Dominicans Are Boosting Their Immune Systems With This Traditional Onion Tea
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Dominicans Are Boosting Their Immune Systems With This Traditional Onion Tea

If you’re not familiar with the immune-boosting effects of this traditional tea—let us put you on!

Jan 15, 2021

By: Johanna Ferreira | @cup_of_johanna

The year 2020 was a catastrophic one for many reasons. It was a year filled with loss and suffering. But one good thing that came from it all, was that it forced many of us to put our health first. In fact, so many Latinx folks found themselves embracing the plant medicine, remedio caseros (homemade remedies), and healing modalities of our ancestors.

New cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have reached record highs this month, with many new infections emerging from holiday gatherings and travel. With the U.S. virus death toll surpassing 375,000, many of us are preparing the same tea and folk remedies that kept our immune systems strong when the coronavirus pandemic first hit — like the Dominican té de cebolla (onion tea), which practically went viral on Instagram last year. Dominicana Abroad and our friends The Brujas of Brooklyn are some of the many Dominicans we observed that prepared this tea last year in the brink of the pandemic.

If you’re not familiar with the immune-boosting and cold-busting effects of this traditional tea — let us put you on! Dominicans have been using this tea to treat and prevent the common cold, as well as, boost their immune systems, and it’s a tea that many have found themselves preparing in a time when Latinx communities continue to be disproportionately impacted by the virus. It has been a way for many of us to decolonize and reclaim our wellness when the American healthcare system continues to fail us.

“The health system in the U.S., in particular, has continuously and historically failed BIPOC. We are each coming to grips with this truth and at our own paces, but during the pandemic in 2020, the grave inequities between who had access to basic human rights including, health, food, a fair living wage, and medicine / healthcare became much too clear to ignore,” Suhaly Bautista-Carolina, an Afro-Dominican herbalist, artist, educator, and community organizer based in NYC shares with us. “We have always had our own health modalities and practices. I am witnessing a return to our tools. We’ve been inspired to care for ourselves and for our loved ones while coming into greater harmony with the world around us, and we are depending instead on what has never failed us: our Eggun and our plant allies.”

Bautista-Carolina is a big fan of el té de cebolla, a centuries-old Dominican remedio casero she grew up drinking. Her and Dominican nutritionist Diana Rodriguez, offer some of their insight on some of the many health benefits associated with this tea and why it’s worth preparing this month.

The prime ingredient in this tea is red onion. “Onions are packed with vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C (one of the most powerful antioxidants), B vitamins (which support our metabolism, the production of red blood cells, and overall nerve function), and Potassium (which is required for optimal kidney function), Bautista-Carolina says. “Onions contain antibacterial properties, which help fight off harmful bacteria such as E. coli. They are also a rich source of fiber and prebiotics, which promote gut health and improve overall immunity.”

But when preparing this particular tea, you want to make sure you’re specifically using red onions.

Red onions contain a particular antioxidant, known as quercetin, which is known to help fight inflammation and boost the immune system. It’s regarded as a natural antibiotic. Believe it or not, it also pairs well with the other ingredients used in this recipe (including red apples, cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger, and turmeric (optional), resulting in a surprisingly delicious flavor.

“The deep purple skin of the red onion gives this tea it’s gorgeous pink/peach color,” Bautista-Carolina adds. “Red onions also have a sweeter taste than yellow, white or other onion varieties, which works nicely with the flavors of the other fruits and spices in this blend.”

The red apples used in this recipe are also high in Vitamin C, along with B complex, and more. But Bautista-Carolina mentions that the skin of the apple is actually key, as it contains much of the fruit’s fiber and polyphenols. So you want to make sure not to peel off the skin. Simply cut them in half before adding to the large pot of water.

This remedio calls for 3-4 red onions chopped in half, 3-4 red apples chopped in half, a tablespoon worth of peeled and finely chopped or grated fresh ginger root, and 2-3 cinnamon sticks. And while some folks like to add 1 tablespoon worth of cloves (optional), we highly recommend to consider adding a tablespoon of organic turmeric for a little extra goodness. It’s not included in traditional recipes, but turmeric works wonders when it comes to bringing down inflammation that may exist in the body. Our Loisa Organic Turmeric contains 4% of curcumin on average, which is loaded with antioxidants.

These ingredients are added to a large pot of water and boiled until they are fully cooked and softened. You then strain the tea and squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice before serving.

But keep in mind, that these ingredients alone are nowhere near enough in defending our systems and warding off diseases. The combination of all these ingredients is what really allows it to work its magic. And taking on other healthy modalities like getting plenty of rest and maintaining a balanced diet is just as important -- don’t forget it!

“Red onions and red apples have many health benefits and ginger is widely used as a spice and in alternate medicine,” says Dominican-American dietitian and nutritionist, Diana Rodriguez. “Ginger aids in the treatment and prevention of colds, inflammation, nausea, among many other things. Cinnamon is another well-known spice used worldwide, in preparing many types of dishes and adding flavor to coffee and tea. Cinnamon contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. Boosting the immune system is a term that has been magnified and can be very enticing. However there is no one food that can boost immunity. The immune system is a system in and of itself. It is a system that relies on balance, sleep, mental state, diet, and exercise.”

While ancestral knowledge of plants seems to fade once folks move from the countryside to cities, Latinx communities in the states have managed to find ways to keep them alive. We’ve seen evidence of that in how Dominicans in NYC have managed to preserve this onion team remedy. It went from the island to the concrete jungle and still survived.

“According to my mother, remedio caseros date back to her childhood in the countryside/farmland and have been passed on for generations. We use them for everything from muscle pain, headaches, indigestion, to colds and the flu,” says Rodriguez who recommends remaining cautious of how certain ingredients interact with the prescription drugs one might be taking. “Because of the healthcare system and its failure to assist POCs, plant medicine is the alternative because of our ancestors and the hundreds of years history with holistic medicinal experience that reduces recovery time from many illnesses.”

“This recipe is simply one of those beautiful ancient wisdoms that has been passed down from generation to generation (principally through oral tradition) across time and now across the Dominican diaspora,” says Bautista-Carolina. “The fact that we’ve carried this recipe with us across so many generations with no or very little documentation, tells me this knowledge is likely already cemented into our DNA.”

Check out the recipe below and stay healthy!