Hunter-gatherer tribes probably gathered wild onions as a regular part of their diet. These pungent vegetables grow in almost every area of the world and they’re among the most versatile of vegetables. Onions have been used as food, medicine, decoration, and even toys.


Fun Facts

  • Onions were first cultivated in China 5,000 years ago. They were grown throughout Asia and the Middle East at least 3,000 years ago.
  • In Egypt, onions were used in religious ceremonies. Egyptians thought onions, with their inner circles, represented eternal life. They also thought onions had magical powers. Important people were often entombed with onions placed over their eye sockets or in their body cavities. Paintings of onions are common in pyramid tombs.
  • Onions are easy to grow and can grow in a variety of climates and soils. They can be stored longer than most vegetables and they can even be dried.
  • Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist and writer, thought that onions could heal a variety of ailments, such as blindness, dysentery, toothaches, mouth sores, and even dog bites.
  • Native Americans used onions to dye clothing and also for food and medicine. The Pilgrims brought onions with them on the Mayflower.
  • Pioneers often made a poultice from boiled onions that was placed on the chest to cure colds.
  • Onions are a good source of vitamin C, folate, and fiber.
  • Modern researchers are confirming the health benefits of onions: several studies have found that onions might be beneficial in preventing heart disease and some cancers.



  1. Cultivate: to grow a plant on purpose
  2. Versatile: useful in many ways
  3. Entombed: placed in a tomb after death


Questions and Answers

Question: Why do onions make my eyes water? How can I prevent it?

Answer: Sulfuric compounds make the eyes water. Try chilling onions before you cut them and cut the root end last.


Learn More

Visit the National Onion Association for activities and lesson plans about onions.

Learn about onion farming in Africa.