Homeopathy Papers Materia Medica

Allium Cepa: Hurt Once, Twice Shy

Homeopath David Kempson describes the various aspects of Allium Cepa including the fear of pain and fear of the inability to withstand it.

The onion has been recognized as a potent healing plant for much of human history. As a food, it is nutrient dense, rich in many vitamins and minerals. It is attributed with many benefits from heart health where it may defend against heart attacks, to protection from or even cure of cancer.

It has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries in colds, coughs, bronchitis and influenza. In herbalism, it has been said to cure inflammation, diabetes, digestive disorders, and act as an anti-bacterial, anti- fungal, and anti-viral medicine. It is said to cure allergies and asthma.

Throughout history, the onion has been considered an important and valuable plant, often being used in religious ceremonies, or as symbols of power in ancient cultures. The Egyptians saw the onion as a symbol for eternity and revered it, placing onions over the eyes of the dead or swearing oaths upon them. At certain times in history onions have been used as currency. The humble onion has in fact occupied a place of great worthiness in human culture.

Allium cepa is a staple in the homoeopathic treatment of acute illness, primarily for hay fever, colds and influenza. It is often part of any first aid kit, and is usually included in polypharmcy as one of the components for ‘cold, cough and flu’ mixes.

Like Ferrum phosphoricum, it is often given at the beginning of a cold, with few other indications except for the common symptoms (runny nose, running eyes, coughing). I have sometimes seen suppression of the initial stage of an infection by using it this way, as Allium cepa has so many of the common cold symptoms that it can easily palliate rather than cure. This will often result in a more serious throat or chest infection.

However, in keeping with the general theme of examining our injury remedies for deeper trauma-related healing potential, Allium cepa has a reputation for dealing with certain kinds of physical wounds. Considering how commonly it is prescribed for URTI’s. this might even be surprising to some readers to see it listed as an injury medicine.

As usual, statements made in bold are rubrics taken from Synthesis Repertory. SS denotes a single symptom, meaning it is the only remedy currently recorded for the symptom. Symptoms in CAPITALS are 3 value symptoms, extremely important symptoms repeatedly verified in clinic.

Lockjaw after injuries (SS)

Excoriation of the heels (SS)

Neuralgic Pain from injuries of the nerves (SS)

Ulcers on the feet from rubbing of the shore (borx, paeon)

Chronic inflammation of the nerves after injuries (hyper, stram)

Ailments from operations

Pain after amputation

Shock after injuries

Stab wounds

Nausea or Vomiting after an operation on the stomach (BISM, Nux-v, Phos, staph)

The Well-known Picture of Allium Cepa

This collection of rubrics succinctly displays how the onion is typically remembered in homoeopathic practice.

Lachrymation During Coryza

Catarrhal Inflammation of The Eyes

Burning of the Eyes, Must Rub Them

Excoriating Nasal Discharge Accompanied by Bland Discharge From the Eyes

Coryza From Flowers

Hayfever – Especially During August

Coughs From Tickling in the Larynx, Hacking Coughs

Cough With Pain in Larynx as if Something Was Torn Loose (Ss)

Coryza from cold wet wind (SS)

Smell is acute to peaches (SS), Sneezing on handling peaches (SS)

Tendency to take cold in Spring (SS)

Onions generally ameliorate (SS)

Tendency to take cold, with violent and frequent sneezing (cist)

The Core State of Allium Cepa

** Fear suffering will become unbearable** (SS)

Fear she will become distracted from pain (SS)

Fear of pain, of suffering

Now there is a specific phobia which represents this, Algophobia, which is an abnormal and persistent fear of pain. It is more common in elderly people, often stirred up by observing or hearing about all the ailments afflicting their friends and relatives.

It is possible they may anticipate the problems and experience symptoms before anything actually appears, and you may see various psychosomatic illnesses. You may also see such a phobia in a person who grew up observing a parent or sibling in chronic pain, and this has painted a picture of suffering as something to be avoided at all costs. Algophobia is not uncommon, and Allium cepa may very well fit such clients.

People may also suffer from a condition called Hyperalgesia, which is abnormally increased sensitivity to pain. These two things may be found together, the one causing the other, for which the remedy could be highly valuable.

What might provoke such a fear though? We find Allium cepa in the following rubrics:

Painful old wounds

Wounds heal slowly

These rubrics contain remedies such as Nat-mur and Nitric acid, both well-known for their inability to get over effects of emotional and mental injuries. We know that the pain does not have to be physical, to be painful, to wound the patient.

When combined with the core rubric of fearing pain and suffering, one might assume you have a patient who has been badly hurt in the past and is afraid that it will happen again. There is a second quality to the rubric here though – that it will become unbearable.

The fear is that they cannot bear suffering, which is in fact a fear of being too weak or fragile to survive it. Allium cepa not only fears pain and suffering, but fears that they will not have the strength to endure it, or to endure it again if it has happened before. Terrible pain can leave an emotional scar which may never heal.

In fact, such experiences can change the way in which a person lives their life, avoiding certain things they believe will bring pain. Research has shown that fear of pain following an acute episode is a risk of long term chronic pain and disability, due to the fact that they mold their lives around various avoidance behaviors.

This often creates the kind of weakness they fear so much. This is well known in chronic back pain, where fear of back pain predisposes someone to the very problem they fear so much and try so hard to avoid.

This would suggest Allium cepa sits within the Sycotic miasm. I will discuss that a little more later.

So Allium cepa fears pain and suffering, most likely because they have known suffering in their past or observed someone close to them living with great pain. It is common for such patients to avoid any activities which might cause pain. What is the specific coping strategy for these people?

Studies have found that focusing on pain makes pain stronger. Thus, one way of dealing with pain is to distract yourself, to focus away from it. The way in which Allium cepa deals with their fear is typically a sycotic one (avoidance), so they go into ‘hibernation’. These patients manifest torpor (main remedies are NAT-M, NUX-M, OP)

Torpor is a kind of ‘light’ hibernation animals use to escape unpleasant external conditions, such as during winter. It is a sort of dormancy, where various functions are lowered to conserve energy and to allow them to endure harsh conditions.

Other authors have spoken at length about the sleepy groggy mental state of Allium cepa. However, what may not have been observed is that this appears to be a defense mechanism for the patient against this fear.

Allium cepa has confused senses, laziness, slowness. There is a sensation as if the head was wrapped up in water. They make mistakes in speaking, spelling, misplacing words, and in their work. sleep is deep and heavy. In fact, Allium cepa can experience overpowering sleepiness. confusion of mind with sleepiness is the remedy in a nutshell.

What is interesting about Allium cepa is that, like Millefolium (covered in a previous article) stimulants can aggravate this patient, because this sleepy lazy state is their protection (Confusion of mind after coffee which it shares with Millefolium, Confusion of mind after wine). Just as with Millefolium, Allium cepa does not want to be drawn out of its torpor.

The Theme of onion then, appears to be sinking into a Stupor to avoid the risk of Pain becoming Unbearable, and then generally being worse for anything that brings one out of that stupor (like Millefolium). The way to manage pain is to not think about it, go to sleep, slow down, and anything that stimulates or forces one out of that stupor is aggravating.

For example, social interactions with others will also be muted (indifference to loved ones, indifference to others, indifference even to one’s parents). They can even appear to dislike or hate people, in order to maintain this reclusiveness (misanthropy). Trying to engage with such a patient is likely to provoke a sharp retort although they will quickly sink back into their sleepy state (snappish).

So the onion patient does not want to be roused. They are happy enough to keep their feelings muted, and are aggravated by anything which stirs their feelings. Although it is not mentioned in the corresponding rubric, you can see the picture of a person who does not want to be disturbed (Pain aggravated by talking -SS).

Something that evokes our emotions is music. Music stirs us deeply, fosters the creation and maintenance of social attachments, stimulates emotions that might be otherwise rare in daily life. Music reduces stress, relaxes, because it is known to reduce Cortisol levels.

Patients with ASD will often respond to music emotionally when they otherwise show a deficit in their emotional range or perceptions. Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease will often remember music despite having lost so much of the rest of their memories. Music is a powerful force.

Allium cepa weeps from music (Graphites is the main remedy here) and in particular weeps from piano music (cop, Nat-c, Nat-s). Some symptoms will be aggravated or provoked by it (coryza from singing – SS). The Onion is strongly connected to Tears (lachrymation during coryza, bland tears, red eyes), and tears are strongly connected to our emotions. What else suggests a deep sensitivity to the evocative ability of music?

If we hear a song that evokes a strong feeling in us, our hypothalamus reacts to this sudden stimulus by producing a shiver along our spine. Allium cepa is found in a small rubric shivering extending down the back. It is thought half of all people experience chills when listening to music, because music stimulates a very ancient pathway in the brain. T

his may also occur with a lump in the throat, and tingling in various parts of the body (constant disposition to swallow from a lump in the throat). Studies have shown that people who react this way to music have a higher ability to process emotions, and thus to experience intense emotions. Onion people have many of these somatic reactions to sudden emotions, such as perspiration of palms during coldness on back (SS), which is the instinctive physical reaction to fear.

Allium cepa may show a dull, sleepy, indifferent exterior, but it is to cover a heightened internal sensitivity. They will instead show themselves in their extreme reactivity to the physical environment through such complaints as hay fever and other allergies (allergic constitution, coryza from flowers, chang of weather aggravates, spring aggravates). This could be mistaken for Nat-mur quite easily.

While shutting down appears to be the preferred way of avoiding this underlying fear, Allium cepa appears in another unusual rubric.

Impelled to touch everything

This is a less common manifestation of obsessive compulsive disorder. The compulsion to touch things may be related to the feeling that something ‘bad’ will happen if they don’t (magical or ritual touching), but in this case it may just be an urge that relieves underlying anxiety.

As people who fear pain can develop a number of almost obsessive avoidance behaviours, it is likely that such behaviours will eventually become compulsive, and thus we could expect to see OCD-related actions like this.

You can see that Allium cepa has two conflicted states – an intense emotional sensitivity focused around the fear of pain and suffering, and the external  torpor used to try and avoid feeling that fear.

Where else might we find some justification for in this picture of the remedy?

Dreams of storms at sea (sil)

Traditionally, dreaming of the sea relates to the deeper emotions, often those lying withing or suppressed into the unconscious. Water dreams in general are associated with emotions and the ability to express them. Water is the line that divides conscious and unconscious (dreams of water).

A stormy sea in a dream indicates turbulent emotions that cannot be controlled, a risk of unconscious emotions surging upwards. Allium cepa also dreams of wells (merc-c, ultras). Wells appearing in dreams represents a depth of emotions. If you cannot see the bottom of the well you are suppressing your emotions.

You are hiding your emotions so that others do not know what you are truly feeling. Allium cepa is found in the rubric dreams of an abyss. The symbolism of the abyss in traditional dream lore is regarding fears that you have not admitted to yourself, a part of yourself that you do not want to see.


This understanding of the dreams fits very well into the picture uncovered. The dreams of Allium cepa seem to reflect the themes of trying to protect oneself by becoming sleepy or unconscious, by dampening the intensity of emotions.

They also appear to be sycotic ones, again – strong emotions underneath, a calmer appearance on the surface. Sleepy, indifferent, but fear underneath. The dreams suggest a depth of emotion which is being avoided, which is feared (storms, abyss), which is being hidden from (wells).

I propose that Allium cepa fits very well into the sycotic miasm. (allergic constitution. Profuse discharges, Polypus, Overproduction, Exaggeration, Hiding, Covering up, and an Internal sense of Weakness (will not be able to endure pain).

I believe those patients who have experienced an intensely painful event in their life, perhaps an injury, an accident or an operation, and who then remain fearful of such pain ever occurring to them again would be helped by this remedy.

Despite the event having been resolved (pain after amputation) they remain deeply scarred by it. To live with such fear, they dampen down their emotions, reduce the intensity of their feelings, and avoid those things which would ‘wake them up’ too much.

Allium cepa patients may become ‘zombies’, not fully awake, to avoid facing their fears (lethargic with indifference). They could resemble Opium or Nux-Moschata in this respect. Such a patient who only observed another experiencing a terrible suffering and who then inherits this fear, avoiding those things that might create the same event, would be even more highly indicated for help from the humble onion.

About the author

David Kempson

David Kempson practices homoeopathy at West End Wellness, West End, Brisbane. He studied at Sydney College of Homoeopathic Medicine 1992-1995 and lectured in the Australian College of Natural Medicine for 7 years. David adopted Scholten's Periodic Table prescribing in 2002, Sankaran's Plant Family prescribing in 2006, and Sankaran's Sensation method across all kingdoms in 2007. David has successfully incorporated the new methods with his classical/traditional homoeopathic approach. His other interests include mythology and folklore, science fiction and astronomy.

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