Autumn has fallen upon us once again. The garden is largely put to bed, but one of the things I’m out planting at this time of year is garlic. Garlic is, of course, a delicious food staple. In addition to being a food source for thousands of years, garlic has been used as a medicinal plant for nearly as long. It’s medicinal uses have been recorded by the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Greeks, ancient China and Japan, and in India’s two thousand year old Charaka Samhita medical text. So, if you weren’t think about garlic already, get out and plant some!
Garlic (allium sativum) is a member of the onion family which has been used for culinary purposes for millennia and in recent years has been labelled a super food.
Unsurprisingly in the four thousand year history of this little vegetable or herb, it has been found to have numerous uses for medicinal purposes.
Open Wounds and Infections
Wounds and infections can be cleansed and treated with a garlic solution. After the wound has been cleaned, grate or pound twenty or so cloves of garlic, being careful to use only clean utensils. Mix it with a little water to make a paste which can be spread over a sterile gauze dressing and applied to the wound. Keep in place with a bandage and leave for two days when the process should be carefully repeated. During World War II, when antibiotics were scarce, garlic was often used in this way to treat wounded soldiers and protect against gangrene and septic poisoning. During the first war, garlic was also widely used to treat dysentery and typhus.
Throat and Ear Infections
Because garlic kills bacteria it works both externally and internally and many people use it to treat throat infections, colds etc. More often than not nowadays, garlic is taken as a supplement in capsule form, but making your own linctus could not be easier. Simply boil a head of garlic gently in water for 2 hours to make a light tea, adding syrup or honey to sweeten if necessary. Strain this and allow it to cool slightly before sipping. Garlic is also soothing and beneficial in ear infections if garlic infused oil is gently massaged around the ear area.
Oral Thrush and Digestive Tract Disorders
For a more palatable flavor, garlic can be mixed with apple cider vinegar and sweetened with honey. This can be sipped, used as a gargle or administered with a teaspoon like cough medicine. The combined properties of garlic and vinegar help to destroy harmful bacteria in the mouth and digestive tract. It can therefore be used to cure mouth ulcers and oral thrush.
Boosting the Immune System
Taken little and often, garlic can help to boost the immune system. The allicin in garlic is similar to penicillin, though not as strong. It is produced when the garlic is finely chopped or crushed, which increases its strength. For internal problems, chewing on a clove of garlic can release the antibiotic properties. However it is important to use only white cloves as the green thread which is sometimes found in the center of a clove of garlic is not only indigestible but is also what causes the notorious and lingering garlic ‘pong’ on the breath.
Athletes Foot and other Fungal Infections
For external fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot, a garlic foot bath is both refreshing and effective. You can make this by crushing 4 cloves of garlic with salt or rubbing alcohol into a foot spa or bowl large enough to hold the feet and soaking the feet in this for half an hour. After thoroughly drying the feet, you can rub the infected area with cotton wool swabs soaked in little garlic oil. A twice daily application should help to clear up the fungal infection.
Counteracting ‘Bad’ Cholesterol
The other ingredient of garlic is diallyl sulphide. This is widely believed to be beneficial in combating LDL (low density lipoprotein) or ‘bad cholesterol’ – that scourge of modern society. The phytochemicals in garlic appear to work in the same way as statin drugs which are often prescribed to lower cholesterol. The benefit of using garlic is that, being completely natural, it has no side effects. Studies have shown that garlic can be as beneficial as a low fat diet in reducing cholesterol and by combining both, levels can be reduced by 20%. 800 mgs of dried garlic or 5-10 cloves of fresh garlic should be consumed daily for best results.
High Blood Pressure
There has also been a lot of scientific interest recently in using garlic to lower high blood pressure. Whilst studies are inconclusive, early signs seem to suggest that garlic can help to bring down blood pressure levels. Garlic can be taken as a supplement along with your normal anti-hypertensive medications or as an extract or distilled garlic oil; 600-900 mg daily is the normal recommended dose, which may sound high, but is relatively small in terms of raw garlic. Fortunately, unlike allicin, the health benefits of the diallyl sulphides are not destroyed by cooking, so including garlic in recipes is the easiest way to help lower your cholesterol and your blood pressure
Another worrying lifestyle disease these days, which is often linked to cholesterol and blood pressure, is stroke and once again garlic has been found to be beneficial. This is because garlic is rich in anti-coagulant or blood thinning properties, similar to aspirin. Studies have shown that garlic reduces platelet stickiness which is responsible for hindering the circulation of blood around the body. Increasing your dietary garlic intake or taking garlic supplements (500 mg three times a day) can thin the blood and help prevent the onset of stroke.
Why Garlic Benefits Sufferers of Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis, or the build up of plaque in the walls of the arteries, is known to be alleviated by garlic. It works directly by reducing the lipid content in cells of the arteries and thus preventing their dangerous accumulation. Recent studies show that women may benefit more than men by increasing their intake of garlic to prevent thrombosis.
An Essential Role in Diabetes
Diabetes is a frightening disease which is growing in number in the United States. It currently affects between thirteen and fourteen million people. It is a metabolic disorder caused when the body is unable to break down foods properly, causing more sugar to enter the blood stream than the pancreas (which produces a hormone called insulin) can deal with. For diabetics, consuming garlic is invaluable as it reduces blood sugar levels, either by stimulating the pancreas to produce more insulin or by making existing insulin more available or more effective at its job.
The Kidneys and Bladder
The function of the kidneys is to filter the blood and help remove toxins from the body. When they become damaged due to diabetes, hypertension or other medical conditions, they become severely strained and serious problems can kick in. The anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of garlic promote kidney health by eliminating free radical damage and purifying the blood. Garlic is a natural diuretic which means it helps to eliminate excess salt and water through the urine. Garlic therefore is an internal cleanser, helping to flush harmful toxins out of the body.
Respiratory Problems and Lung Disease
The combination of garlic’s antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant properties, not to mention is high concentration of sulphur makes it extremely effective in combating all manner of respiratory ailments, from bronchitis to pneumonia. Because it acts as an expectorant and a decongestant to clear the lungs, sufferers of chronic bronchitis can benefit considerably from adding garlic to their daily diet.
Anti-Cancer Effects of Garlic
It has been observed for decades that in countries where garlic and onions form a regular part of the diet, the incidence of cancer is much lower, causing scientists to study the link between cancer and nutrition. The ability of garlic to stimulate the gastric juices and restore the intestinal flora is what accounts for its success as a detoxifier and cancer-preventing agent. In the most extreme cases, the best results seen from using garlic to prevent or treat cancer have been from drinking garlic juice or chewing fresh garlic cloves. Stomach cancers have responded particularly well to garlic medications but occasional successes with other forms of cancer, even in the advanced stages, have been claimed.
Intestinal parasites are relatively common but extremely distressing and potentially dangerous if left untreated in toddlers and children. Parasites like tapeworms, hookworms, roundworms and pinworms are tiny creatures that find their way into the gastrointestinal tract and sometimes burrow into the muscles. They can cause a whole host of distressing symptoms of varying severity and need to be eliminated. The natural sulphur in garlic helps to expel and eradicate them.