This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The Onion, Allium Cepa, is in the Hebrew betsal, plural betsalim, the rudimentary sense of which word appears to be bulb. The excellence of the Egyptian Onions was in the primaeval times proverbial, and they seem never to have lost their character. Has-selquist, a hundred years ago, describes them as distinguished for their sweetness and softness, and adds that in no country in the world can this vegetable be eaten with more satisfaction and with less hesitation than in Egypt. The native country was probably some part of south western Asia. Homer mentions the Onion under the name of Served with honey, it forms the repast of Nestor in the beautiful episode in Iliad xi. It is mentioned also in the Odyssey, xix. 233. Singular to say, though obviously a common article of food in ancient Egypt - so common as to be within reach of the enslaved Israelites - some kind of superstitious reverence was connected with the Onion, giving occasion for the statement in some of the old Greek and Roman authors, that the Egyptians actually worshipped this bulb. Lucian and Juvenal both say so. Possibly the true idea is, that the Onion was dedicated to some deity, or that it symbolized some religious idea, or it may simply have held a position similar to that of the Leek in Wales at the present day.
The refusal to eat it on the part of the priests, as described by Plutarch, rested probably on the same ground as that of the Brahmins of India to touch food which they consider vulgar, or it may be that there was some confusion of the Onion with the great round bulb of the medicinal Squill, an inhabitant of the sandy shores of the Mediterranean, those of Egypt included. In the unbotanical times to which these superstitious and curious old facte belong, nothing would be more natural than for the Onion and the Squill to be confounded, and for their respective reputations to become entangled. To this day the common Ornithogalum of the cottage-windows is familiarly termed the " flowering-Onion."
Garlic, the last of the three ancient Alliacea, is in the Hebrew plural, in the verse quoted, shumim. This word denotes not the Allium sativum, but the Eschalot, Allium ascalonicum, the Of The Greeks, And The Allium Of The Romans Leo Grindon, in Gardener's Chronicle.