Given all that onions have to offer us in the way of flavor and nutrition, sometimes they deserve to be the stars of a dish, all on their own.

There is a unique energy — a nexus of power — in the intersection of food and medicine. When we learn to make use of the power of food and herbs to heal and support the body we celebrate and utilize the potent medicine found in some of our most basic ingredients.

Take herbs as an example. Our traditional culinary herbs and spices have formidable medicinal abilities. They support everything from digestion and metabolism to immune function, circulation and the nervous system. If you’ve ever used herbs and spices in your cooking — and most of us have — you’ve been practicing herbal medicine. Right at home. With no help from the “experts.”

Sage (Salvia officinalis), with its strong oils and pungent flavor, lends itself to cooking. It holds up to heat and readily infuses into meats and other dishes. It is classically used on poultry and in bread stuffing, and it’s delicious with onions, hard squashes, and sweet root vegetables.

Sage is also an active healer with a wide range of uses. Astringent, pungent, oily, aromatic, bitter, and mildly warming, it aids with digestion of fats and oils, and eases all manner of general digestive upsets. As the wisdom in its name implies, sage promotes longevity, working to strengthen and rejuvenate at a cellular level. An outstanding herb for the nervous system, sage can help relieve tension and encourages clarity and peace of mind. A powerful antimicrobial, sage contains potent oils, similar to those found in other culinary herbs, that disinfect and support the health of mucous membranes.

Onions, like sage, might be a common ingredient in your home cooking. Like sage, they hold powerful medicinal benefits. Onions are a superfood, rich in flavonoids, including quercetin, sulfur compounds, and other phytonutrients. They support healthy cell growth, prevent the growth of abnormal cells, and reduce inflammation. Like garlic, onions are members of the allium family and share many of the same benefits to the cardiovascular system: they help reduce cholesterol, increase the elasticity of the blood vessels, and may have anticlotting benefits.

Onions have clearly made their way into so much of our cooking for reasons of nutrition as well as flavor. Perhaps the comfort of the smell is part familiarity and part magnetic attraction to their magical healing properties. Given all they have to offer, sometimes they deserve to be the stars of a dish, all on their own.

Just dress them with a dollop of herb butter (and yes, even butter has health benefits. It’s rich in the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of which benefit the body’s systems with the uptake and utilization of nutrition) and serve.

roasted onions with sage butter

Photo © Keller + Keler Photography, excerpted from Recipes from the Herbalist’s Kitchen

Roasted Onions with Sage Butter

This recipe calls for retaining most of the onion skins. The skins keep the onions moist and juicy while they’re cooking and help them hold their shape. The outer layers have also been shown to contain the most nutritional value. I like to use some red and some yellow onions if I have both — the colors of this dish are beautiful that way.

Yield: 4 servings as a side dish


  • 6 small to medium onions
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2–3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
  2. Peel off the loose outer layer of each onion’s skin, leaving the majority. Slice the onions in half lengthwise and place them faceup on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan. Roast uncovered for 30 minutes, then cover and roast for another 30 minutes.
  3. While the onions are cooking, combine the butter with the sage, lemon zest, pepper, and salt, and mix until well combined.
  4. When done, the onions will be soft and cooked through, but still juicy. I like them to be just slightly browned on top. If they are not browned, you can finish them off under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the oven and put 1 to 2 teaspoons of the compound butter on each onion. It will melt into the layers and disappear. Serve the remaining butter at the table. (Any leftover butter will keep in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days.) Serve the onions in their skins. While it is easy to separate the skins and set them aside, they also tend to soften as they cook, so I eat them skin and all.

Text and recipe excerpted from Recipes from the Herbalist’s Kitchen © 2017 by Brittany Wood Nickerson. Photos © Keller + Keller Photography. All rights reserved.

Brittany Wood Nickerson

Brittany Wood Nickerson is the author of Recipes from the Herbalist's Kitchen. She has blended her training in herbal medicine into her personal and professional… See Bio

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Recipes from the Herbalist’s Kitchen

by Brittany Wood Nickerson

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