Garlic (Allium sativum), a herb used widely as a flavoring in cooking, has also been used as a medicine throughout ancient and modern history to prevent and treat a wide range of conditions and diseases.
Garlic belongs to the onion genus Allium, and is closely related to the onion, rakkyo, chive, leek, and shallot. It has been used by humans for thousands of years and was used in Ancient Egypt for both culinary purposes and its health and therapeutic benefits.
Garlic for food and medicine - a brief history
Garlic has been used all over the world for thousands of years. Records indicate that garlic was in use when the Giza pyramids were built, about five thousand years ago.
Richard S. Rivlin wrote in the Journal of Nutrition1 that the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (circa. 460-370 BC), known today as "the father of Western medicine", prescribed garlic for a wide range of conditions and illnesses. Hippocrates promoted the use of garlic for treating respiratory problems, parasites, poor digestion and fatigue.
Garlic is a popular ingredient in cooking and may also have some health benefits.
The original Olympic athletes in Ancient Greece were given garlic - possibly the earliest example of "performance enhancing" agents used in sports.
From Ancient Egypt garlic spread to the advanced ancient civilizations of the Indus Valley (Pakistan and western India today). From there it made its way to China.
According to experts at Kew Gardens2, England's royal botanical center of excellence, the people of ancient India valued the therapeutic properties of garlic and also thought it to be an aphrodisiac. The upper classes avoided garlic because they despised its strong odor, while monks, "...widows, adolescents and those who had taken up a vow or were fasting could not eat garlic because of its stimulant quality".
Throughout history in the Middle East, East Asia and Nepal, garlic has been used to treat bronchitis, hypertension (high blood pressure), TB (tuberculosis), liver disorders, dysentery, flatulence, colic, intestinal worms, rheumatism, diabetes, and fevers.
The French, Spanish and Portuguese introduced garlic to the New World.
Rivlin found it interesting that several cultures in history that were never in contact with one another had similar conclusions regarding the therapeutic benefits of garlic.
Garlic is used widely today for its therapeutic properties
According to the National Library of Medicine3, part of the NIH (National Institutes of Health), USA, garlic is widely used for several conditions linked to the blood system and heart, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high cholesterol, heart attack, coronary heart disease and hypertension.
The NIH adds "Some of these uses are supported by science."
A study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology4 warned that short-term heating reduces the anti-inflammatory effects of fresh raw garlic extracts. This may be a problem for some people who do not like or cannot tolerate the taste and/or odor of fresh garlic. Ask your pharmacist for garlic supplements or oil which have not been exposed to too much heat.
On the next page we look at health and therapeutic benefits of garlic in detail, discussing scientific and anecdotal evidence.