The Collison Newsletter September 2011


                            ALLIUM  VEGETABLES

                 DAILY  VEGETABLES  for  GOOD  HEALTH*  

The Allium genus includes approximately 500 species. Commonly used allium vegetables include:

·        onions

·        scallions

·        garlic

·        leeks

·        shallots

·        chives

and these are used all over the world in different delicacies.


In my book How To Stop Feeling So Awful (see homepage), in the section on Food Families (pages 98 - 102), the above are listed as members of the Lily Family. The Lily Family, Liliaceae, is a large family with hundreds of exotic species, characterised by showy flowers with six perianth segments, six stamens and a superior ovary, and usually producing bulbs or rhizomes. The genus Allium is part of the lily family. It is a large genus of perennial and biennial pungent bulbous plants. The plant family is called Alliaceae.


Allium is the presently accepted collective name for the vegetables listed above. Allium is the Latin word for garlic.

Properties of Allium Vegetables 

These vegetables are high in sulphur containing compounds, giving them their distinctive flavour and aroma.


Some of the allium vegetables have been used in traditional medical practice for hundreds of years in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. They have also been shown to be:

·        Antimicrobial

·        Antithrombotic

·        Anticancer

·        Hypolipidaemic

·        Antiarthritic and

·        Hypoglycaemic.


In recent years, extensive research has focused on the anti-carcinogenic potential of these allium vegetables and their constituents, namely allylsulphides and flavonoids (particularly quercetin, which is present abundantly in onion).

Allium Vegetables

  • Onions

Onions are an ancient vegetable, having been cultivated for thousands of years. They are native to the Near East and Central Asia, where they were not only cultivated as a food, but also prized for their antiseptic properties. The ancient Egyptians used them in mummification.


The common or bulb onion is of the species Allium cepa. These may have brown, white, red or purple skin. Brown onions are the most common, are strongly flavoured, are the best choice for dry storage, and are excellent for cooking in soups etc. Red onions are the sweetest and do not keep as well as the brown variety. They are especially suited for slicing and eating raw in salads etc. Common mild onions include the Spanish variety. Pearl onions, generally white, are the smallest of the bulb onions, and are generally used for pickling.

  • Scallions

Scallions are not a type of onion, but simply the immature plants of any bulbing onion, harvested before the bulb is fully formed. They are also called spring onions or green onions. In Australia, the term shallots can also refer to scallions. Both the green tops and the white root (the developing bulb) can be eaten. Onions called ‘bunching onions’ (since they are sold in bunches) from the species Allium fistulous, produce the best scallions, with less “bite” than other varieties, and are excellent for cooking.

  • Garlic

Garlic, Allium sativum, is native to Central Asia, and has a long history both as a food and for medicinal uses. Its bulbs are divided into cloves. Garlic has the strongest flavour of all the alliums.

  • Shallots

Shallots are of the species Allium ascalonicum. This botanical name comes from Ascalon, a city in ancient Israel from where it is said the Crusaders brought it to Europe.  Shallots grow in clusters, and have a distinctive tapered shape that sets them apart from other members of the allium family. They are commonly used in gourmet cooking because of their flavour, described as a blend of sweet onion and garlic. As stated above, in Australia the term shallot can refer to scallions.

  • Leeks

Leeks, Allium ampeloprasum, are the largest member of the allium family and look like gigantic scallions. They can grow up to 24 cm long and 5 cm thick, and do not form a bulb. In some places they are referred to as poor man’s asparagus. Leeks combine well with potatoes, their best known cooking use being in leek and potato soup.

  • Chives

Chives, Allium schoenoprasum, are a hardy perennial, looking like tall clumps of grass. They can be clipped and used from the garden as needed. They provide a mild onion flavour to dips, salads and soups.

  • Garlic chives

Also called Chinese chives or Oriental chives, these are a separate species, Allium tubersosum, and can be used as a mild substitute for garlic.

Medicinal Applications of Allium Vegetables 

Garlic is one of the best known and most-used medicinal herbs.


Garlic is full of infection-fighting compounds, notably allicin.


Garlic is a powerful immune booster, stimulating the multiplication of infection-fighting white cells, boosting natural killer cell activity and increasing the efficiency of antibody production. It may protect against cancer (see below).


Properties and uses of garlic:

·        Boosts the immune system

·        Has antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties

·        Cleanses the blood and helps create and maintain healthy bacteria (flora) in the gut

·        Helps to bring down fever

·        Has antioxidant actions

·        Acts as a decongestant.


Garlic is useful in the prevention of colds and flu.


All the members of the allium family have antioxidant properties (garlic having the highest levels and being the best known), and give some benefit in combating free radicals and the damage they can cause. (See my January 2007 newsletter Free Radicals - Antioxidants).


All the members of the allium family contain organosulphur compounds, which have anti-cancer effects.


The article Allium Vegetables and Risk of Prostate Cancer was published in the Oxford Journal ( then search using the article name) in 2002. The authors’ conclusions were:

“Men in the highest of three intake categories of total allium vegetables (garlic, scallions, onions, chives, and leeks) had a statistically significant lower risk of prostate cancer than those in the lowest category…. The reduced risk of prostate cancer associated with allium vegetables was independent of body size, intake of other foods, and total calorie intake and was more pronounced for men with localised than with advanced prostate cancer.”


The authors of another article (Allium vegetables in cancer prevention: an overview”, Asian Pac J Cancer Prev, 2004) reviewed a series of  publications showing that epidemiologic studies have related consumption of allium vegetables to lower risk of cancers of the:





They attributed this anticancer effect to the flavonols and organosulphur compounds in the allium vegetables. Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the cancer-preventive effects of allium vegetables and related organosulphur compounds. These include inhibition of mutagenesis, modulation of enzyme activities, inhibition of DNA adduct formation, free radical scavenging and direct effects on cell proliferation and tumour growth.


The allium vegetables are an important part of flavoursome cooking, and are especially used in gourmet foods.


The fact that they have special medicinal properties is an added bonus, and their regular consumption may have significant therapeutic applications.


We are advised to eat at least five to six or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day.  It would seem sensible to regularly include onions or one or more of the other allium vegetables as one of these portions each day.


*Copyright 2011: The Huntly Centre.

Disclaimer: All material in the website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.


Back to the list  Print friendly version