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Highly valued throughout the ages as one of the most effective medicinal plants

In World War I, garlic was used as an antiseptic to cleanse wounds. Garlic belongs to the onion family, as do leeks and chives. Many garlic preparations are licensed to make health claims. Aioli may be served as a dip with a wide variety of raw vegetables. Garlic used in cooking adds flavour to a variety of dishes. Garlic was prized highly by the ancient Egyptians; garlic bulbs, still perfectly preserved, where found in the tomb of Tutenkhamen.

Garlic is one of the earliest recorded plant medicines and its use can be traced back 5000 years, but it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that the search began to try to discover what makes garlic such a powerful herbal medicine.

In 1844, Professor Wertheim isolated what he believed to be the main component of garlic oil – diallyl sulphide – but he missed several other sulpur compounds, particularly diallyl trisulphide, and he was unable to isolate the cause of garlic's distinctive pungent aroma.  Similar work was also being carried out by American Scientists.  They discovered that whole, undamaged garlic tissue contain a sulphur compound which reacts, when crushed, to form a new compound which they named 'allicin'.  This is the active ingredient of garlic and, they suspected, the source of the smell.  They found it to be an unstable compound which, after a short while, changes into other basic sulphur compounds.  Thus, allicin is the source of most of garlic's healing and therapeutic powers, and even though it breaks down very quickly into other sulphur-bearing chemicals, its power is not reduced.

This was not the complete story, however, as two Swiss scientists isolated the precursor of allicin – a sulphur-rich amino acid they called 'alliin'.  They found that there was an enzyme, allinase, which changes alliin to allicin.  Crushing or cutting the garlic clove brings the amino-acid and the coenzyme together and sets up a chain reaction.

The parsian medical journals of the mid-nineteenth century contain reports of three cases of cholera that were treated effectively with garlic, and in 1918 the results of a clinical trial conducted on tuberculosis victims in America was published.  For two years, 1000 patients were given every modern drug treatment available – and garlic.  The report from the hospital concluded: 'Garlic gave us our best results'.  Similarly, in World War I, garlic was used as an antiseptic and applied to wounds to cleanse and heal.  Another doctor used it to treat cases of dysentery caused by poor sanitary conditions in the trenches.

The list of minor, and occasionally major, illnesses that had been successfully treated with garlic is long and impressive but, in the late nineteenth century new, synthetically-produced drugs started to appear which gave hope to many people suffering from diseases and herbal medicine began to decline.  Now, the pendulum is beginning to swing in the opposite direction and there is a resurgence of public interest in natural remedies.


Even though its effectiveness as a treatment for colds and flu has been recognized by herbalists through the ages, it is only lately that conventional medicine has acknowledged its value.  Recently the Department of Health and Social Security in the UK has granted full product licenses to various garlic preparations, enabling manufacturers to make certain claims concerning their products' benefits to health.

Garlic is powerful destroyer of fungi in the body.  Research carried out in Poland found that garlic juice was a more powerful killer of fungi than any synthetic medication.  It can be used to combat candida albicans (thrush) and intestinal parasites such as threadworms, and if you are travelling abroad it is worth taking garlic with you to prevent stomach upsets – an added bonus is that the midges will leave you alone.

The effect that garlic has on the blood has also attracted attention.  In 1981 the Clinical Pharmacology Research Unit at Oxford tested the blood of a group of people who had given garlic to help prevent the formation of blood clots.  Their favourable findings were published in the British medical journal, The Lancet.  This evidence was backed up by an American study which found that garlic contains several anti-coagulant agents.


Although the majority of garlic that can be bought from supermarkets and greengrocers comes from hot Mediterranean countries such as Italy and France, it can also be grown in colder climates and can easily be grown in the garden.

Garlic is easy to cultivate, but needs a long growing season, plenty of sun and a light, sandy soil that has not been freshly manured.

Select the outside cloves from the garlic bulb and plant at a depth of 2 cm (1 in), spacing the cloves 20 cm (8 in) apart and in rows 30 cm (12 in) away from each other.  Harvest the garlic in summer after the leaves have died off and turned yellow.  Dry the bulbs thoroughly in the sun and store in a dry, frost-free place until needed.

A useful tip for the keen gardener is to plant garlic among rose trees or bushes to deter greenfly.


Hair prone to dandruff will benefit from a garlic lotion.  It will also improve the hair and stimulate growth.

Crush a clove of garlic and place in a small jar with a mixture made up of equal quantities of vodka and stilled water.  Leave to infuse for three days and then strain and store in a screw-top jar.

The lotion should be used once or twice a week by moistening a cotton wool pad with the lotion and gently rubbing over the scalp.  This treatment is best carried out at night so that the hair can be washed thoroughly the next morning to remove the smell.


The word garlic is derived from two Anglo-Saxon words – 'gar' meaning a spear and describing the long, thin leaves of the plant, and 'leac' meaning pot herb.

Garlic is a hardy perennial belonging to the onion family.  Other members include leeks, chives, scallions and shallots, all distinguished by a pungent aroma and flavor.

The garlic bulb consists of eight to twenty individual cloves enclosed in a silky membrane  and grows to a height of 60 cm (24 in).  The flowerhead is a cluster of small purplish-white flowers.


Each garlic bulb contains valuable nutrients.  Various B vitamins are present in quantifiable amounts as well as vitamins A and C.  Also, 10 different sugars have been identified, together with a proportionally high level of trace minerals including zinc, calcium, manganese, copper, aluminium, selenium and germanium.  These last attention because of the effect they are thought to have on strengthening the immune system, and consequently, their possible value to AIDS sufferers.


Aioli, or garlic mayonnaise, is superb served as a dip with a selection of sliced vegetables such as carrots, celery, peppers, cauliflower and cucumbers.

Crush 16 peeled garlic cloves in a mortar until reduced to a pulp.  Add the yolks of three eggs and a pinch of salt and stir with a wooden spoon.  Drop by drop, add 300 ml (11 fl oz.) of olive oil, stirring all the time as the mixture begins to thicken.  When all the oil has been added and the aioli is very thick, add another 300 ml (11 fl oz.) of olive oil in a slow trickle.  This will further thicken the aioli.  Add a little lemon juice to taste and serve.


Throughout time, superstition has credited garlic with the ability to ward off disease and evil spirits.  The myth of the vampire, a resuscitated corpse that stalks the night for victims to feed off their blood, is perhaps the best known.  The folklore of Eastern Europe credits garlic with the ability to ward off the vampire; the plant's pungent flowers are believed to provide protection if worn around the neck or placed at the window to keep the vampire from entering the room.


Garlic is very versatile and can be used in a wide range of dishes to enhance the flavour.  Cooking makes the taste of garlic less fierce, and adding it to soups and stews is an excellent way of increasing the amount in the diet.

The easiest way to increase garlic consumption is to take either garlic tablets (usually mixed with parsley which helps remove the smell from the breath) or in capsule form (perles) which contain essential oil of garlic.  This method of encapsulating garlic oil was discovered some 50 years ago by a Dr. Johann Hofel, an ardent food reformer.  Provided these are swallowed with a cold drink, they will leave no taint of the smell on the breath.

To derive the best benefits from garlic it should be eaten raw – not a pleasant method as the taste can make the mouth sore by creating a burning sensation.

Garlic was used by the ancient Chinese, Greeks, Egyptians, Babylonians, and Indians.  To these ancient people it was a plant sacred to gods, and legends of its origins were mingled with stories about their deities.

However, it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that anyone could speculate, with a degree of authority, about the origins of garlic.  A theory was put forward, based on the findings of Russian scientists, that the most likely place was Central Asia.  The evidence for this was found amongst the hundreds of botanical specimens sent back from this region to Russia for identification.  One plant was named Allium Longicuspis because of its similarity to the garlic plant we know today.  To date, no one has challenged this theory and, because Central Asia was, even in ancient times, a key point for traders travelling to the East and West, it is easy to see how the plant could be found as far apart as China and Egypt.

The Egyptian pharaohs prized garlic very highly.  Slaves building the pyramids were given a daily ration of garlic to keep them fit and strong for the back-breaking work of hauling the huge slabs of stone into position.

According to one source, the amount of garlic they ate, as well as onions and radishes (all important strength-giving foods, according to the Egyptians), is recorded around the base of the Great Pyramid.  The slaves must have appreciated their diet for the first-ever industrial strike occurred when their garlic rations were withdrawn.

When Tutankhamen's tomb was opened they found six garlic bulbs still perfectly preserved, put there, presumably, to give the boy king strength for his journey into the afterworld.  Even before this, another Egyptian tomb dating back to 3750BC was found to contain clay models of garlic bulbs.

The Romans, too, had great faith in the strength-giving properties of garlic and give it to their troops.

But not all ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians were enamoured of garlic, for much the same reasons as we have ambivalent feelings about it today – the smell.  It was considered a sign of vulgarity and scorned by the upper class.


Garlic is used by herbalists to protect against the common cold, amoebic dysentery, typhoid and other infectious diseases.  As an ointment it is helpful for rheumatism and swollen, painful joints.  Smoothing oil of garlic on the chest and back helps relieve hoarseness, catarrh and coughs but, as well as making you smell unpleasantly, it can also have a reaction on sensitive skin – so use with caution.

If you are receiving conventional treatment from your doctor it is unwise to use herbal medications without first taking professional advice.


Garlic was used by the ancient Chinese, Greeks, Egyptians, Babylonians and Indians.  To these ancient people it was a plant sacred to the gods, and legends of its origins were mingled with stories about their deities.

However, it wasn't until the late nineteenth century that anyone could speculate, with a degree of authority, about the origins of garlic.  A theory was put forward, based on the findings of Russian scientists, that the most likely place was Central Asia.  The evidence for this was found amongst the hundreds of botanical specimens sent back from this region to Russia for identification.  One plant was named


In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when plagues regularly swept across Europe, garlic was believed to give protection against them, a claim that appears to have some substance if the records of the College of Physicians for the Great Plague of 1665 are to be believed.

A tidy profit was to be had by some keen entrepreneurs who sold garlic at a guinea an ounce to people desperate to ward off the horrendous effects of the plague.