Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Home - List of Herbs and Articles - Rock Garden

Most Viewed Herbs

(archangelica Officinalis Hoffm)
And There Is Pansies That's For Thoughts
Bluebell (wild Hyacinth)
Anemone (wood)
House Leek (crassulaceoe)

Least Viewed Herbs

(archangelica Officinalis Hoffm)
And There Is Pansies That's For Thoughts
Bluebell (wild Hyacinth)
Anemone (wood)
House Leek (crassulaceoe)

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 is 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.)

Next: Gooseberry

Previous: Fumitory

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 1932