By: Marlene Affeld ~
Native to Central Asia, garlic (Allium sativum) has been prized for over 7,000 years for its amazing culinary and medicinal properties. From the time of the ancient Romans, garlic, also known as the “stinking rose”, was believed to increase sexual potency and endurance during physical competition. Garlic is a species of the onion genus, Allium. Closely related to rakkyo, chives, leeks and shallots, garlic is attributed with antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties.
Dioscorides, a Greek who lived in the first century A.D., practiced plant-based healing. Revered as the founder of modern pharmacology, Dioscorides routinely dispensed the pungent plant to treat bronchitis, cough, respiratory infections, leprosy, circulation problems, snakebites, rabid dog bites, and numerous other medical conditions. Ancient Chinese, Egyptian, Indian and Greek writings also praise the odorous bulb. Garlic was placed in the tombs of ancient Pharaohs as long ago as 3,200 B.C. Written in 1550 B.C., the Egyptian “Ebers Codex” presents 22 different medical formulations in which garlic was an integral ingredient.
Many European cultures employed garlic as protection against ghosts, evil spirits, vampires, and demons. However, throughout history, many religious sects forbade garlic, believing garlic to be a passion-arousing stimulant.
Garlic, an indispensable seasoning in the cuisine of hundreds of cultures around the world, also has a wealth of well-documented health enhancing effects. In Korea, China and Italy, where the consumption of the pungent bulb is viewed as a protective against disease, per capita consumption is as high as 12 cloves each day.
“People have known garlic was important and has health benefits for centuries,” said Dr. David W. Kraus, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Biology at the University of Alabama. “Even the Greeks would feed garlic to their athletes before they competed in the Olympic games.”
“Many home chefs mistakenly cook garlic immediately after crushing or chopping it,” noted Dr. Kraus. Dr. Kraus advises, “To maximize the health benefits, you should crush the garlic at room temperature and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes. That triggers an enzyme reaction that boosts the healthy compounds in garlic.”
Medical studies show that garlic helps fight infection, boosts the immune system, improves circulation, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol while helping to prevent many types of cancer including colon, breast and prostate. Garlic’s health benefits are attributed to its sulfur-containing compounds: diallyl trisulfide, diallyl disulfide and allicin.
Blame allicin for the pungent odor. The odor is caused by the interaction of the compound alliin and the enzyme allinase. Allinase enzymes are activated by water, heat and oxygen. This is the reason cooked, aged or pickled garlic does not present as pungent an odor as fresh garlic. Both the flavoring agents and the medicinal properties of garlic are strongest when raw.
Garlic also contains the anti- cancer agent germanium. In fact, garlic has more of this potent cancer-retarding agent than any other plant. Recent lab tests noted that mice fed garlic showed no signs of cancer, whereas mice fed a garlic-restricted diet developed the disease.
Garlic lovers should be aware that garlic could potentially interfere with prescribed anti- coagulants, so it is best to avoid eating garlic prior to a scheduled surgery. Although sensitivity is rare, some people may be allergic to garlic and should consult their health practitioner if they develop a severe headache, digestive tract irritation, an elevated temperature or skin blistering after handling or consuming garlic.
Because of its delicious flavor and powerful health benefits, garlic deserves a prominent place in a healthy plant-based diet and lifestyle.