If you have to pick an herb to take with you in a deserted island, what would it be? The good answer would be garlic. After all, it has been used a long, long time ago by the builders of the Egyptian pyramids for strength and endurance. An Old Welsh rhyme states, “Eat leeks in March and wild garlic in May, / And all the year after physicians may play.”
From the earliest times, garlic has been used as a food. It formed part of the diet of the Israelites in Egypt (Numbers 11:5). It was consumed by the ancient Greek and Roman soldiers, sailors and rural classes. But garlic is not just only for cooking. In fact, it is hailed as “nature’s herbal wonder drug.”
In the past, garlic was said to strengthen the heart; protect against the plague; cure colds, athlete’s foot, toothache, and snakebite; repel vampires and demons; grow hair; stimulate sexual performance; and rid the dog of fleas.
Today, scientists all over the world are examining the folklore’s claims of garlic’s benefits. But the therapeutic qualities of garlic are nothing new. Sanskrit records reveal that garlic remedies were pressed into service in India 5,000 years ago, while Chinese medicine has recognized garlic’s powers for over 3,000 years. Even Louis Pasteur, who solved the mysteries of rabies, anthrax, chicken cholera, and silkworm diseases, recognized the anti-bacterial powers of garlic way back in 1858. During World War I, surgeons regularly used garlic juice to stop wounds turning septic.
So, what is it about garlic that makes it such a boon to our health? When cloves are chewed, crushed or cut, they release a sulphur-bearing compound called allicin — the chemical that gives garlic its pungent aroma. And it’s the allicin that scientists have discovered is the magic ingredient thought to be responsible for garlic’s therapeutic qualities.
“Allicin is the remarkable agent that fights bacteria,” points out the editors of ‘Super Life, Super Health.’ “It seems to even fight some infections that are normally resistant to antibiotics.’ But allicin is unstable and sensitive to heat,” the editors remind. “Cook the garlic lightly, if at all, and always mince it to release the most allicin.”
Garlic is also rich in with the vitamins A, B, and C; the minerals calcium, potassium, and iron; and the antioxidants germanium and selenium. Antioxidants reportedly block free radicals, the potentially harmful elements that circulate in the body and may lead to cancer and heart disease.
Having a problem with cholesterol in your body? Get a health kick from garlic. Researchers have long known that large quantities of raw garlic can reduce harmful blood fats. But here’s a word of warning from Duke Robert I of Normandy: “Because garlic has the power to save from death; / Endure it, though it leaves behind bad breath.”
When Dr. Benjamin Lau of Loma Linda University in California gave people with moderately high blood cholesterol one gram a day of the liquid garlic extract (about one teaspoon), their cholesterol levels fell an average of 44 points in six months.
In 1993, the ‘Journal of the Royal College of Physicians’ reviewed data on cholesterol and found that after just four weeks there was a 12 per cent reduction in cholesterol levels in the research groups that had taken garlic.
Scientists have also looked at the role garlic plays in helping prevent the formation of blood clots. A review of recent clinical trials, published in the ‘Journal of Hypertension,’ showed that taking garlic tablets cut volunteers’ blood pressure by between one and five per cent. These results led the report’s authors to conclude that taking supplements could cut the incidence of stroke by anything from 30-40 per cent, while heart disease could be reduced by 20-25 percent.
In 2007, a BBC news story reported that garlic may prevent and fight the common cold. “Garlic can actually kill germs and clear up your cold symptoms rapidly,” says Dr. Elson Haas, the author of ‘Staying Healthy with the Seasons.’ He recommends two to three oil-free capsules three times a day.
If you have sore throat, load up yourself with garlic. “When a sore throat is caused by a virus infection, as opposed to bacteria, eating garlic can bring quicker relief,” suggests Dr Yu-Yan Hey, a nutrition professor who researches on the healing properties of garlic. Dr. Eleonore Blaurock-Busch, the physician behind ‘The No-Drugs Guide to Better Health,’ recommends taking garlic-oil capsules six times a day. She advises though that if the prescription causes you any adverse reaction, try another remedy.
Here’s a good news for mothers who breastfeed their babies. Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that mothers who ate 1.5 grams of garlic extract two hours before nursing got an odor in their milk that prompted infants to suck longer and possibly ingest more milk. Besides that, the babies experienced no abdominal cramps or other problems associated with spicy foods.
As stated earlier, garlic may strengthen the immune system and may help the body fight diseases such as cancer. Laboratory studies suggest that garlic may have some anti-cancer activity. Studies which follow groups of people over time suggest that people who have more raw or cooked garlic in their diet are less likely to have certain types of cancer, particularly colon and stomach cancers.
A large-scale study in the United States, called the Iowa Women’s Health Study, looked at the garlic, fruit, and vegetable consumption in 41,000 middle-aged women. Results showed that women who regularly consumed garlic, fruits, and vegetables had 35% lower risk of developing colon cancer.
Garlic may battle breast cancer, too. Pennsylvania State researcher Dr. John A. Milner exposed rats to huge amounts of chemicals that cause cancer. Then he gave some of the rats “chow full of garlic.” The rats that ate garlicky chow had 50 percent fewer precancerous changes in their breasts.
Garlic is considered “to have very low toxicity” and, in fact, the US Food and Drug Administration listed garlic as “generally recognized as safe.”
But despite that recognition, the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) in Baltimore gives this warning: “Side effects from garlic include upset stomach, bloating, bad breath, body odor, and a stinging sensation on the skin from handling too much fresh or dried garlic. Handling garlic may also cause the appearance of skin lesions. Other, more rare side effects that have been reported by those taking garlic supplements include headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle aches, dizziness described as vertigo (dizziness), and allergies such as an asthmatic reaction or contact dermatitis (skin rash).”
In addition, garlic has blood-thinning properties. This is also important to know if you are going to have surgery or deliver a baby. “Too much garlic can increase your risk for bleeding during or after those procedures,” the UMMC reminds. Garlic should not be taken with warfarin, antiplatelets, saquinavir, antihypertensives or hypoglycemic drugs.
Garlic, a native to southern Asia, is now cultivated throughout the world. It is a perennial that can grow two feet high or more. The most important part of this plant for medicinal purposes is the compound bulb. Each bulb is made up of 4-20 cloves, and each clove weighs about one gram. Garlic grows well in sandy loam and can be harvested five months after planting from the cloves.
A dormant period of 4-5 months at 7 degrees Centigrade is necessary to hasten the “germination” of the cloves. The cloves must be soaked in water for 12 hours before planting. To reduce leaf growth and producer larger bulbs, the neck is broken so that the top would like on its side. Mulching is needed in garlic cultivation. — ###