Garlic benefits the cardiovascular, glandular, and digestive/detoxification immune centers.
According to folklore, when Satan left the Garden of Eden, garlic sprang up from his left footprint and onion from his right. From Satan’s foot to our kitchen counters, garlic is full-body medicine. What it doesn’t do for your arthritis, it does for your artheriosclerosis. If you don’t have either, chances that you will dwindle with every spoonful of garlic soup and garlicky tomato sauce. Called the stinking rose, garlic is a member of the lily family, along with onions, chives, leeks, and shallots.
Garlic was invoked as a deity by the ancients and enjoyed by the Romans but often reviled as a vulgar and even poisonous food in earlier Greco-Roman times. Born in Siberia, garlic traveled to Europe and became a staple in countries bordering the Mediterranean. Today it is grown and eaten for a variety of reasons (including improved immunity) worldwide.
Garlic contains the plant fiber inulin, an insoluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol and blood glucose. Also found in chicory, onions, and leeks, inulin boosts good bacteria in the gut and improves absorption of both iron and calcium, according to plant physiologists at the USDA. Garlic also contains beta-carotene, zinc, selenium, and folate along with allicin, a chemical compound responsible for garlic’s smell and bite, which is released only when garlic is crushed or cut.
There are some places garlic shouldn’t go: it’s contraindicated if you’re on blood-thinning medication, for example. But for the rest of us fighting colds, heart disease, and worse, few foods are as immune-enhancing as Allium sativum. Garlic inhibits seventy-two distinct infectious agents, bacteria, fungi, and viruses, including those that cause the common cold, as well as candida and parasites. Garlic can protect you from the ulcer bacteria, H. pylori, and help detoxify heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and mercury. There are ongoing studies on garlic’s effect in reducing cancers of the stomach and the colon. A meta-analysis of studies at the University of North Carolina showed that eating ten cloves of garlic weekly reduced the risk of colon cancer by 30 percent and stomach cancer by 50 percent. Studies at New York University Medical Center in the 1980s showed that garlic oil could slow development of skin cancer.
Buying, Storing, and Preparing
- Garlic can thin the blood much like aspirin. Use conservatively if you are on a blood thinner, and check with your physician.
- The inulins in garlic can cause flatulence, especially if your diet is low in inulin-bearing foods. Start small and work your way up to larger amounts of garlic (and onion).
- Elephant garlic is actually not garlic but a wild leek used like garlic.
- Get your daily dose of allinase without an aftertaste. Cut one or two cloves into small slices, chew, and wash down with a glass of orange juice (for up to 30 percent more vitamin C, make it organic). This lets the garlic get immediately into your bloodstream, faster than with marinara sauce.
- Prepare it properly. Always crush the garlic and let it sit for a few minutes to allow the release of healing enzymes, per advice from scientists at the USDA. Never microwave garlic; this neutralizes its anticlotting effect. If using in cooking, add garlic near the end of the process.
- For the best flavor, look for hardneck garlic (as opposed to soft-neck), which has a strong inner stem.
- Choose bulbs that show no sprouting or loose skins.
- Store at room temperature to prevent sprouting, or buy in braided plaits and hang them in your kitchen.