Onions for bronchitis, mangoes for scurvy

DON'T scoff the next time you have a severe cold and your grandmother gives you an onion to eat at bedtime, because by morning, you will find the cold has disappeared. Onions contain not only flavonoids, but many other ingredients yet to be isolated by scientists.

Onions are used for most ailments, ranging from scurvy to sleeplessness. They are used to treat fever, dropsy and chronic bronchitis, and when mixed with salt, they are an effective remedy for colic. Mixed with vinegar, they relieve sore throats, and eaten with jaggery, they stimulate growth in children. Onions formed part of all the ancient medical systems practised in India, Greece, China and Egypt.

A wide variety of herbs and herbal extracts -- ranging from turmeric as an antiseptic to cumin seeds as anti-flatulents -- are used by Indians to cure ailments.

The mango, for instance, is known not only as a delicious fruit, but also for its medicinal properties. The ripe fruit is an effective laxative and diuretic. In its green form, it is rich in vitamin C and can be used as an astringent and against scurvy. The bark of the mango tree is also an astringent. The kernel of the seed works against worms. Powdered and dried green mango, known as amchur, is a popular condiment and, because of its anti-scurvy properties, was traditionally used by Indian armies on long marches. A decoction of dried mango flowers is useful for treating diarrhoea and chronic dysentery.

The efficacy of herbal remedies depends a lot on the preparation. The husk of fleaseed, commonly known as isabgul, is a laxative when taken with milk, while it stops loose motions faster than drugs like Lomotil, if taken with curd.