Onion skins for health (and more)

Jan 29, 2016
Beautiful Red Onion Skins


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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 flavonoids, 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.

About This Blog

"Living Naturally" is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that's good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, and ideas to make your home a healthy, safe haven. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it's relearning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better, healthier lives.

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Tea from onions skin

Hi, I am doing tea from the onion skin and is very good for colds also. I never use the skins of onions as food or in food but reading what lots of people write here I will give a try next time when I gone make some soup. Thank you for the tips. Regards from the UK.

Onion Skin Caps

For about three months I have been grinding onion skins in a coffee grinder, then placing the powder into 00 Gel Caps taking one daily. I'm not sure it's helping with my elevated blood pressure, the real test will come in a couple of weeks when i go to the MD. I also grind oatmeal and place the powder in 00 Gel Caps taking one or two a day. Still crazy after all these years.

Onion skin powder

Do you think that if I made a yellow/red onion skin powder, that it could be used to dye hair?

hair dye?

I have no idea! But I don’t see any risk to giving it a try, Tjarda. Let us know how it turns out.

Onion skin

Hi I've been reading up on onion skin I find it very helpful for flu coughs boiling with honey and a bit of sugar at end for taste, it also helps with my breathing for asthma when I'm sick and relaxes me I've been sticking in food prosser to make into flakes and taking other tea from bags and stuffing with onion skin flakes to make my own teabags as very time consuming doing every day a full teabag would last 2 cups so I'd Hav one at night and one in morning before work to help with coughing, I really think someone should be making a teabag to sell all the skins that are thrown out could be used for something :)

"Recent research confirms

"Recent research confirms that the outer skins of onions provide an exceptionally rich source of plant compounds"

Can you please cite the paper where this research was published?

There's quite a bit of

There's quite a bit of research literature on the phytocompounds in onions and their scaly outer skins, David. 

This Overview  from the onion trade organization contains a lot of scholarly references at the end.Here's another reference to check out:

Antibacterial and antioxidant activities of quercetin oxidation products from yellow onion (Allium cepa) skin

In commercial food-processing operations, onion skins are often characterized as industrial waste. Of course, the processors would be eager to find profitable uses for them:

Characterization of industrial onion wastes (Allium cepa L.): dietary fibre and bioactive compounds.


Hello! I am a Korean. I am

I am a Korean.
I am the Master at Kyung Hee University in South Korea.
My master's thesis topic is about the onion peel.
Reading your post was very helpful.
Thank you

Hai. I'm amalina from

Hai. I'm amalina from malaysia. I'm doing the same research like yours. Red onion and garlic peel. I'm still looking for new information. There still not a lot of things i can't find. I'm still new doing the research as this is my first project. If you could help sharing and changing information with it would be great. Please do contact me if you want too. Thank you.

Interesting .. What I like to

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

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

I have first time heard about

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

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

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

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

The health benefits you speak

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

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

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

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

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

New Hampshire

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

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.


+ a 4-season guide to raising chickens!

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