places onions in her salon (event A) this doesn’t mean it is the cause for nobody being ill that year (event B.) The virus may have just been less prevalent that year, or her employees may have been more adequately prepared or medicated.
Ultimately, this is just a folk tale that has been widely discredited for some time. Onions don’t absorb or protect against the flu virus.