Love it or hate it there’s no doubting that garlic is a mainstay in many a garden and kitchen. With a history going back thousands of years, its health and healing properties have passed in to legend and folklore. From warding of vampires to being a cure all for minor ailments and used as an antiseptic, there is seemingly nothing that garlic cannot do. Prized by the Romans and Greeks and used by the Ancient Egyptians who fed garlic to the slaves that built the pyramids to promote strength and endurance, we take a look at the true health benefits of garlic.
What is garlic
Also known as Allium sativum, garlic is an easy to grow member of the allium family along with onions, leeks, shallots and chives. Grown primarily for the bulb, which are divided in individual cloves, garlic is a common ingredient in Mediterranean and Asian cooking, although it is grown and used all over the world.
Garlic contains vitamins C and B6, manganese, selenium, a host of antioxidants and the essential minerals phosphorous, calcium, potassium, iron and copper. The best way of obtaining the nutrients form garlic is in its raw form. The action of chopping, crushing or mincing garlic stimulates the production Allicin, a sulphur-containing compound. It is Allicin that gives garlic its distinctive strong taste and smell and is the source of its medicinal properties. Cooking garlic, however, inhibits the production of Allicin. If cooking it is best to leave it for 10 minutes once it has been crushed or chopped before adding it to the pan.
Health Benefits of Garlic
The Common Cold:
Whilst there has never been a miracle cure to rid us of the common cold, Garlic is thought to help. There have been studies showing that garlic can be effective in reducing the length of time that symptoms persist. By boosting the immune system, the total number of days that symptoms lasted were reduced from 5 days of those in a control group to 1.5 days of those in the garlic group.
Fighting heart disease:
Heart disease is one of the UK’s biggest killers. Research has suggested that one of the health benefits of garlic is that it can help in reducing blood pressure and slow down atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries. This is a leading cause of heart disease that can also lead to stroke. The Allicin in garlic helps nitric oxide release in the blood vessels, which helps to bring a drop in blood pressure. These findings were especially found in people that already had a high blood pressure.
Laboratory studies have shown that Allicin can balance cholesterol levels. By inhibiting the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme within the liver cells, the production of cholesterol is reduced. Although these studies have shown a drop in LDL cholesterol (the bad type), there have been other reports that have conflicting results, suggesting the drop in cholesterol level is entirely dependent on the amount of garlic consumed and may only have a temporary effect.
Antiseptic and antiviral:
From ancient civilizations through to modern day, garlic has been used to treat bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections. There are even stories of it even being used to ward off the plague. During World War I garlic was used to prevent gangrene and to treat wounds in the unsanitary conditions of the trenches to fight infection.
Garlic has also been used to clear up a number of skin conditions including acne, cold sores and warts. Simply crush a clove, rub it on the affected area and cover with a bandage or plaster. This speeds up the healing process as the antibacterial properties of garlic goes to work.
Love garlic, hate the smell?
Chewing on a fresh sprig of parsley after a garlic infused meal works surprisingly well as a breath freshener, meaning you can get closer to you loved ones without any complaints.
After handling garlic, wash your hands under cold water whilst rubbing a stainless steel object. This will help to remove the smell from your skin.
If you’re still not a fan of garlic then don’t despair, there is still room for it in your garden. Crush a couple of cloves into spray bottle, fill with water and use to mist your plants. This will help to prevent and protect your plants from aphids and other pests.