Garlic Leek And Onion

Seeming at first sight out of place among the lilies of the field, yet

Garlic, the Leek, and the Onion are true members of that noble

order, and may be correctly classified together with the favoured

tribe, Clothed more grandly than Solomon in all his glory. They

possess alike the same properties and characteristics, though in

varying degrees, and they severally belong to the genus Allium,

each containing allyl, which
s a radical rich in sulphur.

The homely Onion may be taken first as the best illustration of the

family. This is named technically Allium cepa, from cep, a

head (of bunched florets which it bears). Lucilius called it Flebile

coepe, because the pungency of its odour will provoke a flow of

tears from the eyes. As Shakespeare says, in Taming of the


Mine eyes smell onions;

I shall weep anon.

The Egyptians were devoted to Onions, which they ate more than

two thousand years before the time of Christ. They were given to

swear by the Onion and [210] Garlic in their gardens. Herodotus

tells us that during the building of the pyramids nine tons of gold

were spent in buying onions for the workmen. But it is to be noted

that in Egypt the Onion is sweet and soft; whereas, in other

countries it grows hard, and nauseous, and strong.

By the Greeks this bulb was called Krommuon, apo tau Meuein

tas koras, because of shutting the eyes when eating it. In Latin its

name unio, signified a single root without offsets.

Raw Onions contain an acrid volatile oil, sulphur, phosphorus,

alkaline earthy salts, phosphoric and acetic acids, with phosphate

and citrate of lime, starch, free uncrystallized sugar, and lignine.

The fresh juice is colourless, but by exposure to the air becomes red.

A syrup made from the juice with honey is an excellent medicine

for old phlegmatic persons in cold weather, when their lungs are

stuffed, and the breathing is hindered.

Raw Onions increase the flow of urine, and promote perspiration,

insomuch, that a diet of them, with bread, has many a time cured

dropsy coming on through a chill at first, or from exposure to cold.

They contain the volatile principle, sulphide of allyl, which is

acrid and stimulating. If taken in small quantities, Onions quicken

the circulation, and assist digestion; but when eaten more prodigally

they disagree.

In making curative Simples, the Onion (and Garlic) should not be

boiled, else the volatile essential oil, on which its virtues chiefly

depend, will escape during the process.

The principal internal effects of the Onion, the Leek, and Garlic, are

stimulation and warmth, so that they are of more salutary use when

the subject is of a cold [211] temperament, and when the vital

powers are feeble, than when the body is feverish, and the

constitution ardently excitable. They be naught, says Gerard, for

those that be cholericke; but good for such as are replete with raw

and phlegmatick humors. Vous tous qui etes gros, et gras, et

lymphatiques, avec l'estomac paresseux, mangez l'oignon cru; c'est

pour vous que le bon Dieu l'a fait.

Onions, when eaten at night by those who are not feverish, will

promote sleep, and induce perspiration. The late Frank Buckland

confirmed this statement. He said, I am sure the essential oil of

Onions has soporific powers. In my own case it never fails. If I am

much pressed with work, and feel that I am not disposed to sleep, I

eat two or three small Onions, and the effect is magical. The Onion

has a very sensitive organism, and absorbs all morbid matter that

comes in its way. During our last epidemic of cholera it puzzled the

sanitary inspectors of a northern town why the tenants of one

cottage in an infected row were not touched by the plague. At last

some one noticed a net of onions hanging in the fortunate house,

and on examination all these proved to have become diseased. But

whilst welcoming this protective quality, the danger must be

remembered of eating an onion which shows signs of decay, for it

cannot be told what may have caused this distemper.

When sliced, and applied externally, the raw Onion serves by its

pungent and essential oil to quicken the circulation, and to redden

the skin of the particular surface treated in this way; very usefully

so in the case of an unbroken chilblain, or to counteract neuralgic

pain; but in its crude state the bulb is not emollient or demulcent. If

employed as a poultice for ear-ache, or broken chilblains, the Onion

should be roasted, so as to [212] modify its acrid oil. When there is

a constant arid painful discharge of fetid matter from the ear, or

where an abscess is threatened, with pain, heat, and swelling, a hot

poultice of roasted Onions will be found very useful, and will

mitigate the pain. The juice of a sliced raw Onion is alkaline, and

will quickly relieve the acid venom of a sting from a wasp, or bee, if

applied immediately to the part.

A tincture is made (H.) from large, red, strong Onions for medicinal

purposes. As a warming expectorant in chronic bronchitis, or

asthma, or for a cold which is not of a feverish character, from half

to one teaspoonful of this tincture may be given with benefit three

or four times in the day in a wineglassful of hot water, or hot milk.

Likewise, a jorum (i.e., an earthen bowl) of hot Onion broth taken

at bedtime, serves admirably to soothe the air passages, and to

promote perspiration; after the first feverish stage of catarrh or

influenza has passed by. To make this, peel a large Spanish Onion,

and divide it into four parts; then put them into a saucepan, with half

a saltspoonful of salt, and two ounces of butter, and a pint of cold

water; let them simmer gently until quite tender; next pour all into a

bowl which has been made hot, dredging a little pepper over; and let

the porridge be eaten as hot as it can be taken.

The allyl and sulphur in the bulbs, together with their mucilaginous

parts, relieve the sore mucous membranes, and quicken perspiration,

whilst other medicinal virtues are exercised at the same time on the

animal economy.

By eating a few raw parsley sprigs immediately afterwards, the

strong smell which onions communicates to the breath may be

removed and dispelled. Lord [213] Bacon averred the rose will be

sweeter if planted in a bed of onions. So nutritious does the

Highlander find this vegetable, that, if having a few raw bulbs in his

pocket, with oat-cake, or a crust of bread, he can travel for two or

three days together without any other food. Dean Swift said:--

This is every cook's opinion,

No savoury dish without an onion,

But lest your kissing should be spoiled,

Your onions must be fully boiled.

Provings have been made by medical experts of the ordinary red

Onion in order to ascertain what its toxical effects are when pushed

to an excessive degree, and it has been found that Onions, Leeks,

or Garlic, when taken immoderately, induce melancholy and

depression, with severe catarrh. They dispose to sopor, lethargy, and

even insanity. The immediate symptoms are extreme watering of the

eyes after frequent sneezing, confusion of the head, and heavy

defluxion from the nose, with pains in the throat extending to the

ears; in a word, all the accompaniments of a bad cold, sneezings,

lacrymation, pains in the forehead, and a hoarse, hacking cough.

These being the effects of taking Onions in a harmful quantity, it is

easy to understand that when the like morbid symptoms have arisen

spontaneously from other causes, as from a sharp catarrh of the head

and chest, then modified forms of the Onion are calculated to

counteract them on the law of similars, so that a cure is promptly

produced. On which principle the Onion porridge is a scientific

remedy, as food, and as Physic, during the first progress of a

catarrhal attack, and pari passu the medicinal tincture of the red

Onion may be likewise curatively given.

[214] Spanish Onions, which are imported into this country in the

winter, are sweet and mucilaginous. A peasant in Spain will munch

an onion just as an English labourer eats an apple.

At the present day Egyptians take onions, roasted, and each cut into

four pieces, with small bits of baked meat, and slices of an acid

apple, which the Turks call kebobs. With this sweet and savoury dish

they are so delighted, that they trust to enjoy it in paradise. The

Israelites were willing to return to slavery and brick-making for

their love of the Onion; and we read that Hecamedes presented

some of the bulbs to Patrochus, in Homer, as a regala. These are

supplied liberally to the antelopes and giraffes in our Zoological

Gardens, which animals dote on the Onion.

A clever paraprase of the word Onion may be read in the lines:--

Charge! Stanley, charge! On! Stanley, on!

Were the last words of Marmion.

If I had been in Stanley's place

When Marmion urged him to the chase,

In me you quickly would descry

What draws a tear from many an eye.

For chilblains apply onions with salt pounded together, and for

inflamed or protruding piles, raw Onion pulp, made by bruising the

bulb, if kept bound to the parts by a compress, and renewed as

needed, will afford certain relief.

The Garlic (Allium sativum), Skorodon of the Greeks, which was

first cultivated in English gardens in 1540, takes its name, from

gar, a spear; and leac, a plant, either because of its sharp

tapering leaves, or perhaps as the war plant, by reason of its

nutritive and stimulating qualities for those who do battle. It is

known also [215] to many as Poor-man's Treacle, or Churls

Treacle, from being regarded by rustics as a treacle, or antidote to

the bite of any venomous reptile.

The bulb, consisting of several combined cloves, is stimulating,

antispasmodic, expectorant, and diuretic. Its active properties

depend on an essential oil which may be readily obtained by

distillation. A medicinal tincture is made (H.) with spirit of wine, of

which from ten to twenty drops may be taken in water several times

a day. Garlic proves useful in asthma, whooping-cough, and other

spasmodic affections of the chest. For all adult, one or more cloves

may be eaten at a time. The odour of the bulb is very diffusible,

even when it is applied to the soles of the feet its odour is exhaled

by the lungs.

When bruised and mixed with lard, it makes a most useful opbdeldoc

to be rubbed in for irritable spines of indolent scrofulous

tumours or gout, until the skin surface becomes red and glowing. If

employed thus over the chest (back and front) of a child with

whooping-cough, it proves eminently helpful.

Raw Garlic, when applied to the skin, reddens it, and the odour

sniffed into the nostrils will revive an hysterical sufferer. It formed

the principal ingredient in the Four thieves' vinegar, which was

adopted so successfully at Marseilles for protection against the

plague, when prevailing there. This originated with four thieves,

who confessed that, whilst protected by the liberal use of aromatic

vinegar during the plague, they plundered the dead bodies of its

victims with complete security. Or, according to another

explanation of the name, an old tract, printed in 1749, testifies that

one, Richard Forthave, who lived in Bishopsgate Street, invented

and sold a vinegar which had such a run that [216] he soon grew

famous, and that his surname became thus corrupted in the course of


But long before the plague at Marseilles (1722) vinegar was

employed as a disinfectant. With Cardinal Wolsey it was a constant

custom to carry in his hand an orange emptied of its pulp, and

containing a sponge soaked in vinegar made aromatic with spices,

so as to protect himself from infection when passing through the

crowds which his splendour and his office attracted.

It is related that during a former outbreak of infectious fever in

Somer's Town and St. Giles's, the French priests, who constantly used

Garlic in all their dishes, visited the worst cases in the dirtiest

hovels with impunity, while the English clergy, who were similarly

engaged, but who did not eat onions in like fashion, caught the

infection in many instances, and fell victims to the disease.

For toothache and earache, a clove of Garlic stripped of its skin, and

cut in the form of a suppository, if thrust in the ear of the aching

side, will soon assuage the pain. If introduced into the lower bowel,

it will help to destroy thread worms, and when swallowed it

abolishes round worms.

As a condiment, Garlic undoubtedly aids digestion by stimulating

the circulation, with a consequent increase of saliva and gastric

juice. The juice from the bulbs can be employed for cementing

broken glass or china, by means of its mucilage.

Dr. Bowles, a noted English physician of former times, made use of

Garlic with much success as a secret remedy for asthma. He

concocted a preserve from the boiled cloves with vinegar and sugar,

to be kept in an earthen jar. The dose was a bulb or two with some

of the syrup, each morning when fasting. [217] The pain of

rheumatic parts may be much relieved by simply rubbing them with

cut Garlic.

Garlic emits the most acrimonious smell of all the onion tribe.

When leprosy prevailed in this country, Garlic was a prime specific

for its relief, and as the victims had to pil, or peel their own

garlic, they were nicknamed Pil Garlics, and hence it came about that

anyone shunned like a leper had this epithet applied to him. Stow

says, concerning a man growing old: He will soon be a peeled

garlic like myself.

The strong penetrating odour and taste of this plant, though

offensive to most English palates, are much relished by Russians,

Poles, and Spaniards, and especially by the Jews. But the Greeks

detested Garlic. It is true the Attic husbandmen ate it from remote

times, probably in part to drive away by its odour venomous

creatures from assailing them; but persons who partook of it were

not allowed to enter the temples of Cybele, says Athenaeus; and so

hated was garlic, that to have to eat it was a punishment for those

that had committed the most horrid crimes; Horace, among the

Romans, was made ill by eating garlic at the table of Maecenas; and

afterwards (in his third Epode) he reviled the plant as, Cicutis

allium nocentius, Garlic more poisonous than hemlock. Sir

Theodore Martin has thus spiritedly translated the passage:--

If his old father's throat any impious sinner,

Has cut with unnatural hand to the bone:

Give him garlick--more noxious than hemlock--at dinner;

Ye gods! what strong stomachs the reapers must own!

The singular property is attributed to Garlic, that if a morsel of the

bulb is chewed by a man running a race, it will prevent his

competitors from getting ahead of him. Hungarian jockeys sometimes

fasten a clove of [218] garlic to the bits of their racers; and

it is said that the horses which run against those thus baited, fall

back the moment they smell the offensive odour. If a leg of mutton,

before being roasted, has a small clove of Garlic inserted into the

knuckle, and the joint is afterwards served with haricot beans

(soaked for twenty-four hours before being boiled), it is rendered

doubly delicious. In Greece snails dressed with Garlic are now a

favourite dish.

A well known chef is said to have chewed a small clove of Garlic

when he wished to impart its delicate flavour to a choice plat,

over which he then breathed lightly. Dumas relates that the whole

atmosphere of Provence is impregnated with the perfume of Garlic,

and is exceedingly wholesome to inhale.

As an instance of lunar influences (which undoubtedly affect our

bodily welfare), it is remarkable that if Garlic is planted when the

moon is in the full, the bulb will be round like an onion, instead of

being composed, as it usually is, of several distinct cloves.

Homer says it was to the virtues of the Yellow Garlic (Moly?)

Ulysses owed his escape from being changed by Circe into a pig,

like each of his companions.

The Crow Garlic, vineale, and the purple striped, oleraceum,

grow wild in this country. When the former of these is eaten by

birds it so stupefies them that they may be taken with the hand.

Concerning the cure of nervous headache by Garlic (and its kindred

medicinal herb Asafoetida), an old charm reads thus:--

Give onyons to Saynt Cutlake,

And Garlycke to Saynt Cyryake;

If ye will shun the headake,

Ye shall have them at Queenhyth.

The Asafoetida (Ferula Asafoetida) grows in Western Thibet, and

exudes a gum which is used medicinally, coming as a milky juice

from the incised root and soon coagulating; it is then exported,

having a very powerful odour of garlic which may be perceived a

long distance away. Phosphorus and sulphur are among its

constituent elements, and, because of the latter, says Dr. Garrod

after much observation, he regards Asafoetida as one of the most

valuable remedies known to the physician. From three to five grains

of the gum in a pill, or half-a-teaspoonful of the tincture, with a

small wineglassful of warm milk, may be given for a dose.

Some of the older writers esteemed it highly as an aromatic

flavouring spice, and termed it cibus deorum, food of the gods.

John Evelyn says (in his Acetaria) the ancient Silphium thought

by many to be none other than the fetid asa, was so highly prized for

its taste and virtues, that it was dedicated to Apollo at Delphi, and

stamped upon African coins as a sacred plant.

Aristophanes extolled its juice as a restorer of masculine vigour, and

the Indians at this day sauce their viands with it. Nor are some of

our skilful cooks ignorant how to condite it, with the applause of

those who are unaware of the secret. The Silphium, or laserpitium

of the Romans, yielded what was a famous restorative, the

Cyrenaic juice. Pareira tells us he was assured by a noted gourmet

that the finest relish which a beef steak can possess, may be

communicated to it by rubbing the gridiron on which the steak is to

be cooked, with Asafoetida.

The gum when given in moderate doses, acts on all parts of the

body as a wholesome stimulant, leading among other good results,

to improvement of the vision, [220] and enlivening the spirits. But

its use is apt to produce eructations smacking of garlic, which may

persist for several hours; and, if it be given in over doses, the

effects are headache and giddiness. When suitably administered, it

quickens the appetite and improves the digestion, chiefly with those

of a cold temperament, and languid habit. Smollet says the Romans

stuffed their fowls for the table with Asafoetida. In Germany,

Sweden, and Italy, it is known as Devil's Dung.

The Leek (Allium porrium) bears an Anglo-Saxon name corrupted

from Porleac, and it is also called the Porret, having been

the Prason of the Greeks. It was first made use of in England during

1562. This was a food of the poor in ancient Egypt, as is shown by

an inscription on one of the Pyramids, whence was derived the

phrase, to eat the Leek; and its loss was bewailed by the Israelites

in their journey through the Desert. It was said by the Romans to be

prolific of virtue, because Latona, the mother of Apollo, longed

after leeks. The Welsh, who take them much, are observed to be

very fruitful. They dedicate these plants to St. David, on whose day,

March 1st, in 640, the Britons (who were known to each other by

displaying in their caps, at the inspiration of St. David, some leeks,

the fairest emblym that is worne, plucked in a garden near the

field of action) gained a complete victory over the Saxons.

The bulb contains some sulphur, and is, in its raw state, a

stimulating expectorant. Its juice acts energetically on the kidneys,

and dissolves the calculous formations of earthy phosphates which

frequently form in the bladder.

For chilblains, chapped hands, and sore eyes, the juice of a leek

squeezed out, and mixed with cream, [221] has been found curative.

Old Tusser tells us, in his Husbandry for March:--

Now leeks are in season, for pottage full good,

That spareth the milch cow, and purgeth the blood,

and a trite proverb of former times bids us:--

Eat leeks in Lide [March] and ramsons in May,

Then all the year after physicians can play.

Ramsons, or the Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum), is broad leaved,

and grows abundantly on our moist meadow banks, with a strong smell

of onions when crushed or bruised. It is perennial, having egg-shaped

or lance-like leaves, whilst bearing large, pearly-white

blossoms with acute petals. The name is the plural of Ramse, or

Ram, which signifies strong-smelling, or rank. And the plant is

also called Buck Rams, or Buck Rampe, in allusion to its spadix

or spathe. The leaves of Ramsons, says Gerard, are stamped and

eaten with fish, even as we do eat greene sauce made with sorrell.

This is Bear's Garlic, and the Star Flower of florists.

Leeks were so highly esteemed by the Emperor Nero, that his

subjects gave him the sobriquet of Porrophagus. He took them

with oil for several days in each month to clear his voice, eating

no bread on those days. Un remede d'Empereur (Neron) pour se

debarrasser d'un rhume,--et de commere pour attendre le meme but--

fut envelopper un oignon dans une feuille de chou et le faire cuire

sous la cendre; puis l'ecrasser, le reduire en pulpe, le mettre dans

une tasse de lait, ou une decoction chaude de redisse; se coucher; et

se tenir chaudement, au besoin recidiver matin et soir.

The Scotch leek is more hardy and pungent than that [222] grown in

England. It was formerly a favourite ingredient in the Cock-a-Leekie

soup of Caledonia, which is so graphically described by Sir

Walter Scott, in the Fortunes of Nigel.

A Herby pie, peculiar to Cornwall, is made of leeks and pilchards,

or of nettles, pepper cress, parsley, mustard, and spinach, with thin

slices of pork. At the bottom of the Squab pie mentioned before was

a Squab, or young Cormorant, which diffused, says Charles

Kingsley, through the pie, and through the ambient air, a delicate

odour of mingled guano and polecat. That lovers live by love, as

larks by leeks, is an old saying; and in the classic story of Pyramus

and Thisbe, reference is made to the beautiful emerald green which

the leaves of the leek exhibit. His eyes were as green as leeks.

Among the Welsh farmers, it is a neighbourly custom to attend on a

certain day and plough the land of a poor proprietor whose means

are limited--each bringing with him one or more leeks for making the

soup or broth.

The Schalot, or Eschalotte, is another variety of the onion tribe,

which was introduced into England by the Crusaders, who found it

growing at Ascalon. And Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are an

ever green perennial herb of the onion tribe, having only a mild,

alliaceous flavour. Epicures consider the Schalot to be the best

seasoning for beef steaks, either by taking the actual bulb, or by

rubbing the plates therewith.

Again, as a most common plant in all our hedgerows, is found the

Poor Man's Garlic, or Sauce-alone (Erisymum alliaria), from

eruo, to cure, a somewhat coarse and most ordinary member of

the onion tribe, which goes also by the names of Jack by the

hedge and Garlick-wort, and belongs to the cruciferous order

[223] of plants. When bruised, it gives out a strong smell of garlic,

and when eaten by cows it makes their milk taste powerfully of

onions. The Ancients, says John Evelyn, used Jack by the hedge

as a succedaneum to their Scordium, or cultivated Garlic.

This herb grows luxuriantly, bearing green, shining, heart-shaped

leaves, and headpieces of small, white-flowering bunches. It was

named Saucealone, from being eaten in the Springtime with meat,

whilst having so strong a flavour of onions, that it served alone of

itself for sauce. Perhaps (says Dr. Prior) the title Jack by the

hedge is derived from jack, or jakes, an old English word

denoting a privy, or house of office, and this in allusion to

the fetid smell of the plant, and the usual place of its growth.

When gathered and eaten with boiled mutton, after having been first

separately boiled, it makes an excellent vegetable, if picked as it

approaches the flowering state. Formerly this herb was highly

valued as an antiscorbutic, and was thought a most desirable pot


(The Erysimum officinale (Hedge Mustard) and the Vervain

(Verbena) make Count Mattaei's empirical nostrum Febrifugo: but

this Erysimum is not the same plant as the Jack by the hedge.)