Getting close to onions and garlic can be comforting

Published 12:22 pm Friday, December 9, 2022

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Now that the weather insists on alternating between very warm and very cold days within the week, one begins to notice a mixture of sniffles, snorts and nose blasts–a perfect condition for needing to combat the common cold.

My maternal grandmother, who used onions and garlic to season her delicious dishes year round, found added uses for them during periods of sickness and especially during colds and flu season.

Dozens of generations before her considered onion layers to be very effective in drawing contagious diseases from a patient. That’s why bunches of them were hung in sick rooms. Modern treatments recognize the antibacterial qualities of them.

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To prevent colds, she would boil a whole onion then give the water it was boiled in to susceptible family members. She added a little salt and some butter to make it taste better.

Instead of drinking the onion water, my maternal grandfather preferred to have her make a sandwich of a thick slice of dry onion inside a large, well-buttered warm biscuit. 

She would cut garlic cloves into tiny pieces and add them to a thickened chicken soup and crush the cloves to flavor other dishes. Both onions and garlic would add heat to the body.

Occasionally, she would use horseradish to help ward off colds. It generated heat just like the garlic and onions. She would occasionally make my grandfather a horseradish biscuit sandwich instead of the onion one.

If the cold got an earlier start than her preventative, she would make a hot ginger tea for the patient to drink when going to bed. She would put a large tablespoon of white sugar and a teaspoon of ginger in the bottom of a tall glass with a metal spoon inside it and pour boiling water over the spoon to fill the glass to three-fourths level. Then she would stir in less than a quarter glass of chartered (aged in charred barrels underground) moonshine until all ingredients were dissolved. 

The patient would drink the ginger tea as soon as the mixture temperature could be accommodated by the throat. The ginger and moonshine would raise the body temperature and cause a good therapeutic sweating during the night.

One of my grandmother’s sisters would cut peeled garlic cloves into small pieces and swallow them like pills to prevent colds but I don’t ever remember her doing so. Nowadays, of course, we simply down some purchased garlic capsules.

Not getting too close to other people when consuming these remedies in itself helped to prevent the spreading of colds, but at least they were comforting for the patients.