Latin Name: Allium sativum
When Hippocrates declared, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”, he probably had garlic in mind. This plant from the onion family is a medicinal powerhouse, not to mention extremely nutritious! My wife and I use garlic in almost everything, from home-made hummus to salad dressings to roasted veggies. Some days we might eat a little too much as there have been times when people (mostly family) will comment to us that they can smell us before they see us. Whoops!
Some of you may only associate garlic to bad breath and potent smells. This odor unique to garlic is attributed to the organosulfur compound diallyl disulfide. Thankfully, mother nature has provided some additional plants to help counteract the ever penetrating garlic smell. Try chewing a handful of fresh parsley or mint leaves, or eat an apple or green beans.
Not only does the bible reference garlic a number of times, but ancient medical texts from various cultures and countries including Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and India each used garlic for medical purposes. Grecian olympic athletes were administered garlic to promote strength and reduce fatigue (1). So olympic athletes have been using performance enhancing drugs since the beginning!
What’s Garlic Good For?
Boosting Immune Function
Eating garlic can boost the number of virus-fighting T-cells in your bloodstream. Instead of going to your doctor when cold and flu season hits, try reaching for a few cloves of garlic each day. Some studies show garlic to reduce your chance of catching the common cold by up to 60% and shorten its symptoms from 5 days to 1.5 days (2). Not bad if you ask me.
Garlic contains a myriad of nutritional substances including mucilage, enzymes, albumin, amino acids like tryptophan, vitamins A, C, B1 and B2, and the minerals manganese, copper, iron, zinc, sulfur, calcium, chlorine, phosphorous, iodine, sodium, potassium, and selenium. Wow.
Antibacterial / Antibiotic
Whole garlic contains a compound called alliin. When garlic is crushed or chewed, this compound turns into allicin which is the main active ingredient in garlic and said to have antibacterial action equivalent to 1% penicillin. Garlic oil is great for treating athletes foot and earaches.
Lower Blood Pressure
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in North America, responsible for 1 out of every 4 deaths. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a main contributing factor to heart disease. Various human studies have shown garlic to significantly impact the lowering of blood pressure. One study actually showed garlic to be as effective as the drug Atenolol in lowering blood pressure (3).
Slows Aging Process
When you hear antioxidant you probably think of some expensive exotic fruit from far away when in fact all fruits and vegetables contain these health promoting compounds. Garlic is no exception either, especially aged garlic, and contains numerous antioxidants which help protect cells from damage and aging. Oxidative stress is associated with heart disease, DNA damage, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and nerve damage.
Heavy Metal Detox
Foods containing high amounts of sulfur help the liver detoxify itself of heavy metals, especially the heavy metals lead and arsenic. Foods high in sulfur include garlic, onions, cabbage, broccoli, eggs and legumes. One study found garlic to help reduce lead levels in the blood of battery factory workers by 19% over a four-week period (4).
Athlete’s foot – Wash the area in hot soapy water, rinse, and dry thoroughly. Massage the area with garlic oil three to four times a day.
Boils, sores and wounds – Apply as a poultice: Chop cloves, mash with warm water, and apply locally.
Colds – Use four to six chopped cloves at the first sign, or leave the cloves to soak in honey for two hours, and then use the syrup.
Earache – Drop four to six drops of warm garlic oil into the ear. Repeat four times a day.
Worms – Use 1-30 drops of fresh juice first thing in the morning, or chop the cloves and swallow with water on an empty stomach. Fast until lunch and repeat for two to three days.
Garlic is generally considered nontoxic. Some suggest using garlic with care during pregnancy and especially while nursing, but clinical reports have not shown any adverse effects. High doses of garlic may interfere with existing hypoglycemic and anticoagulant therapies. Garlic in high amounts has the potential to increase the antithrombotic (reduces blood clotting) effects of antiinflammatory drugs such as aspirin.