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Hang the Onions: 5 Old-Fashioned Remedies to Help Cure the Common Cold

My mother passed down all of these home remedies to me, and to this day I use them with my own family.


Colds: They Happen Every Year

Every year, without fail, kids and parents get colds, stay home from school, and are generally miserable. The next steps are predictable: go to the drugstore, pick up some medication, and hope that it goes away. Well, I am not discouraging you from picking up some Tylenol cold medicine or classic Buckley's cough syrup, but if you're looking for something different, give these time-worn medical classics a try.

The five remedies from first to last, are: hang an onion in the room, use Vicks, harness the power of steam, drink "the tea," and get plenty of rest. These are all remedies that have been tried and tested in my home, and in my mother's home before that. I hope that they are of some use to you and your family and that your cold is gone is before you know it!

Painting by Edward Munch, "The Sick Child"

Painting by Edward Munch, "The Sick Child"

1. Hang an Onion

Take a white onion, cut it in half, and hang the cut onion in your bedroom. The smell of the onion permeates the room and gets into your throat and nose. Anyone who has ever chopped up an onion has experienced its strong scent that actually makes a person cry. Well, hanging up the half-chopped onion harnesses that power.

The best bag to use is the netted bag that onions usually come in. My mom passed this ancient secret unto me, and now my once-skeptical husband swears by it. My stepson thinks it's a bit creepy, but he's a teenager, and they are embarrassed by practically anything. This one might sound kind of weird, but it really does seem to help to clear our sinuses.

Not surprisingly, there is a scientific reason behind the onion cure. The answer as to why hanging an onion seems to work is kind of complex. For one, it has a good percentage of vitamin C (17% of your daily recommended amount) which is a known cold-fighter.

Onions also have an unusually high concentration of flavonoids, which seem to work to improve your immune system and help make you stronger to fight the cold yourself. The interesting part is that one study found these flavonoids' main strength was in the outer layers of the vegetable, which means you don't want to peel your onion much before hanging it.

Update: I just received some additional information from my grandma. I spoke to her a couple of months ago and she said that does the onion trick but she cuts into several pieces and places it on a plate. I tried this and it really seems to help, too. The main thing is that the onion has a chance to cut through your congestion.

2. Use Vicks VapoRub

Rub Vicks VapoRub, or a generic substitute, unto your chest and back. Okay, first the disclaimer. Don't use this product for children under the age of two, and be sure to supervise children under six with it, because it can be poisonous if swallowed. Checking the Vicks website, though, I see that Vicks now has a product for babies called "Baby Rub," suitable for babies, that has the same effect.

That said, this is a great old-fashioned way to loosen up congestion, and soothe your sore throat. How does it work? Well, the active ingredients are menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus oil, all of which are natural ingredients that help to break up a cold. Camphor is also used for muscle ointments, and is responsible for the cooling and then heating effect of Vicks VapoRub.

3. Use Steam Power

Steam is a powerful way to help soothe your troubled sinuses and congestion. Here are a couple of ways you can harness this natural force of nature to help get you or your loved ones feeling better.

1. Steam Bath: Boil enough water to fill a bowl, put in healing ingredients, cover the bowl with a towel, and breathe in for 10-15 minutes.

There are a couple of products good for using in a steamer: one is from Vicks, called Vaposteam, and is similar to the old standby, VapoRub, but is safer to use for steam, because it won't spill out and hurt someone. Another option straight from your kitchen cupboard is to use the spice thyme. This a known expectorant, and helps to clear up congestion. Another couple of options are putting cayenne pepper or parsley into the water.

2. Buy a vaporizer. The advantage of buying a vaporizer is that you can have steam going into your nostrils and mouth while you rest. Follow the instructions on the steamer carefully, and use only as directed. Be sure to place the steamer in a safe spot where it cannot be knocked over by pets or children. These are wonderful and work very well in a quiet room where the sick person is resting. The steam not only helps physically, but also is very calming and can help the patient to calm their mind.

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Read More From Remedygrove

Many thanks to Carolyn Coles for use of this photo.

Many thanks to Carolyn Coles for use of this photo.

4. Make "The Tea"

Make up some of this tea, which works wonders for soothing the throat, and helping to calm down the agitated coughing throat.

Recipe for "The Tea"

  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 tea bag
  • 2 Tbsp lemon (real lemon is best, but concentrate also works)
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tsp cayenne pepper


  1. Boil water.
  2. Add tea bag and let steep in pot for five minutes or more.
  3. Add other ingredients. Adjust according to taste. Let steep for another five minutes.

This is a well-known formula for colds and works because of the combination of lemon (an excellent source of vitamin C), honey (a natural cough suppressant), cayenne (which works to break up congestion), and tea (which is naturally soothing and contains flavonoids)

Whenever anyone in my family has a hint of a cold, this tea comes on, and they drink it for a few days until the cold goes away. It usually works, in combination with the other cures, and definitely helps to calm down coughing, soothe a sore throat, and lessen a runny nose.

5. Sleep

Sleep as much as you possibly can, including missing a day or two of work, if possible.

Sleep is one of the best things you can do for your body when your immune system is broken down. It helps everything heal, and helps your body to recover. I have often found that a day off at the beginning of an illness helps to stop it before it gets worse. If you take that day off, use it to sleep, and not get caught up on housework, and odd jobs. Colds come because our immune system is damaged, often stretched too far from our busy lifestyles. Catching up on sleep isn't just a nice fantasy; it's a necessity.

Resources for Food Cures

Final Thoughts

There you have it: five old-fashioned ways to cure the common cold, straight from my home to yours. And as science does more research into nutrition and the way food works to help us stay healthy, we can start to see that "old-fashioned" is actually the latest thing!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on March 10, 2017:

@sylvia M, thanks for the comment. I haven't heard of the marshmallows one. Very interesting! And yes, Vicks is still one of the best, I think. Have a wonderful night!

Sylvia M on January 05, 2017:

I have tried both of these and they work! Vicks vaporub on the bottom of your feet and then a pair of socks when you go to bed and also eating marshmallows to soothe a sore throat.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on January 30, 2016:

Thanks for your kind words, TAbuata. Have a wonderful day.

tabata on October 03, 2015:

I love your brilliant web page. Just what I was looking for! Best regards, Ron from Interval training

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on June 05, 2015:

Poetry man, thanks so much for your feedback. I use the honey-lemon drink every single time my family gets sick, and it really seems to help. Thanks so much for dropping by!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on June 05, 2015:

@Sick star, I am glad it was helpful, and apologize for not getting back to you sooner! Have a great weekend.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on June 05, 2015:

@precy anza, I would to hear if that remedy worked for you. I do apologize that the response to your comment has taken almost two years! I have been away from HP for a long time, and fallen behind on comments. Thanks for the comment!

poetryman6969 on May 16, 2015:

Voted up.

I don't believe I have ever heard of the hanging onion technique.

The lemon honey concoction sounds like something I will try.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on November 28, 2014:

@FlourishAnyway, that is very interesting. Yes, I guess they don't want to prescribe antibiotics, especially if it's not needed. Thank you so much for the comment, even though my response is actually over a year late. I still wanted to acknowledge it. So take care.

sick star :( on March 07, 2014:

I've never heard of most of these. I will try them, Thank you prairie princess!

precy anza from USA on October 09, 2013:

Wow! Never heard if before, about the onion. I will keep it in mind as this will sure come in handy, specially colder days are coming.And I'd share it to people I know too. Thanks for this! Up and shared too! :)

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 22, 2013:

Timely information, especially with cold season right around the corner. Often doctors are so reluctant to prescribe antibiotics that people are returning to tried and true remedies of yesteryear like these. Thanks for sharing these.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on May 12, 2013:

@Shelia, that is so, so interesting! It does make sense that these workers who are always in the kitchen, around the onions and the garlics, are more healthy. Thanks for the comment, and have a good night!

Sheila P on May 08, 2013:

I have a commercial kitchen--food processing business. At times we process 80# of onions at once and all of the people in the kitchen eyes are watering or they are wearing ski goggles--I have to say they have been staying quite healthy--me--I now work upstairs in front of a computer , away from the onion vapors--and I am sick! Need to hang out in the kitchen more!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on February 09, 2013:

@Catt, sorry about not responding to your comment. I missed it in on my comments thread. I hope it helped for you. I find it does help to stop the coughing, for our family. I would love to hear how it worked for you. Take care, and thanks so much for coming by!

@Becca, I hope it helps you. I had quite a bit of resistance from my family, too, when I first tried it with them, ha ha! Take care!

Becca on January 13, 2013:

For sure trying the onion thing! Didn't believe my friend. I thought he was trying to make me and my room smell like onion haba

Catt Arina on September 23, 2012:

I've never heard of this until it was suggested a few days ago through a facebook thread, which was found to be false for the flu. The cold on the other hand....My hubby, kids and I are sick with the cold, go figure after reading the onion and the flu, and I have cut up a huge onion and stuck parts in different places, not many so I dont forget where they are at, but just enough to permeate the house. Hope this works!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on June 10, 2012:

@Kelley, thanks for digging up this old hub. Yes, the old cures can be quite interesting. I tend to trust the old ways, although some of them are a bit far-fetched. Thanks so much for the share. Take care!

@Vellur, the onion thing does seem to help. I had a cold for a couple of weeks this year and didn't do the onion. I finally put out an onion and it was gone in a day. I don't know if it works for everyone but I've seen it work for our family. Thanks so much for coming by and have a wonderful evening!

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on June 10, 2012:

Excellent tips, I love the sleeping bit the most. Never heard of the onion bit but will try. Very useful. Voted up.

kelleyward on June 08, 2012:

Fantastic hub Prairieprincess! I was just thinking about writing a hub on the common cold and I came across the onion trick. Believe it or not I had someone in my family tell me to put an onion out in the center of the table to prevent us from getting swine flu! It's amazing the things people come up with. Sharing this one! Kelley

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on May 19, 2012:

Jael, sorry for the late response but I hoped these tips helped you. Happy one year anniversary!

Jael Jimenez on May 17, 2012:

So trying these ideas when I get home tonight! My one year anniversary is this weekend and I have to get rid of this cold! Thanks for the tips!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on October 25, 2011:

Cyndi, thank you. That sounds like a great idea to add onion to chicken soup! And yes, the showers would have the same effect. The effervescent tablet is something new to me. Thanks for dropping by. Here's to a healthy winter!

Cynthia B Turner from Georgia on October 25, 2011:

Praireprincess, Great ideas. I cook lots of onion in homemade chicken soup when anyone in the house has a cold. My son takes very steamy showers at least 2x a day if not more when he has a cold. He uses effervescent tablets in the shower when he can find them at the drugstore. Just a bigger version of your steam bowl. The shower is probably not a good remedy for children when the effervescence is added. Appreciate you sharing your ideas.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on June 14, 2011:

Stephanie, the pepper was a relatively new addition for me, too, but it does seem to help. It's funny how there was no one like Mom to take of us when we were sick, right? Just the fact that it came from her probably made it 100% more effective.

Thanks for the great comment. Take care!

Stephanie Henkel from USA on June 13, 2011:

Those old remedies did seem to help, didn't they? Although I never used the onion cure, I still want my tea with lemon and honey whenever I'm sick. It was the first thing my Mom would give me, and still makes me feel better. We didn't add the pepper, though. Maybe I'll try it next time I have a cold. Nice hub!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on May 12, 2011:

Mrs. J.B., that sounds like it would be an effective solution! Yes, definitely an adults-only solution. Take care!

Mrs. J. B. from Southern California on May 11, 2011:

Great ideas. Some I have never heard of. I do know that for adults the best cure is a couple of asprins and a spoonful on Nyquil right as you feel the cold coming on is perfect then several hours later take 2 shots of tequila. I promise in the am you will feel 70% better do it again the next day and come the am 100% better. Only for adults!!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on April 21, 2011:

KKlatch, I know it does sound weird, but I find it helps! Exactly ... when you are sick, why not try everything you can? Nice to see you. Take care!

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on April 20, 2011:

prairieprincess, I've tried all but the hanging onion cure. It does sound out there but if it works I'm all for it. It's miserable to have a cold and if a cut onion helps...well, I'll give it a try.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on December 17, 2010:

Wow, Gypsy! That is another very interesting remedy. It is so amazing how much power is in the foods we eat, to heal us! Thanks for the comment, and take care!

Kamezuru, that is excellent! Orange Juice with Vitamin C is also one of the best ways to keep up your immune system, and ward off the colds. I try to take Vitamin C daily, too, and it really helps! Thanks so much for the comment and take care!

Charles S, I know what you mean about the Vitamin C. I try to take it all the time, and it works wonders! Keep working on your Mom, and she might come around. My husband took no supplements when I met him, but now he swears by his Omega 3's. People just have to get used to the idea!

Take care, and thanks so much for the comment.

Charles Russell Stockdale from UK on December 17, 2010:

What a really well written article! Yes, as a kid I was always getting colds and hated mum rubbing on the Vicks - ugh, sticky, smelly...

I now live in the UK and my parents are quite old. It's snowing outside and freezing. Again mum is sick with cold or 'flu but she won't take C.

I've almost forgotten what it's like to have a cold, thanks to Vit C. At least dad's stopped getting them since taking a few grams of C daily.

Kamzezuru on December 17, 2010:

I have taken to having a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice first thing in the morning when I wake up and have not had a cold for well over a year. I also wash my hands when I come into my house and avoid putting my hands near my face when out and about.

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on December 16, 2010:

We used to cover a cut onion with brown sugar overnight and then drink the juice. Haven't tried it lately but I remember it being very soothing. Interesting hub. Congratulations!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on December 16, 2010:

Jamie, wow! That is interesting! I remember my Dad telling us that that is what his Dad used to do for him, too. It's funny how things have changed. I know honey is very healthy for you, and I guess a little bit of alcohol just killed whatever virus or bacteria was there? Thanks for the comment, and take care!

Pamela, thanks for coming by, and commenting! Yes, I guess the onion thing was not so well-known, but I do find it helps. All the best!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on December 16, 2010:

Melanie, thank you so much for your comment. I have found the Vicks product very helpful, but I appreciate your feedback. If you have any information you would like to send me, I would be glad to look at it.

Thank so much!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on December 16, 2010:

JASON, thank you so much! I am VERy excited about winning the contest! Have a great holiday with your family, as well.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 16, 2010:

Great suggestions to keep those colds away. I never heard of hanging an onion before but I am willing to try it. Congratualtions on your hubnugget win and your article is definitely rated up.

Jamie Brock from Texas on December 16, 2010:

Awesome info here...Rated up and useful. I love these old fashioned remedies. I remember my grandmother waking me up in the middle of the night and shoving a spoonful of honey and whiskey in my mouth because I was coughing! It actually worked great.

Also,Congrats on being the Hubnugget winner!

Melanie on December 16, 2010:

Thanks for these thoughts, I agree with the theme that there are simple things we can do without conventional medicine which actually weakens us. One thing I don't agree with you about (respectfully) is the Vick's vapor rub. While the fans of this stuff swear by it's comforting qualities, I think we should forget it since it's petroleum based. There are a myriad of reasons I choose not to use this ingredient for myself or my children. To get a similar effect from natural components I make a rub out of thyme, eucalyptus and coconut oils. A little massaged around the thymus is best. Hey, think I'll make a hub about it! Thanks again, best to you :)

JASON NICHOLS on December 16, 2010:

Congrats prairieprincess, Because this hub of yours has come first in the health cateogry and has become a hubnugget winner with 29% of votes!

I bet that you are very excited right now and feeling proud and very happy that you have come first. Have a good day and Merry christmas and a Happy new year to you and your family.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on December 14, 2010:

Rosie, thank you so much for the comment, and congratulations to you, as well!

Elayne, thanks so much! And great to hear of a fellow Vicks user. It's the best!

Guru, thank you so much, and let me know how the onion works for you. I'm finding out not many people did this, but for our family, it was normal!

Tammy, thanks so much! Yeah, Halls is good, too! Take care!

Tammy L from Jacksonville, Texas on December 14, 2010:

I'd never heard of the onion trick either but it makes sense. My dad's cure all was the Vicks Vapo Rub and Halls cough drops. Thanks for these tips and tricks. Congratulations on your hubnugget nomination. :)

The Baking Guru from California, USA on December 12, 2010:

Wonderful hub! I have not heard of hanging an onion and I will definitely try that the next time I am sick.

The Baking Guru

Elayne from Rocky Mountains on December 12, 2010:

I love vicks and use it whenever I feel sickly. Great hub. I also enjoy a hot cup of lemon 'n honey tea. Never tried onions though. Congrats on the nomination and good luck.

Rosie Rose from Toronto, Canada on December 11, 2010:

Hiya prairieprincess, this hub is very helpful. I never knew about the onions but when I was a kid, Vick's vapor rub was my mother's cure-it-all med.

Congratulations in being nominated as a Hubnugget Nominee!

Have a nice day,


Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on December 11, 2010:

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! That is so very exciting and such an honour! I hope my old-fashioned ways do help people, because I know they work for me and my family. Take care!

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on December 11, 2010:

Your title caught my attention and made me grin. :) But you know what? If there are ways to help my cold without having to pop a pill, I'm all for it! :) Such a useful hub, thanks!

Ripplemaker's Joyful Announcement: Congratulations, this hub is a Hubnuggets Nominee. Check out the Health Category! Hubbers who love this hub can vote right here:

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on December 10, 2010:

Chirls, I'm so glad to hear the steam works for you, and let me know how the tea works for you. Thanks for stopping by!

chirls from Indiana (for now) on December 10, 2010:

I use your steam idea all the time and it works really well!! I will definitely try your tea next time I have a cold. Thanks for the recipe!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on December 06, 2010:

Thank you, KoffeeKlatch! I would love to know how you make out with it! Thanks for the support, and I hope you get feeling better!

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on December 06, 2010:

I never heard of the onion hanginf trick but hey, I'm willing to try almost anything once. I'll let you know how it works. Great hub. Rated u[ and useful.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on November 21, 2010:

Toronto condos, thank you so much. I agree ... we all have to find what works for us. Take care!

Toronto condos on November 21, 2010:

Good tips, everyone needs to find his own best treatment

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on November 20, 2010:

Minnetonka Twin, thank you so much for stopping by. I am sorry to hear about your cold, and I hope you start feeling better soon!

Linda Rogers from Minnesota on November 19, 2010:

I appreciate your information as I just got hit by cold and sinus thing the other day. I can't wait to try the onion thing. Love these old remedies and I bet they work.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on November 12, 2010:

Thanks so much, Saleheen, for the comment.

Stephanie, those old recipes are the best sometimes, aren't they?

Stephanie Henkel from USA on November 12, 2010:

My Mom swore by hot tea with lots of lemon and honey, I still drink it for a cold. It seems to clear the congestion and sooth the throat.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on November 11, 2010:

SJerZGirl, the open window is a great idea, too. You can really smell the germs, when you've been sick for a while, can't you? Thanks for the comment!

Steph, thank you so much for the rating and comment. I got all of these from my Mom, who probably got them from her Mom, but I think it's great to learn from those before us. New isn't always better!

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on November 10, 2010:

My grandmother swore by Vicks Vapo-Rub. Not only on your chest, but right at the base of your nostrils. Rated up and useful!

SJerZGirl on November 10, 2010:

I've heard of the onion thing, but rarely have onions in the house. I usually "tough it out" and make sure my window is open (even if only a half inch) so fresh air can come in and "germy" air can get out. During the worst of it, I'll take something like Tylenol Cold. I drink herb tea or cinnamon tea as well.

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