In late 1995, I addressed a group of more than 100 physicians at Flower Hospital in Toledo, Ohio. After my talk on herbal medicine, one older doctor drew me aside and told me this story: Decades earlier, when he was much younger, he met a man who had been admitted to a sanatorium for tuberculosis (TB). That was during the time when sanatoriums were in vogue and people with TB were usually sent away to them for their remaining days. Once consigned to a sanatorium, few people ever went home again.
The man the doctor described, however, had somehow been given a reprieve. And this was the curious thing. According to the doctor, the patient with tuberculosis happened to find a discarded load of onions on the grounds of the sanatorium. Tired and depleted from TB, he began eating the onions, enjoying several a day. Within a month he was well enough to leave the institution.
Now there's a story to delight and intrigue a plant medicine enthusiast. It turns out that onions really do have antibacterial properties, so it's just possible that this man's multi-onion diet
really had something to do with his cure.
An Old Scourge Makes a Comeback
Tuberculosis is a chronic, usually contagious bacterial infection that can spread through the body in the bloodstream and lymph nodes, but it usually focuses on the lungs. To become infected, most people need to be repeatedly exposed--by living or working at close quarters with a carrier of the disease, for example.
If you spend 8 hours a day for six months or 24 hours a day for two months with anyone with active TB, there's a 50 percent chance that you will get it. It's no wonder that the disease centers in poverty-stricken areas where people live crowded together without adequate medical care.
Fortunately, my own family had lots of living space in Panama 30 years ago when we learned that our live-in maid had tested positive for TB. My whole family immediately was checked for the disease. Luckily, the test...