Historically known as ‘a cure-all’, garlic, or Allium sativum to give it its real name, has been used for its culinary and medicinal properties for over 7000 years. Hippocrates is said to have recommended it for poor digestion, parasites and respiratory problems, Cherokee Indians used it for coughs, while the Egyptians prized it so much it was used during oath taking ceremonies where it was called upon as a deity.
Garlic was also used more closely to home as an antiseptic to help prevent gangrene in wounds during the First and Second World Wars, so what can we learn from our predecessors about this humble bulb with big flavour, and is there anything else that garlic might be useful for?
It seems that the father of western medicine, Hippocrates, was indeed right – garlic has been shown to be helpful for the common human parasite Giardia lamblia, shortening the duration of symptoms. As well as anti-parasitic effects, evidence from population studies from various parts of the world suggest that increased dietary garlic consumption is associated with a decreased risk for developing colorectal and stomach cancer.
Research into the effects of taking a garlic supplement during the winter months indicates that it not only helps to prevent attack by the common cold virus but it also helps speed up the recovery of those infected.
Population studies show that men in China who consume around a clove of garlic a day have a 50% lower risk of developing prostate cancer. Early research suggests that taking a garlic supplement might also confer similar benefits. Improvements in urinary flow and a decrease in urinary frequency have also been demonstrated in patients with both enlarged prostate and prostate cancer.
People have long associated garlic with a health heart and the science so far also bears this out. Taking garlic orally seems to reduce blood pressure, as well as helping to keep the main arteries more flexible. Long-term use of higher dose supplementation has also been shown to slow the development of atherosclerosis or thickening of the arteries. As to positive effects on cholesterol levels, some studies suggest garlic supplementation modestly reduces both total and LDL cholesterol.
So, be liberal with your use of garlic – a clove a day may well help keep the doctor away!