When all the uprisings in the Middle East started earlier in the year I saw a news clip of a protester in Manama in Bahrain being interviewed by the Pearl roundabout. He said something like 'We are peaceful protesters, we have no weapons, all we have to protect us from the tear gas are these onions.'
Strange as it may seem, that sounded quite homeopathic to me. I asked a few friends to see if they had heard that sort of story before. One who used to live in South Africa said it was well known when she lived there that protesters would carry onions because if they sniffed them the tear gas had no effect on them.
Red Onion Slice from photobunny on flickr
Just having a quick look on wikipedia about tear gas
Tear gas, formally known as a lachrymatory agent or lachrymator (from lacrima meaning "a tear" in Latin), is a non-lethal chemical compound that stimulates the corneal nerves in the eyes to cause tearing, pain, and even blindness. Common lachrymators include OC, CS,CR, CN, nonivamide, bromoacetone, phenacyl bromide, xylyl bromide and syn-propanethial-S-oxide (from onions).
syn-Propanethial S-oxide (C3H6OS) is a gas that acts as a lachrymatory agent (triggers tearing and stinging on contact with the eyes). The chemical is released from onions, Allium cepa, as they are sliced.
From a homeopathic perspective this isn't as strange as it sounds. If you chop up a strong onion it is likely to make your eyes and nose run and may make you sneeze. A remedy made from red onion, allium cepa, is one we commonly use for people with some types of hayfever with lots of sneezing and watery eyes. What seems to happen is that a remedy made from a small amount of onion triggers your body to deal with the symptoms. So a large amount of exposure to onion (or tear gas) will produce symptoms but a very small amount of onion, either from a remedy or just from sniffing an onion, can trigger your body to deal with those symptoms.
The comedian Mark Thomas has been around for a while and I'm a big fan of his. He has always been outspoken about controversial issues in his live shows and TV programmes. For a flavour of what he does have a look at this old episode of the Mark Thomas Comedy Product where he goes on a trip to the Defendory International arms fair to meet a few dictators and arms dealers. He has a stall there pretending to be from a PR company offering media training to help regimes create a more positive message about human rights, wife beating, torture etc.
You may well ask - what has Mark got to do with homeopathy, onions and tear gas?
More recently Mark decided he would go for a bit of a walk. Not the usual sort of walk up a hill or along a coastal path that most people might do. Mark decided he'd like to go for a walk along the entire length of the Israeli Separation Barrier along the disputed territory between Israel and Palestine. He is touring the UK until the end of September talking about his experiences on his 'Extreme Rambling - Walking the Wall' tour. A friend caught his show at Glastonbury where he mentioned he was given an onion to sniff by some Palestinians who were in disputed territory and regularly had tear gas used on them.. and it worked.. an example of homeopathy in action!