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Toxic parts

There have been cases of poisoning caused by the consumption, in large quantities and by some mammals, of this plant. Dogs seem to be particularly susceptible[1].

Edible uses


Bulb - raw or cooked. A very versatile food, the bulb can be 10cm or more in diameter and is widely used in most countries of the world. Eaten raw, it can be sliced up and used in salads, sandwich fillings etc, it can be baked or boiled as a vegetable in its own right and is also commonly used as a flavouring in soups, stews and many other cooked dishes. Some cultivars have been selected for their smaller and often hotter bulbs and these are used for making pickles.

Leaves - raw or cooked[2][3]. There are some cultivars, the spring onions, that have been selected for their leaves and are used in salads whilst still young and actively growing - the bulb is much smaller than in other cultivars and is usually eaten with the leaves. By successional sowing, they can be available at any time of the year. Flowers - raw. Used as a garnish on salads. The flowers are somewhat dry and are less pleasant than many other species[K].

The seeds are sprouted and eaten. They have a delicious onion flavour[K].



Material uses

The juice of the plant is used as a moth repellent and can also be rubbed onto the skin to repel insects[4].

The plant juice can be used as a rust preventative on metals and as a polish for copper and glass[4]. A yellow-brown dye is obtained from the skins of the bulbs[5][6]. Onion juice rubbed into the skin is said to promote the growth of hair and to be a remedy for baldness[4][7]. It is also used as a cosmetic to get rid of freckles[4].

The growing plant is said to repel insects and moles[8]. A spray made by pouring enough boiling water to cover 1kg of chopped unpeeled onions is said to increase the resistance of other plants to diseases and parasites[8].

Medicinal uses(Warning!)

Although rarely used specifically as a medicinal herb, the onion has a wide range of beneficial actions on the body and when eaten (especially raw) on a regular basis will promote the general health of the body.

The bulb is anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, febrifuge, hypoglycaemic, hypotensive, lithontripic, stomachic and tonic[9][4][10]. When used regularly in the diet it offsets tendencies towards angina, arteriosclerosis and heart attack[7]. It is also useful in preventing oral infection and tooth decay[7]. Baked onions can be used as a poultice to remove pus from sores[7]. Fresh onion juice is a very useful first aid treatment for bee and wasp stings, bites, grazes or fungal skin complaints[4][8]. When warmed the juice can be dropped into the ear to treat earache[7]. It also aids the formation of scar tissue on wounds, thus speeding up the healing process, and has been used as a cosmetic to remove freckles[4].

Bulbs of red cultivars are harvested when mature in the summer and used to make a homeopathic remedy[11]. This is used particularly in the treatment of people whose symptoms include running eyes and nose[11].


Ecosystem niche/layer

Ecological Functions

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Seed. Early sowings can be made in February in a greenhouse to be planted out in late spring. The main sowing is made in March or April in an outdoor seedbed, this bed must be very well prepared. A sowing can also be made in an outdoor seedbed in August of winter hardy varieties (the Japanese onions are very popular for this). These overwinter and provide an early crop of onion bulbs in June of the following year. Onion sets can be planted in March or April. Sets are produced by sowing seed rather thickly in an outdoor seedbed in May or June. The soil should not be too rich and the seedlings will not grow very large in their first year. The plants will produce a small bulb about 1 - 2cm in diameter, this is harvested in late summer, stored in a cool frost-free place over winter and then planted out in April. A proportion of the bulbs will run quickly to seed but most should grow on to produce good sized bulbs.

Practical Plants is currently lacking information on propagation instructions of Allium cepa. Help us fill in the blanks! Edit this page to add your knowledge.


Prefers a sunny sheltered position in a rich light well-drained soil[12][13]. Prefers a pH of at least 6.5[14]. Plants tolerate a pH in the range of 4.5 to 8.3.

Onions are best grown in a Mediterranean climate, the hot dry summers ensuring that the bulbs are ripened fully[14]. For best growth, however, cool weather is desirable at the early stages of growth[14]. Plants are frost-tolerant but prolonged temperatures below 10°c cause the bulb to flower[14]. Optimum growth takes place at temperatures between 20 and 25°c[14]. Bulb formation takes place in response to long-day conditions[14]. Plants are perennial but the cultivated forms often die after flowering in their second year though they can perennate by means of off-sets[12]. The onion was one of the first plants to be cultivated for food and medicine[15]. It is very widely cultivated in most parts of the world for its edible bulb and leaves, there are many named varieties capable of supplying bulbs all the year round[14]. This species was derived in cultivation from A. oschaninii[16]. Most forms are grown mainly for their edible bulbs but a number of varieties, the spring onions and everlasting onions, have been selected for their edible leaves. There are several sub-species:-

    Allium cepa 'Perutile' is the everlasting onion with a growth habit similar to chives, it is usually evergreen and can supply fresh leaves all winter.
    Allium cepa aggregatum includes the shallot and the potato onion. These are true perennials, the bulb growing at or just below the surface of the ground and increasing by division. Plants can be divided annually when they die down in the summer to provide bulbs for eating and propagation.
    Allium cepa proliferum is the tree onion, it produces bulbils instead of flowers in the inflorescence. These bulbils have a nice strong onion flavour and can be used raw, cooked or pickled.

Onions grow well with most plants, especially roses, carrots, beet and chamomile, but they inhibit the growth of legumes[17][18][19][8]. This plant is a bad companion for alfalfa, each species negatively affecting the other[8].

Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[20].


Problems, pests & diseases

Associations & Interactions

There are no interactions listed for Allium cepa. Do you know of an interaction that should be listed here? edit this page to add it.

Polycultures & Guilds

There are no polycultures listed which include Allium cepa.




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Full Data

This table shows all the data stored for this plant.

Binomial name
Allium cepa
Imported References
Edible uses
Medicinal uses
Material uses & Functions
Edible uses
None listed.
Material uses
None listed.
Medicinal uses
None listed.
Functions & Nature
Provides forage for
Provides shelter for
Hardiness Zone
Heat Zone
full sun
no shade
Soil Texture
Soil Water Retention
Environmental Tolerances
    Native Climate Zones
    None listed.
    Adapted Climate Zones
    None listed.
    Native Geographical Range
    None listed.
    Native Environment
    None listed.
    Ecosystem Niche
    None listed.
    Root Zone Tendancy
    None listed.
    Deciduous or Evergreen
    Herbaceous or Woody
    Life Cycle
    Growth Rate
    Mature Size
    Flower Colour
    Flower Type

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    "image:Allium cepa 001.JPG|248px" cannot be used as a page name in this wiki.

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    1. ? Cooper. M. and Johnson. A. Poisonous Plants in Britain and their Effects on Animals and Man. HMSO ISBN 0112425291 (1984-00-00)
    2. ? 2.02.1 Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World. Dover Publications ISBN 0-486-20459-6 (1972-00-00)
    3. ? 3.03.1 Thompson. B. The Gardener's Assistant. Blackie and Son. (1878-00-00)
    4. ? Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants. MacDonald ISBN 0-356-10541-5 (1984-00-00)
    5. ? 5.05.1 Carruthers. S. P. (Editor) Alternative Enterprises for Agriculture in the UK. Centre for Agricultural Strategy, Univ. of Reading ISBN 0704909820 (1986-00-00)
    6. ? 6.06.1 Grae. I. Nature's Colors - Dyes from Plants. MacMillan Publishing Co. New York. ISBN 0-02-544950-8 (1974-00-00)
    7. ? Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants Dorling Kindersley. London ISBN 9-780751-303148 (1996-00-00)
    8. ? Allardice.P. A - Z of Companion Planting. Cassell Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0-304-34324-2 (1993-00-00)
    9. ? 9.09.1 Grieve. A Modern Herbal. Penguin ISBN 0-14-046-440-9 (1984-00-00)
    10. ? 10.010.1 Lust. J. The Herb Book. Bantam books ISBN 0-553-23827-2 (1983-00-00)
    11. ? Castro. M. The Complete Homeopathy Handbook. Macmillan. London. ISBN 0-333-55581-3 (1990-00-00)
    12. ? 12.012.1 F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956 Oxford University Press (1951-00-00)
    13. ? Simons. New Vegetable Growers Handbook. Penguin ISBN 0-14-046-050-0 (1977-00-00)
    14. ? Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992. MacMillan Press ISBN 0-333-47494-5 (1992-00-00)
    15. ? Phillips. R. & Foy. N. Herbs Pan Books Ltd. London. ISBN 0-330-30725-8 (1990-00-00)
    16. ? Davies. D. Alliums. The Ornamental Onions. Batsford ISBN 0-7134-7030-5 (1992-00-00)
    17. ? Philbrick H. and Gregg R. B. Companion Plants. Watkins (1979-00-00)
    18. ? Riotte. L. Companion Planting for Successful Gardening. Garden Way, Vermont, USA. ISBN 0-88266-064-0 (1978-00-00)
    19. ? Hatfield. A. W. How to Enjoy your Weeds. Frederick Muller Ltd ISBN 0-584-10141-4 (1977-00-00)
    20. ? Thomas. G. S. Perennial Garden Plants J. M. Dent & Sons, London. ISBN 0 460 86048 8 (1990-00-00)

    "image:Allium cepa 001.JPG|248px" cannot be used as a page name in this wiki.