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Garlic's History of Healing

October 18, 2011

Credit: Margaret Boyles
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I grow lots of garlic and look forward to my mid-October garlic-planting ritual, when the weather is usually still warm enough to work without hat and gloves, the biting insects have disappeared, and there’s not much other outside work to do.

I save the best bulbs from the season’s garlic crop (harvested in July), separate them into cloves, plant each clove two inches down and four or five inches apart, then cover with a few inches of hay, straw or leaf mulch.

That’s it! The sprightly garlic shoots emerge as the first early-spring greenery.

Garlic’s long history of help and healing

Historical records from India and Egypt referring to garlic date back 5000 years, ranking garlic as one of the world’s oldest horticultural crops. It’s easy to grow and harvest, and many varieties will store well for long periods.

A wide variety of folkloric and traditional uses for “the stinking rose” have appeared throughout history: The ancients variously recommended garlic as an aphrodisiac and male potency enhancer, as a charm to ward off devils, werewolves and vampires, as an adhesive for mending glass and porcelain, as a mordant for gilding, as a food for slaves and laborers to promote strength and physical endurance and to promote battlefield courage among soldiers, as an insect, squirrel and mole deterrent.

But across many centuries and cultures, people have valued garlic for its health-promoting properties, as a preventative or cure for conditions as varied as arthritis, asthma, diabetes, athlete's foot, colds, influenza, intestinal worms, ulcers, bronchitis, many forms of cancer, dandruff, arteriosclerosis, skin infections, cholera, constipation, epilepsy, gangrene, ear infections, high blood pressure, laryngitis, heavy-metal poisoning, leprosy, malaria, measles, meningitis, hemorrhoids, ringworm, scurvy, food poisoning, smallpox, snakebite, tuberculosis, and typhoid.

Contemporary research has validated some of these claims and questioned others,  though many scientists around the world continue to study garlic’s healing potential. And why not? It’s inexpensive, safe, and readily available, with thousands of years of cross-cultural use as a primary natural healing agent, and grows just about everywhere.

Just eat it!

With so many delicious ways to use garlic in your daily diet, don’t wait for science to confirm its usefulness in treating this or that disease. Serve it often because you love the taste. Mince it into salad dressings, add it to casseroles, soups and stews, give your pizzas a garlic topping. 

If you can’t tolerate the flavor of raw or lightly cooked garlic, try roasted garlic for an ambrosial treat. The sharp flavor mellows, and the flesh becomes soft and easy to spread or blend into dips, soups, casseroles, sandwich fillings.

Caution:  To prevent the growth of deadly botulinum bacteria, don’t infuse raw garlic in olive oil or any other salad or cooking oil​, unless you plan to use it right away. You can safely infuse raw garlic in vinegar, because the acid in the vinegar prevents the botulinum bacteria from growing.

Note: Many web articles tout the use of garlic-containing products as insecticides, insect repellents, and mole-control agents. To date, studies have shown these products aren’t really effective. However, some agricultural experts do suggest that sprinkling a mixture of granulated garlic and cayenne pepper into the planting hole will prevent squirrels from demolishing your fall-planted tulip bulbs.
 

Learn more

University of Maryland Medical Center garlic fact sheet  Be sure to note the potential for interactions with prescription drugs.

Health Effects of Garlic

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Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.

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