Garlic is popular for its pungent, aromatic flavour, but it delivers some amazing health benefits too. With a history dating back thousands of years, its healing properties have long since become the stuff of legend, including everything from curing toothache to warding off vampires!
Since Ancient Egyptian times when slaves working on the pyramids ate garlic for endurance, the health benefits of this flavoursome little bulb have been widely celebrated. Here’s why you should eat 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 can be divided into individual cloves, garlic is a common ingredient in Mediterranean and Asian cooking, although it is grown and used all over the world.
What are the nutritional values of garlic?
Garlic contains vitamins C and B6, manganese, selenium and a host of antioxidants. It also provides essential minerals including phosphorus, calcium, potassium, iron and copper. The best way to absorb these nutrients is by eating your garlic raw.
Chopping, crushing or mincing garlic cloves stimulates the production of allicin, the sulphur-containing compound that gives garlic its distinctive smell and taste. It’s also the source of its medicinal properties. Cooking inhibits the production of allicin, but it’s thought that leaving your crushed or chopped garlic for 10 minutes before adding it to the pan could help to preserve the health benefits.
How is eating garlic good for your health?
Here are just some of the ways that eating homegrown garlic can be good for your health:
- Reducing the symptoms of the common cold. While there’s never been a miracle cure for the common cold, garlic is thought to help by boosting the immune system. One study showed that garlic reduced the risk of getting a cold by 63% and the duration of symptoms from five days to just 1.5.
- Fighting heart disease. Heart disease is one of the UK’s biggest killers. Research suggests that garlic helps to reduce blood pressure and slow down atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries which leads to heart disease and strokes. The allicin contained in garlic stimulates the release of nitric oxide in the blood vessels, resulting in a drop in blood pressure. These results were especially seen in people already suffering from high blood pressure.
- Lowering cholesterol. Laboratory studies show that allicin can balance cholesterol levels. By inhibiting the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme in the liver cells, the production of cholesterol is reduced. Although these studies showed a drop in LDL cholesterol (the bad type), other reports show 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 properties. From ancient civilisations through to modern day, garlic has been used to treat bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections. There are even stories of it being used to ward off the plague. During World War I, it was used to prevent gangrene and to treat infected wounds in the unsanitary conditions of the trenches. Garlic can be 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 get 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. And after handling garlic, washing your hands under cold water while rubbing a stainless steel object helps remove the smell from your skin.
If you’re still not a fan of garlic then don’t despair; there’s still room for it in your garden. Crush a couple of cloves into a spray bottle, fill with water and use to mist your plants. This natural pesticide helps to protect your plants from aphids and other pests.
We hope this has given you plenty of reasons to enjoy eating garlic. Want some tips on how to grow garlic in your own garden? Read our article for more information.
Lead image: Garlic ‘Solent Wight’ from Suttons