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The onion poultice is one of my favorite home remedies that provides natural relief for deep coughs and chest congestion. An onion poultice is a warm, onion-filled compress that is applied to the chest. The warmth provides comfort while the medicinal compounds in the onion are absorbed through the skin and inhaled through the nose and mouth.

This article describes why natural treatments are recommended for coughs, explains how onion poultices effectively treat coughs and congestion, and provides instructions for the onion poultice that I recommend to my patients. It also lists a few precautions and discusses who should avoid this treatment. The onion poultice is a simple, yet effective, natural treatment that anyone can do at home!

Why Are Natural Treatments Recommended For Coughs?

When treating coughs, keep in mind that coughing has a purpose. Our bodies are expelling mucus and irritants every time we cough. It is better to support the cough rather than to suppress it and slow the body’s healing process.

In natural medicine, we recommend natural cough treatments that:

  • Strengthen the lungs so that coughing is effective.
  • Soothe mucus membranes and reduce spasticity so the cough reflex isn’t over-stimulated. 
  • Thin mucus to move it more easily out of the body.
  • Possess antimicrobial and/or immune stimulating action to treat the root cause of an infectious cough.

How Does An Onion Poultice Treat Coughs And Chest Congestion?

Onion poultices are an effective method to achieve many of the objectives listed above. When applying an onion poultice to the chest, the body absorbs the onion’s medicinal compounds through the skin and inhales them through the mouth and nose. Onions have the following natural healing properties:

An onion poultice rests on a wooden table.

  • Soothe overactive coughs by relaxing the smooth muscle in the trachea (1).
  • Clear chest congestion by thinning and loosening mucus allowing for better expectoration (1).
  • Contain organosulfur compounds that possess potent antimicrobial properties, which help to fight chest infections (1, 2, 3).

To learn more about how to treat coughs naturally, see Natural Treatment for Coughs – Dr. Green Mom

How to Prepare And Use An Onion Poultice

What You’ll Need

  • 1 onion (whatever you have on hand)
  • 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, olive oil, or water (to prevent sticking to the pan)
  • 1 cloth (muslin or cheesecloth work well, but an old cotton t-shirt will do in a pinch)
  • Optional: flour or cornstarch


  1. Peel and chop the onion into small pieces.
  2. Heat a frying pan over medium heat.
  3. Add the chopped onion to the pan and sauté until the onion is translucent and fragrant using oil or water as needed to prevent sticking.
  4. Remove the pan from heat and let the onion cool for a few minutes. Optional: Sprinkle in flour or cornstarch to absorb remaining moisture in the pan.
  5. Place the cooked onion in the center of your cloth.
  6. Fold the cloth around the onion to form a small pouch, making sure the onion is completely covered by the cloth.
  7. Once the poultice is warm*, place the onion poultice on the chest. You may wish to cover it with another cloth. Optional: Cover the poultice with a heating pad to keep it warm longer.
  8. Leave the poultice on the chest for 20-30 minutes or until it cools.
  9. Discard the onion poultice after use.

*Be careful! To avoid burns, it is important to test the temperature of the poultice before placing it on the chest. Please be especially careful when using this on children. An onion poultice should feel pleasantly warm and should not feel hot to the touch.

Onion poultices can sometimes irritate sensitive skin. Before using the poultice, some people prefer to apply a protective salve to the chest to protect the skin. I like to use Henry’s Homestead Lotion Balm

Who Should Avoid Using an Onion Poultice?

This natural cough remedy is safe and has been used for generations (4). As always, use common sense precautions. For example, don’t use this remedy if you have an allergy or sensitivity to onions. Do not use this remedy with young babies or people who cannot express temperature-related discomfort to prevent burns. For young babies, try placing a sliced onion near their crib at night. 

If you’re looking for an alternative to onion poultices for treating cough and chest congestion, check out my article on botanical steam inhalations: Botanical Steam Inhalation To Reduce Congestion & Soothe Coughs – Dr. Green Mom. 


The onion poultice is a tried and true natural remedy for chest colds. The beauty of an onion poultice is that it helps clear a cough in multiple ways that work with the body rather than against it. The natural healing properties of onion thin mucus, calm tracheal muscles, and fight infection. Always be careful when using this or any heat-based therapy on children and be sure they can communicate if the temperature is uncomfortable. 



  1. Beigoli, S., Behrouz, S., Memar Zia, A., Ghasemi, S. Z., Boskabady, M., Marefati, N., Kianian, F., Khazdair, M. R., El-Seedi, H., & Boskabady, M. H. (2021). Effects of Allium cepa and Its Constituents on Respiratory and Allergic Disorders: A Comprehensive Review of Experimental and Clinical Evidence. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2021, 5554259.
  2. Bastaki, S. M. A., Ojha, S., Kalasz, H., & Adeghate, E. (2021). Chemical constituents and medicinal properties of Allium species. Molecular and cellular biochemistry, 476(12), 4301–4321. 
  3. Sharifi-Rad, J., Mnayer, D., Tabanelli, G., Stojanović-Radić, Z. Z., Sharifi-Rad, M., Yousaf, Z., Vallone, L., Setzer, W. N., & Iriti, M. (2016). Plants of the genus Allium as antibacterial agents: From tradition to pharmacy. Cellular and molecular biology (Noisy-le-Grand, France), 62(9), 57–68. 
  4. HALL, W. W. (2022). The Medicinal Value of Onions. In Hall’s Journal of Health,: For 1860 (Classic reprint) (pp. 272–272). essay, FORGOTTEN BOOKS. 
Dr. Green Mom

Dr. Mayer is a naturopathic medical doctor and an expert in nutrition and wellness as it relates to pediatrics and families. Her passion for prevention of disease as cure fueled her desire to immerse herself into specializing in adult onset chronic conditions, as well as childhood chronic illness.

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