My Uncle Ilo (short for Italo) always said that one should eat onions and garlic to improve one's voice. I, of course, did not believe him one bit. I was very young. He was very old and his main credentials seemed to have been playing piano for silent films and getting us all lost with his "short cuts" driving one place to the next. ( He could easily turn a half hour trip into 3.)
Turns out, Ilo was right. The Greeks and Romans also credited the allium family (this includes onions, garlic, shallots, leeks and scallions) with voice benefitting effects. Nero was said to have eaten a plate of leeks a day for this purpose while Aristotle credited the clear voice of the partridge to a diet with leeks. Maybe Uncle Ilo and these guys talked. In Chinese medicine onions and the alliums in general are thought to be pungent in nature. They break things up, "dispersing" being the commonly used term. Onions break up and help disperse phlegm. This is of great benefit to anyone with "a frog in their throat".
Chomping on onions, thought, is not always practical. Traditionally a syrup was made that was easier to take. The classic recipe was pretty simple:
In a small glass jar layer chopped/sliced onion with brown sugar. Cover and after a couple of days on the counter a syrup will form from the moisture in the onions. You drain the syrup from the jar and refrigerate. Take a tablespoon to help relieve hoarseness or a cough.
This type of preparation may have some risk, however. There is a slight chance that leaving the onion on the counter will encourage the growth of bacteria. This is a similar warning given to people infusing olive oil with garlic or lemon peels.
There are a couple of work-arounds though. If you have a juicer, you can juice an onion or two and mix this with honey (preferable because you get all the benefits of honey) or a simple syrup. If you juice you may want to make some extra and save it in the freezer in an ice cube tray so you can pop out a cube whenever you need it. Traditionally you can actually use the pulp as a poultice over your sinuses on the face or on your chest or back for congestion and cough. Think mustard plaster. You have to be careful, though. Like the mustard plaster this can be irritating and if you're sensitive can leave a rash. Onions near the eyes can also cause tearing. Perhaps you should save the onion pulp for meatloaf or veggie burgers.
No juicer? No problem! Chop unions and simmer in enough water to cover the onions to make a strong onion tea - about 10 minutes or so. Strain the liquid (reserving the pulp for some other purpose). Take the liquid and add an equal amount of sugar and heat slowly to make a simple syrup. Refrigerate.
If you'd like you can mix a little alcohol (citrus based ones would be best) with this for that OTC alcohol based cough syrup effect. (Though no cough suppressant or acetaminophen here!)
Next posts will outline some variations on this theme and some really great alcohol infusions you can make at home!
FYI click on this link to hear one of Uncle Ilo's most frequently played selections. (Unfortunatly we never got a recoding of Uncle Ilo playing it, but Debbie Reynolds did a rousing rendition in 1950!)