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Onion skins for health (and more)

May 23, 2011

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Admit it, the crisp, flaky outer scales of the onions you use in soups, salads, and casseroles usually end up in the trash (or perhaps more usefully, the compost bin).

But don’t toss them out before you’ve put them to use. For your health!

Recent research confirms that the outer skins of onions provide an exceptionally rich source of plant compounds called flavenoids, especially the powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound, quercetin.

Quercetin is under study as an agent for lowering LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, fighting allergies, reducing inflammation, enhancing muscle growth and function, treating depression, some forms of cancer, and other conditions.

“Plants are the master chemists," says Mary Ann Lila, who directs the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University. "Because plants can't move around, they have to manufacture what they need, not merely to grow, but to defend, protect, and heal themselves. It makes sense that the compounds plants produce in response to stress would help a human under similar circumstances."

It also makes sense that plants would concentrate many of these protective compounds in the outer coverings--skins and peels of various roots and fruits--the point where most environmental assaults would likely occur.

To extract quercetin and other beneficial plant compounds that onions skins might contain, toss a whole onion or two, scales and all, into the pot next time you make soup, put a stew into the crock pot, or cook rice. Or, you could save the outer onion scales in a paper bag. Tie up a handful of onion skins loosely in the cut-off leg of an old pantyhose or a thin sock. You can discard the skins after the soup has simmered or the rice has cooked. Wash and save the “bag” for another use.

A nice side benefit: onion skins will impart a rich brown or deep mahogany color to your broth, depending on which color onion you use.

Other uses for onion skins
Noted ethnobotanist James Duke recommends an infusion of onion skins as a soothing wash for the itch of scabies and other skin disorders.

Although I haven’t tried it, onion skins make gorgeous dyestuffs for natural fibers. Take a peek.

Also, if you have a surplus, an onion-skin infusion has a long reputation as a softening and smoothing hair rinse. Just run the strained onion-skin broth through freshly washed hair a few times and let it air dry. (Yes, I have tried this, with positive results. Don’t worry. There’s no residual onion odor.)

A Japanese firm has developed a fermented onion-skin “health tea” they claim concentrates the quercetin and removes the bitter aftertaste of the raw product. (The declared benefits might also derive from the fact that the tea contains nine other health-promoting herbs, including green tea and turmeric.)

Thanks, but I think I’ll stay with the soup stock.

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Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.

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Comments

Interesting .. What I like to

By Arkeva

Interesting .. What I like to do is put the skins in a blender with a little water after that I our in in my coffee maker just as if I was making coffee . One nice onion gave me 10 cups of nicely browned tea. I also dry the cantelope seeds in the sun . Blend them and dry them with no oil for a couple of minutes and do the same thing out it in my coffe maker .

Sorry I mean fry them with no

By Arkeva

Sorry I mean fry them with no oil. Excuse me I have an iphone .

I have first time heard about

By crank

I have first time heard about such tips as i have been in cooking from last 10 months would you be please give some more tips of same type...

I watched my mother using

By Seth Bickleman

I watched my mother using onion skins to give some colour to the stocks she cooked. I did the same too, and never crossed my mind that the skins have all this health promoting compounds in them. Thanks for the post, I learned something new today.

I made some tea by just

By lijia livian

I made some tea by just bringing water to the boil and then simmering it on a very low temperature...the tea smell and tested like saffron tea!!!!!!

I have heard that onion water

By Mary Schleifer

I have heard that onion water cooked from the skins, etc. is good for colic.

The health benefits you speak

By Mark S

The health benefits you speak of are destroyed with the application of heat. Onions must be eaten raw to get those benefits.

Yes, cooking does reduce some

By Margaret Boyles

Yes, cooking does reduce some of the healing phytocompounds in onion flesh, Mark. (Certainly not all of them. Science has only begun to discover the phytocompounds present in the various members of the allium familyu of plants, includng garlic, lleeks, and onions.)

But this post was about capturing the health-promoting compounds in onion skins, quercetin in particular, which survives the heat of cooking.

Most people throw onion skins away, so my remarks were meant to encourage cooks to value what they formerly discarded.

I've always used the skins of

By Joanne Nunes

I've always used the skins of onions,potatoes,carrots,celery etc.,for making soup stocks.It's the best and great natural flavors.

Onion Skins

By ginger daulton

I've always saved the yellow onion skins for my chicken soup and stock. It gives it a lovely yellow color without artificial dyes. You can store them in a freezer baggie and keep frozen until you need them.

This is the life

By cathleeninnh

I used to think that I wanted to travel more until I moved to NH. It really is heaven.

New Hampshire

By Joanne Nunes

I had the pleasure of visiting Windham NH. last year and also the Boston area and Maine.It was beautiful even in late October,the colors outstanding the people were great everwhere we went,especially Stonewall Kitchen.I will return to see my sister again.She lives on Cobetts Pond.

Margaret Boyles

By Becky Hardee

What a way to get to live. I am jealous.
Sounds like you get to enjoy every waking minute. Hope today is wonderful in your little piece of the world.

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