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WHO Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants - Volume 1
(1999; 295 pages) View the PDF document
Table of Contents
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentBulbus Allii Cepae
View the documentBulbus Allii Sativi
View the documentAloe
View the documentAloe Vera Gel
View the documentRadix Astragali
View the documentFructus Bruceae
View the documentRadix Bupleuri
View the documentHerba Centellae
View the documentFlos Chamomillae
View the documentCortex Cinnamomi
View the documentRhizoma Coptidis
View the documentRhizoma Curcumae Longae
View the documentRadix Echinaceae
View the documentHerba Echinaceae Purpureae
View the documentHerba Ephedrae
View the documentFolium Ginkgo
View the documentRadix Ginseng
View the documentRadix Glycyrrhizae
View the documentRadix Paeoniae
View the documentSemen Plantaginis
View the documentRadix Platycodi
View the documentRadix Rauwolfiae
View the documentRhizoma Rhei
View the documentFolium Sennae
View the documentFructus Sennae
View the documentHerba Thymi
View the documentRadix Valerianae
View the documentRhizoma Zingiberis
View the documentAnnex. Participants in the WHO Consultation on Selected Medicinal Plants
 

Bulbus Allii Cepae

Definition

Bulbus Allii Cepae is the fresh or dried bulbs of Allium cepa L. (Liliaceae) or its varieties and cultivars.

Synonyms

Allium esculentum Salisb., Allium porrum cepa Rehb. (1).

Selected vernacular names

It is most commonly known as "onion". Basal, basl, cebolla, cebolla morada, cepa bulb, cepolla, cipolla, common onion, cu hanh, hom hua yai, hom khaao, hom yai, hu-t'sung, hu t'sung t'song, hua phak bhu, i-i-bsel, kesounni, khtim, Küchenzwiebel, l'oignon, loyon, Madras oignon, oignon, palandu, piyaj, piyaz, pyaz, pyaaz, ralu lunu, red globe onion, sibuyas, Spanish onion, tamanegi, umbi bawang merah, vengayan, yellow Bermuda onion, white globe onion, Zwiebel (1–5).

Description

A perennial herb, strong smelling when crushed; bulbs vary in size and shape from cultivar to cultivar, often depressed-globose and up to 20 cm in diameter; outer tunics membranous. Stem up to 100cm tall and 30 mm in diameter, tapering from inflated lower part. Leaves up to 40 cm in height and 20mm in diameter, usually almost semicircular in section and slightly flattened on upper side; basal in first year, in second year their bases sheathing the lower sixth of the stem. Spathe often 3-valved, persistent, shorter than the umbel. Umbel 4– 9cm in diameter, subglobose or hemispherical, dense, many-flowered; pedicels up to 40mm, almost equal. Perianth stellate; segments 3–4.5 × 2–2.5mm, white, with green stripe, slightly unequal, the outer ovate, the inner oblong, obtuse or acute. Stamens exserted; filaments 4–5mm, the outer subulate, the inner with an expanded base up to 2 mm wide and bearing short teeth on each side. Ovary whitish. Capsule about 5mm, 2n = 16 (6).

Plant material of interest: fresh or dried bulbs

General appearance

Macroscopically, Bulbus Allii Cepae varies in size and shape from cultivar to cultivar, 2–20cm in diameter; flattened, spherical or pear-shaped; white or coloured (7).

Organoleptic properties

Odour strong, characteristic alliaceous; taste strong; crushing or cutting the bulb stimulates lachrymation.

Microscopic characteristics

The external dried leaf scales of the bulbs show a large-celled epidermis with lightly spotted cell walls; the cells are elongated longitudinally. The underlying hypodermis runs perpendicular to the epidermis and contains large calcium oxalate crystals bordering the cell walls. The epidermis of the fleshy leaf scales resembles that of the dried leaf scales, and the epidermal cells on the dorsal side are distinctly longer and more elongated than the epidermal cells on the ventral side. Large calcium oxalate crystals are found in the hypodermis; stomata rare; large cell nuclei conspicuous; and spiral vessel elements occur in the leaf mesophyll (8).

Powdered plant material

Contains mainly thin-walled cells of the mesophyll with broken pieces of spiral vessel elements; cells containing calcium oxalate crystals are scarce (8).

Geographical distribution

Bulbus Allii Cepae ("onion") is probably indigenous to western Asia, but it is commercially cultivated worldwide, especially in regions of moderate climate (1).

General identity tests

Macroscopic inspection, microscopic characteristics and microchemical examination for organic sulfur compounds (9); and thin-layer chromatographic analysis for the presence of cysteine sulfoxides (10, 11).

Purity tests

Microbiology

The test for Salmonella spp. in Bulbus Allii Cepae products should be negative. The maximum acceptable limits of other microorganisms are as follows (12–14). Preparations for oral use: aerobic bacteria-not more than 105/g or ml; fungi-not more than 104/g or ml; enterobacteria and certain Gram-negative bacteria-not more than 103/g or ml; Escherichia coli-0/g or ml.

Total ash

Not more than 6% (3).

Acid-insoluble ash

Not more than 1.0% (3).

Water-soluble extractive

Not more than 5.0% (3).

Alcohol-soluble extractive

Not more than 4.0% (3).

Pesticide residues

To be established in accordance with national requirements. Normally, the maximum residue limit of aldrin and dieldrin for Bulbus Allii Cepae is not more than 0.05 mg/kg (14). For other pesticides, see WHO guidelines on quality control methods for medicinal plants (12) and guidelines for predicting dietary intake of pesticide residues (15).

Heavy metals

Recommended lead and cadmium levels are no more than 10 and 0.3mg/kg, respectively, in the final dosage form of the plant material (12).

Radioactive residues

For analysis of strontium-90, iodine-131, caesium-134, caesium-137 and plutonium-239, see WHO guidelines on quality control methods for medicinal plants (12).

Other purity tests

Chemical, foreign organic matter, and moisture tests to be established in accordance with national requirements.

Chemical assays

Assay for organic sulfur constituents, cysteine sulfoxides and sulfides by means of high-performance liquid chromatographic (16, 17) or gas–liquid chromatographic (18) methods, respectively. Quantitative levels to be established by appropriate national authority.

Major chemical constituents

Sulfur- and non-sulfur-containing chemical constituents have been isolated from Bulbus Allii Cepae; the sulfur compounds are the most characteristic (1, 4, 7).

The organic sulfur compounds of Bulbus Allii Cepae, including the thiosulfinates, thiosulfonates, cepaenes, S-oxides, S,S'-dioxides, monosulfides, disulfides, trisulfides, and zwiebelanes occur only as degradation products of the naturally occurring cysteine sulfoxides (e.g. (+)-S-propyl-L-cysteine sulfoxide). When the onion bulb is crushed, minced, or otherwise processed, the cysteine sulfoxides are released from compartments and contact the enzyme alliinase in adjacent vacuoles. Hydrolysis and immediate condensation of the reactive intermediate (sulfenic acids) form the compounds as indicated below (1). The odorous thiosulphonates occur (in low concentrations) only in freshly chopped onions, whereas the sulfides accumulate in stored extracts or steamdistilled oils. Approximately 90% of the soluble organic-bound sulfur is present as γ-glutamylcysteine peptides, which are not acted on by alliinase. They function as storage reserve and contribute to the germination of seeds. However, on prolonged storage or during germination, these peptides are acted on by γ-glutamyl transpeptidase to form alk(en)yl-cysteine sulfoxides, which in turn give rise to other volatile sulfur compounds (1).

Dosage forms

Fresh juice and 5% and 50% ethanol extracts have been used in clinical studies (1). A "soft" extract is marketed in France but is not recognized as a drug by French authorities (7). Dried Bulbus Allii Cepae products should be stored in well-closed containers, protected from light, moisture, and elevated temperature. Fresh bulbs and juice should be refrigerated (2–10°C).

Medicinal uses

Uses supported by clinical data

The principal use of Bulbus Allii Cepae today is to prevent age-dependent changes in the blood vessels, and loss of appetite (19).

Uses described in pharmacopoeias and in traditional systems of medicine

Treatment of bacterial infections such as dysentery, and as a diuretic (2, 7). The drug has also been used to treat ulcers, wounds, scars, keloids (3), and asthma (20, 21). Bulbus Allii Cepae has also been used as an adjuvant therapy for diabetes (4, 22, 23).

Uses described in folk medicine, not supported by experimental or clinical data

As an anthelminthic, aphrodisiac, carminative, emmenagogue, expectorant, and tonic (3), and for the treatment of bruises, bronchitis, cholera, colic, earache, fevers, high blood pressure, jaundice, pimples, and sores (3).

Pharmacology

Experimental pharmacology

An aqueous extract or the juice of Bulbus Allii Cepae inhibited the in vitro growth of Escherichia coli, Serratia marcescens, Streptococcus species, Lactobacillus odontolyticus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Salmonella typhosa (24–28). A petroleum ether extract of Bulbus Allii Cepae inhibited the in vitro growth of Clostridium paraputrificum and Staphylococcus aureus (24). The essential oil has activity against a variety of fungi including Aspergillus niger, Cladosporium werneckii, Candida albicans, Fusarium oxysporium, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Geotrichum candidum, Brettanomyces anomalus, and Candida lipolytica (5, 29).

The hypoglycaemic effects of Bulbus Allii Cepae have been demonstrated in vivo. Intragastric administration of the juice, a chloroform, ethanol, petroleum ether (0.25 g/kg) or water extract (0.5 ml), suppressed alloxan-, glucose- and epinephrine-induced hyperglycaemia in rabbits and mice (30–35).

Inhibition of platelet aggregation by Bulbus Allii Cepae has been demonstrated both in vitro and in vivo. An aqueous extract inhibited adenosine diphosphate-, collagen-, epinephrine- and arachidonic acid-induced platelet aggregation in vitro (36, 37). Platelet aggregation was inhibited in rabbits after administration of the essential oil, or a butanol or chloroform extract of the drug (38–40). An ethanol, butanol or chloroform extract or the essential oil (10–60µg/ml) of the drug inhibited aggregation of human platelets in vitro (41, 42) by decreasing thromboxane synthesis (39). Both raw onions and the essential oil increased fibrinolysis in ex vivo studies on rabbits and humans (1). An increase in coagulation time was also observed in rabbits (1).

Intragastric administration of the juice or an ether extract (100 mg/kg) of the drug inhibited allergen- and platelet activating factor-induced allergic reactions, but not histamine- or acetylcholine-induced allergenic responses in guinea-pigs (43). A water extract of the drug was not active (43). A chloroform extract of Bulbus Allii Cepae (20–80mg/kg) inhibited allergen- and platelet aggregation factor-induced bronchial obstruction in guinea-pigs (44). The thiosulphinates and cepaenes appear to be the active constituents of Bulbus Allii Cepae (1).

Both ethanol and methanol extracts of Bulbus Allii Cepae demonstrated diuretic activity in dogs and rats after intragastric administration (45, 46).

Antihyperlipidaemic and anticholesterolaemic activities of the drug were observed after oral administration of minced bulbs, a water extract, the essential oil (100 mg/kg), or the fixed oil to rabbits or rats (47–52). However, one study reported no significant changes in cholesterol or lipid levels of the eye in rabbits, after treatment of the animals for 6 months with an aqueous extract (20% of diet) (53).

Oral administration of an ethanol extract of the drug to guinea-pigs inhibited smooth muscle contractions in the trachea induced by carbachol and inhibited histamine-, barium chloride-, serotonin-, and acetylcholine-induced contractions in the ileum (20).

Topical application of an aqueous extract of Bulbus Allii Cepae (10% in a gel preparation) inhibited mouse ear oedema induced by arachidonic acid (54). The active antiallergic and anti-inflammatory constituents of onion are the flavonoids (quercetin and kaempferol) (55). The flavonoids act as antiinflammatory agents because they inhibit the action of protein kinase, phospholipase A2, cyclooxygenase, and lipoxygenase (56), as well as the release of mediators of inflammation (e.g. histamine) from leukocytes (57).

In vitro, an aqueous extract of Bulbus Allii Cepae inhibited fibroblast proliferation (58). A 0.5% aqueous extract of onion inhibited the growth of human fibroblasts and of keloidal fibroblasts (enzymically isolated from keloidal tissue) (59). In a comparative study, an aqueous extract of Bulbus Allii Cepae (1– 3%) inhibited the proliferation of fibroblasts of varying origin (scar, keloid, embryonic tissue). The strongest inhibition was observed with keloid fibroblasts (65–73%) as compared with the inhibition of scar and embryonic fibroblasts (up to 50%) (59). In human skin fibroblasts, both aqueous and chloroform onion extracts, as well as thiosulfinates, inhibited the plateletderived growth factor-stimulated chemotaxis and proliferation of these cells (60). In addition, a protein fraction isolated from an onion extract exhibited antimitotic activity (61).

Clinical pharmacology

Oral administration of a butanol extract of Bulbus Allii Cepae (200mg) to subjects given a high-fat meal prior to testing suppressed platelet aggregation associated with a high-fat diet (62).

Administration of a butanol extract to patients with alimentary lipaemia prevented an increase in the total serum cholesterol, β-lipoprotein cholesterol, and β-lipoprotein and serum triglycerides (63, 64). A saponin fraction (50 mg) or the bulb (100 mg) also decreased serum cholesterol and plasma fibrinogen levels (65, 66). However, fresh onion extract (50 g) did not produce any significant effects on serum cholesterol, fibrinogen, or fibrinolytic activity in normal subjects (67, 68).

Antihyperglycaemic activity of Bulbus Allii Cepae has been demonstrated in clinical studies. Administration of an aqueous extract (100 mg) decreased glucose- induced hyperglycaemia in human adults (69). The juice of the drug (50 mg) administered orally to diabetic patients reduced blood glucose levels (22). Addition of raw onion to the diet of non-insulin-dependent diabetic subjects decreased the dose of antidiabetic medication required to control the disease (70). However, an aqueous extract of Bulbus Allii Cepae (200mg) was not active (71).

The immediate and late cutaneous reactions induced by injection of rabbit anti-human IgE-antibodies into the volar side of the forearms of 12 healthy volunteers were reduced after pretreatment of the skin with a 50% ethanol onion extract (1). Immediate and late bronchial obstruction owing to allergen inhalation was markedly reduced after oral administration of a 5% ethanol onion extract 1 hour before exposure to the allergen (1).

In one clinical trial in 12 adult subjects, topical application of a 45% ethanolic onion extract inhibited the allergic skin reactions induced by anti-IgE (72).

Contraindications

Allergies to the plant. The level of safety of Bulbus Allii Cepae is reflected by its worldwide use as a vegetable.

Warnings

No warnings have been reported.

Precautions

Carcinogenesis, mutagenesis, impairment of fertility

Bulbus Allii Cepae is not mutagenic in vitro (73).

Other precautions

No general precautions have been reported, and no precautions have been reported concerning drug interactions, drug and laboratory test interactions, nursing mothers, paediatric use, or teratogenic or non-teratogenic effects on pregnancy.

Adverse reactions

Allergic reactions such as rhinoconjunctivitis and contact dermatitis have been reported (74).

Posology

Unless otherwise prescribed: a daily dosage is 50 g of fresh onion or 20 g of the dried drug; doses of preparations should be calculated accordingly (14).

References

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22. Sharma KK et al. Antihyperglycemic effect of onion: Effect on fasting blood sugar and induced hyperglycemia in man. Indian journal of medical research, 1977, 65:422–429.

23. Mathew PT, Augusti KT. Hypoglycemic effects of onion, Allium cepa Linn. on diabetes mellitus: a preliminary report. Indian journal of physiology and pharmacology, 1975, 19:213–217.

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30. El-Ashwah ET et al. Hypoglycemic activity of different varieties of Egyptian onion (Allium cepa) in alloxan diabetic rats. Journal of drug research (Egypt), 1981, 13:45–52.

31. Karawya MS et al. Diphenylamine, an antihyperglycemic agent from onion and tea. Journal of natural products, 1984, 47:775–780.

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37. Srivastava KC. Aqueous extracts of onion, garlic and ginger inhibit platelet aggregation and alter arachidonic acid metabolism. Biomedica biochimica acta, 1984, 43:S335– S346.

38. Chauhan LS et al. Effect of onion, garlic and clofibrate on coagulation and fibrinolytic activity of blood in cholesterol fed rabbits. Indian medical journal, 1982, 76:126–127.

39. Makheja AN, Vanderhoek JY, Bailey JM. Inhibition of platelet aggregation and thromboxane synthesis by onion and garlic. Lancet, 1979, i:781.

40. Ariga T, Oshiba S. Effects of the essential oil components of garlic cloves on rabbit platelet aggregation. Igaku to seibutsugaku, 1981, 102:169–174.

41. Vanderhoek JY, Makheja AN, Bailey JM. Inhibition of fatty acid oxygenases by onion and garlic oils. Evidence for the mechanism by which these oils inhibit platelet aggregation. Biochemical pharmacology, 1980, 29:3169–3173.

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43. Dorsch W et al. Antiasthmatic effects of onion extracts-detection of benzyl- and other isothiocyanates (mustard oils) as antiasthmatic compounds of plant origin. European journal of pharmacology, 1985, 107:17–24.

44. Dorsch W et al. Anti-asthmatic effects of onions. Alk(en)ylsufinothioc acid al(en)ylesters inhibit histamine release, leukotriene and thromboxane biosynthesis in vitro and counteract PAF and allergen-induced bronchial spasm in vivo. Biochemical pharmacology, 1988, 37:4479–4486.

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47. Sharma KK, Chowdhury NK, Sharma AL. Studies on hypocholesterolaemic activity of onion. II. Effect on serum cholesterol in rabbits maintained on high cholesterol diet. Indian journal of nutrition and diet, 1975:388–391.

48. Vatsala TM, Singh M. Effects of onion in induced atherosclerosis in rabbits. 2. Reduction of lipid levels in the eye. Current science, 1982, 51:230–232.

49. Ahluwalia P, Mohindroo A. Effect of oral ingestion of different fractions of Allium cepa on the blood and erythrocyte membrane lipids and certain membrane-bound enzymes in rats. Journal of nutrition science and vitaminology, 1989, 35:155–161.

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51. Adamu I, Joseph PK, Augusti KT. Hypolipidemic action of onion and garlic unsaturated oils in sucrose fed rats over a two-month period. Experimentia, 1982, 38:899– 901.

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58. Majewski S, Chadzynska M. Effects of heparin, allantoin and Cepae Extract on the proliferation of keloid fibroblasts and other cells in vitro. Dermatologische Monatsschrift, 1988, 174:106–129.

59. Untersuchung der Contractubex®-Inhaltsstoffe auf anti-proliferative Wirkung von humanen Hautfibroblasten. Münster, Merz, 1989 (internal research report).

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61. Avuso MJ, Saenz MT. Antimitotic activity of a protein fraction isolated from viscum-cruciatum on the root meristems of Allium cepa. Fitoterapia, 1985, 56:308– 311.

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68. Sharma KK, Sharma SP. Effect of onion on blood cholesterol, fibrinogen and fibrinolytic activity in normal subjects. Indian journal of pharmacology, 1976, 8:231– 233.

69. Jain RC, Vyas CR, Mahatma OP. Hypoglycaemic action of onion and garlic. Lancet, 1973, ii:1491.

70. Bhushan S et al. Effect of oral administration of raw onion on glucose tolerance test of diabetics: a comparison with tolbutamide. Current medical practice, 1984, 28:712– 715.

71. Sharma KK et al. Antihyperglycemic effects of onion: Effect on fasting blood sugar and induced hyperglycemia in man. Indian journal of medical research, 1977, 65:422– 429.

72. Dorsch W, Ring J. Suppression of immediate and late anti-IgE-induced skin reactions by topically applied alcohol/onion extract. Allergy, 1984, 39:43–49.

73. Rockwell P, Raw I. A mutagenic screening of various herbs, spices, and food additives. Nutrition and cancer, 1979, 1:10–15.

74. Valdivieso R et al. Bronchial asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and contact dermatitis caused by onion. Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 1994, 94:928–930.

 

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