The humble garlic bulb, much maligned for its powerful and lingering odour, is truly a wonderful medicine. It is perfect for the help we need now to protect our immune systems, just as it has been valued as such for thousands of years, and probably by more cultures than any other plant. It originated in central Asia, but it is now found growing in Europe, North Africa, Asia and North America. The ancient Egyptians around 1500 BC used it for its energy-giving properties and the Greeks and Romans considered it a panacea and elixir of youth. Ayurvedic doctors in the 1st century AD in India prescribed garlic for heart disease, while for centuries it has been used not only for warding off a whole host of infections but other evils such as vampires, witches, demons and the evil eye.
Garlic was first cultivated in English gardens about 1540 and apparently takes its name from gara meaning spear and leaca meaning plant, either because it has sharp tapering leaves or perhaps it was known as the war plant. This could relate to the fact that its nutritive and stimulating qualities were recommended for those going into battle.
Traditionally garlic has been used as a remedy for to combat infections and to treat bronchitis, pneumonia, digestive problems, intestinal infections, tuberculosis, dysentery, earaches and infections, abnormal growths and circulatory problems. There is an old story about four thieves during the plague in Marseilles who confessed that whilst protected by the liberal use of a vinegar containing garlic and other aromatic antimicrobial herbs during the plague, they plundered the dead bodies of its victims with complete security. The Four Thieves Vinegar was made with garlic as well as rue, sage, mint, rosemary, wormwood and lavender macerated for a few weeks in vinegar. Greek midwives used to hang garlic cloves around birthing rooms to safeguard the new born child from disease and witchcraft. Garlic braids have been hung in doorways of houses and kitchens all over Europe for centuries to keep away the evil spirits including vampires that were considered to bring disease. Its antibiotic activity was noted by Louis Pasteur in 1858 and garlic was employed by Albert Schweitzer in Africa for the treatment of amoebic dysentery.
Garlic is truly an excellent remedy for enhancing immunity and combating infections. Numerous studies has shown it to significantly enhance various aspects of the immune system and to have antimicrobial activity against many types of bacteria, virus, worms and fungi. It is especially active against Candida albicans. In an age of increasing drug-resistance in bacteria, garlic may be of great value, for example in the treatment of MRSA. It may be useful for parasites embedded in the skin and muscular tissue such as the ticks that cause Lyme’s disease. Garlic exerts its antimicrobial effects throughout the body. When absorbed from the digestive tract, it circulates in the blood stream and is excreted via the lungs, bowels, skin and urinary system, all of which are disinfected in the process. Recent research indicates that one of the active ingredients of garlic, allicin, is permeable through phospholipid membranes, which may account for its wide-ranging antimicrobial activity. Several garlic components have displayed anticancer effects and studies have demonstrated an inverse relationship between cancer rates and garlic consumption.
With its antimicrobial properties, garlic can be put to good use in the treatment of sore throats, colds, flu and bronchial infections. Like other pungent remedies, garlic acts as a decongestant, helping to clear catarrh, and augmenting its antiseptic action in the respiratory tract. Its expectorant properties are helpful in coughs and may help to ease bronchial asthma, sinusitis, chronic catarrh, hay fever and rhinitis. Several studies demonstrate garlic’s activity against a range of viruses, including Influenza B and Herpes simplex type 1, that garlic acts as a powerful antioxidant and can protect the body against the effects of pollution and nicotine.
Garlic is a wonderful medicine for the heart and circulation. In confirmation of the ancients’ use of garlic for heart disease and high blood pressure, extensive research has indicated that garlic can provide cardiovascular support by significantly lowering homocysteine, cholesterol, triglycerides and low density lipoproteins in the blood, thereby helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes. The German commission E has approved garlic for the treatment of high cholesterol in conjunction with other dietary measures and to prevent age-related atherosclerosis (build up of plaque in the arteries).
It appears that garlic may interfere with cholesterol biosynthesis in the liver through a variety of mechanisms. The anti-thrombotic (inhibiting blood clotting) effects of garlic have also been extensively studied as have its ability to bring down high blood pressure. Garlic has a vasodilatory action, dilating the arteries and increasing the flow of blood to the tissues and to the periphery of the body. This not only reduces blood pressure, but also increases the circulation, relieving cramps and circulatory disorders, such as Raynaud’s disease.
Its antioxidant properties make garlic a great remedy for supporting the circulatory system. They also give it neuroprotective (protecting the nervous system) and hepatoprotective (protecting the liver) actions and help the body withstand the damaging effects of free radicals and the ageing process. It acts as an invigorating tonic, a veritable ‘elixir of life,’ and makes an excellent remedy to counter stress and fatigue.
Garlic has a beneficial effect on the digestion, stimulating the secretion of digestive enzymes and bile, enhancing the movement of food through the gut and promoting absorption and assimilation of food. With its antimicrobial action, it combats infection and aids the elimination of toxins and pathogenic bacteria in the digestive tract, helping to restore the normal bacterial population of the gut after infection or orthodox antibiotics via the probiotic effects of the fructo-oligosaccharides. It inhibits H. pylori and so is helpful in the treatment of stomach ulcers. Garlic may also be of benefit in type 2 diabetes. It is an effective remedy for worms when taken on an empty stomach.
Garlic can be crushed and macerated in oil or made into an ointment to treat cuts and wounds, inflamed joints, gout and arthritis, sprains, unbroken chilblains, skin problems (athlete’s foot, ringworm, warts, impetigo, stings, bites and warts) and head lice. The effectiveness of garlic against the major pathogens involved in ear infection (otitis media) suggests it may be a useful in management of this disorder. An oil infusion can be used as ear drops to relieve ear infections and earache, and rubbed into the chest for chest infections, including whooping cough and coughs. Garlic vinegar can be used for disinfecting and dressing ulcers and septic wounds. Garlic can also be used for oral and vaginal thrush when used locally. Trials have indicated success using allicin in treating thrush in new born infants.
Cautions and Contra-Indications: Inflammatory skin problems, hyperacidity, peptic ulcers, bleeding. Avoid large doses in pregnancy. Large doses of raw garlic (possibly in excess of 4 cloves a day) may cause allergic reactions, heartburn, flatulence, and gastro- intestinal upset. Raw garlic applied to the skin can cause contact dermatitis. Due to its reduction of platelet aggravation it may cause post-operative bleeding. Except for small doses of cooked garlic, therapeutic doses of garlic should be discontinued 7-10 days before surgery due to anti-platelet activity. Gastrointestinal upset can occur in sensitive individuals.
Herb/Drug Interactions: Care should be taken with patients on anticoagulant/antiplatelet drugs, including Warfarin, Coumadin, Statins, Ticlopine who consume generous amounts of garlic. Avoid with antihypertensive medications. Garlic has been found to interfere with the effectiveness of saquinavir, a drug used to treat HIV infection. Diabetics should monitor blood glucose.
The best and of course most economical way to take garlic is to eat it regularly. It is best raw as cooking destroys a large percentage of its medicinal properties. Here is a delicious recipe for a Greek dip known as Skordalia which may make it easier:
2 medium potatoes, peeled
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
Juice of one lemon
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup olive oil
6 black peppercorns
salt to taste
Cook the potatoes in water until soft. Drain. Blend all the ingredients together, adding a little of the potato water if necessary to bring the dip to the consistency of humous or guacamole. This is a tasty dip to eat with crackers or raw vegetables or to stir into soups and casseroles that you would hardly know it was a powerful medicine, but that it is and along with the other amazing immune enhancing herbs and spices, it will hopefully see you into spring without too many annoying winter ills.
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Honey to cover
Cover the sliced garlic with runny honey and leave for 2 to 3 hours. Crush to extract all the juice. Take a teaspoonful of the syrup up to 4 times per day during an acute infection. Garlic syrup is a pleasant-tasting way to take garlic and benefit from its anti-microbial and immune-stimulating properties. The honey also has anti-microbial properties and acts as an expectorant and draws out the properties of the garlic.
1 large garlic clove
2 dessertspoons of fresh dill leaves
A handful of marigold petals
30 mls Aloe vera juice
2 tsp fresh oregano
3 tsp fresh basil
1 carton of live yoghurt
Add the fresh herbs to live yoghurt daily for breakfast or 30 mls aloe vera juice with a little water or ginger tea twice daily