Garlic, also known as “the stinking rose,” has been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptian slaves were fed garlic to rejuvenate their bodies and increase stamina (after all, construction of the pyramids was hard work).
Soldiers in the Greek and Roman armies ingested garlic both before and during battle. Europeans regularly included it in their diets during the plague years, and soldiers used it as an antibiotic. The herb’s antiseptic properties were later confirmed by chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur.
It obviously did not take a scientist to realize the benefits provided, but Pasteur’s observations and reports led to its use as a gangrene preventative during the World Wars, and also emboldened Albert Schweitzer to test it as a preventative for dysentery in Africa.
As a bulbous vegetable, it can be grown most anywhere, although colder winter weather is said to produce heartier, more flavorful bulbs.
Planting your cloves during the fall allows for maximum root growth before heavy frost sets in, whereas the winter months that follow provide the perfect environment for bulbs to form.
Plant cloves with the pointed end facing upward, at least two inches below the surface of the soil and six inches apart. Note: the larger the clove, the larger the bulb it will yield.
Summer stalk shoots can be removed and consumed (perfect for soups), or they can be left on the plant until the bulbs are ready for harvest – your choice.
Known to be relatively consistently disease- and pest-free, the herb does have one huge predatory fan in the animal world – and that would be the gopher. I don’t see many of those around my house.
Nonetheless, gardening requires attention, and garlic plants require adequate amounts of water, fertilizer, and weeding.
It is recommended that cloves planted in the fall be harvested early in the summer. Spring plantings will be ready for harvest in mid- to late summer.
Once harvested, tie your bulbs, creating a bouquet. Hang it to dry in a cool, airy, shady area. Garlic can be stored for up to four months in an appropriate container (breathable and cool).
As already mentioned, garlic has historically been valued medicinally for a variety of illnesses and complaints. Today, garlic consumption is highly regarded as a preventative against heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke, and is considered an important ingredient in many popular diets plans.
Garlic is attributed with lowering “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and raising the “good” (HDL).
This helps to prevent plaque buildup in our arteries, as well as the formation of blood clots, which are leading causes of heart attacks and strokes.
Freshly cut or pressed garlic emits hydrogen sulfide, a disinfectant that helps to kill germs in the body. Once garlic is consumed, our body absorbs it into the bloodstream, which then carries it throughout the various organs, and thus, avails our skin, intestines, urinary, and respiratory systems with its healing properties.
Eating garlic throughout the day is said to relieve ulcers. A delicious piece of freshly baked bread topped off with a savory garlic spread, or some garlicky Italian-style chicken wings are great ways to take advantage of garlic’s antibiotic qualities, though eating it raw is even better. Follow the instructions below to make your own delicious spread.
Note that some experts suggest women who are pregnant or nursing should not consume large quantities of garlic.
Rich in essential oils, the compound allicin is garlic’s active agent. Allicin is responsible for the bulb’s odiferous scent, and a number of its healing properties.
Garlic is also a great source of selenium (beneficial to the reproductive system and thyroid), B vitamins, manganese (for bone health, collagen production, and blood sugar control), and calcium.
The essential oils in garlic are reputed to include strong antiviral, antifungal, and antiseptic properties, and are widely used for the treatment of colds and bronchitis.
Homemade honey-garlic infusions consisting of one scant drop of essential oil mixed with one cup of honey can help to alleviate the symptoms of colds, sore throats, and laryngitis.
Pregnant women and nursing mothers should not use this infusion, and essential oils should only be used in a well-ventilated area.
And if you are following a low FODMAP diet, garlic should not be consumed, as it is a type of pungent oligosaccharide.
Garlic has a naturally pungent odor. Its essential oil is indescribable and quickly fills the room, and the scent is not a pleasant one. Use caution… and open the windows!
If you are not adventurous enough to grow your own garlic (alas, I am not), be careful to choose only solid, taut bulbs when shopping. The outer skin of the bulb should be firm, white in color (sometimes a hint of violet will be present), and unbroken.
Stay away from bulbs that are soft to the touch or that contain dark spots. You might want to think twice about buying garlic in beautifully braided strands.
They are admittedly beautiful to look at, but it is doubtful that you will get anywhere near using them all before they have spoiled. But if you are only in the market for an attractive kitchen accessory, or if you do cook with a lot of garlic (garlic soup, anyone?) feel free, as they do make an attractive presentation.
On a closing note, it is important to remember that garlic loses its antibacterial properties when it has been aged or cooked. To maximize the health benefits, chop raw garlic cloves into miniscule pieces and add to a favorite salad.
Let’s face it, garlic makes a tasty addition to everything from sauces and pasta to marinades and scrambled eggs. The trick to reaping as many benefits as possible is to toss it into the mix at the latest possible moment. Bon appetit!
So you grow your own kitchen garden? If so, you need to check our our garlic growing guide over at our sister site, Gardener’s Path. And be sure to check out Foodal’s Ultimate Guide to Herbs and Spices for more culinary ideas.
The Complete Guide to Natural Healing . Orangeville, ON: International Masters
Altshul, Sara. CNN . Cable News Network, 13 Nov. 2009. Web. 29 May 2014.
“Growing Garlic.” : Organic Garlic Seed Farm, Serving the Organic Farming Community . N.p., n.d. Web. 30 May 2014.
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
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