Staple Herb And Medicinal Aid
An essential ingredient in Italian food, Chinese cuisine, and a staple in dishes like chicken marsala, garlic has been used to flavor food for centuries. However, garlic is much more than a simple seasoning — it offers potential benefits for your health and can be taken as a supplement to support cardiovascular health, to promote healthy blood pressure levels already in the normal range, and more. Read on to learn more about the history of this distinctively flavored herb and how it could make a difference for your health.
What Is Garlic?
Garlic, whose Latin name is Allium sativum is an edible bulb that comes from a plant in the lily family. Its relatives include the shallot, leek, chive, and Chinese onion. Although it is consumed around the world, garlic is native to Central Asia and Iran. While the kind of garlic we typically eat is grown commercially, varieties of garlic are found in the wild. These include wild garlic, crow garlic, field garlic, meadow garlic, and pearl garlic (which is a single clove garlic). Many of these varieties are found in North America, Britain, and the Yunnan province of China.
Garlic flourishes in sandy loam or clay, and prefers direct sun. When planted in February or early March, it may be harvested in August, unless the summer is wet or cold, in which case it is harvested in mid September.
Garlic plants grow between twoto four feet. Ithas long, narrow leaves that are flat and resemble grass. The leaves are thick and smooth, similar to the leaves of an onion. Garlic produces small, star-shaped white flowers that are grouped together in a globular head, called an umbrel. The bulb of the garlic (which is the part eaten) is compound and consists of many bulblets, which are called cloves. The cloves are grouped together within flaky whitish skin. To most people, the most distinctive feature of garlic is its strong odor and taste, which is caused by the presence of a volatile essential oil. (1)
History Of Garlic
The history of garlic stretches back hundreds of years Garlic became particularly popular for health support in the Middle Ages, although it was used by Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and the Chinese.
It is thought that that first users of garlic were the Ancient Egyptians. According to records found in ancient tombs, garlic was part of the Egyptian daily diet, particularly for the working class as it was thought to maintain strength. However, garlic was also used medicinally. According to the Codex Ebers, garlic was used for abnormal growths, and the historian Pliny wrote that garlic was used as invocations of deities when taking oaths. Garlic cloves were also found in King Tutankhamen's tomb, although it is unclear to historians whether the cloves had some sort of religious significanceor whether they were left accidentally.
In Ancient Greece and Rome, garlic was both consumed as a food source and used to support health, although the Roman poet Horace once wrote that the smell was “more poisonous than hemlock,” and referenced how eating garlic made him ill. As in Egypt, garlic was used to support strength, and it was believed to be associated with greater work capacity. In fact, some of the earliest Olympian athletes ate garlic before competition.
At the time, garlic was associated with vulgarity, so those who had consumed it were not able to enter certain temples. This may have been because garlic was mainly consumed by the lower classes. However, the Greek physician Galen referred to it as the common man’s cure-all, or “theriac” (a word later used by Chaucer), and Hippocrates suggested using garlic for pulmonary support. Dioscorides, a Greek who served as a physician to Nero’s army recommended garlic to support arterial health (since at the time it was believed that the arteries transported air throughout the body). Garlic was also used to support respirator, digestive, and joint health. There is also evidence to suggest that garlic was used to treat animal bites.
In China, garlic was used as a preservative and was also thought to support digestive and respiratory health. It was also consumed as a part of a daily diet as early as 2000 B.C., often along with raw meat. Traditional Chinese Medicine also used garlic as a part of herbal formulas to support a healthy mood, and to support men’s health and a healthy libido. Garlic was also used in the Tibbi, Unani, and Ayurvedic systems in India to support cardiovascular health. The Charaka-Samhita, an ancient medicinal text, recommends garlic for heart disease and arthritis. Later texts suggested using garlic for fatigue, infections, worms, and as a diuretic.
After the Romans moved north, the use of garlic spread throughout Europe. It was grown in monasteries, and its use is recorded in texts like the Hortulus manuscript, which was published around 800 A.D. and features descriptions of various herbs. Garlic was thought to support cardiovascular health and offer support for constipation. It was also recommended to outdoor laborers for preventing heatstroke. At the time, raw garlic was thought to be more potent than cooked garlic, and it was recommended that garlic be taken for respiratory issues. During the Renaissance, garlic was used to support digestive system health, and it is thought that King Henry IV was baptized in water containing garlic to protect him from evil spirits. (2)
In North America, wild garlic was an important part of cuisine and health support. Native Americans used wild garlic in their tea, and it was also used medicinally. The Shaker group also used garlic as a stimulant. Today, garlic is present not only in cuisines, but garlic supplements are also used to support health. In fact, there are several potential benefits of garlic, and it continues to be studied for its effects on the human body.
Active Compounds In Garlic
The main active compound in garlic is a sulfur compound called allicin. Allicin is an alkaloid, and it is responsible for giving garlic its strong odor and flavor. It is produced by the garlic enzyme alliinase and was first discovered in 1944. However, garlic’s complex structure means that allicin isn’t found in fresh garlic, but it can be extracted using , delicate extraction methods, and is present when garlic is chopped or crushed. It is thought that allicin is responsible for most of garlic’s potential health benefits. (3) It should be noted that because garlic’s structure is so complex, garlic extracts and supplements can vary wildly from brand to brand, depending on the methods of extraction.
Other compounds in allicin include other sulfur compounds like diallyl disulphide and S-allylcysteine and organosulfides like ajoene. Garlic is also a source of antioxidants like selenium, which are compounds that work to protect cells from free radical damage. (4)
Potential Health Benefits of Garlic
Garlic and garlic supplements have been studied for a number of potential health benefits, and a number of studies suggest that garlic’s natural properties support a healthy internal response, cardiovascular health, healthy blood pressure levels already in the normal range, and more.
Garlic’s Potential Health Benefits
- Supports a healthy internal response
- May offer protection from parasites and fungal issues
- Supports cardiovascular health
- May support healthy blood pressure levels already in the normal range
- Supports arterial health
- May support immune system health
- Promotes healthy cholesterol levels already in the normal range
- Offers antioxidant support
- And more…
Garlic And Antioxidants
One of the reasons garlic is thought to have so many potential health benefits is because of the presence of antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that work in the body to protect cells from oxidation and from scavenging free radicals that could harm healthy cells. Oxidation can cause a number of health issues. According to one study “Oxidative damage by free radicals has been implicated in the pathogenesis of vascular disease in hypertension.” Authors continued by stating that “the total antioxidant status can be significantly improved by treatment with garlic.” The antioxidant qualities in garlic may also offer support for a number of other health issues. (5)
Garlic May Support A Healthy Internal Response
One of garlic’s potential benefits includes support for a healthy internal response. According to a recent study, “It has been shown that the aqueous extract of garlic can be used alongside conventional antibiotics to fight agents of nosocomial infections that are so prevalent in hospitals...allicin in its pure form was found to exhibit antibacterial activity against multidrug-resistant enterotoxicogenic strains of E. coli,” indicating that garlic may have positive benefits for internal health, as well as potential antibacterial and antiviral properties. (6) Studies into this subject are ongoing.
Garlic For Cardiovascular Health
Garlic may also offer potential health benefits for cardiovascular health. In a 2014 study, researchers examined the effect of garlic therapy on coronary artery calcification. They discovered “garlic may increase glutathione levels and protecti endothelial cells by reducing oxidant stress, especially LDL [low density lipoprotein] oxidation, a recognized risk factor in cardiovascular disease.” As a result, they concluded that adding garlic to a regimen that includes statin drugs may have a potential benefits for overall cardiovascular health. (7) Further, a review of recent studies pertaining to the connection between garlic and cardiovascular health concluded that “evidence from clinical trials points toward garlic having a role to play in either preventing or delaying cardiovascular disease.” Although research is ongoing, the scientific community indicates that garlic may indeed have potential benefits for cardiovascular and arterial health. (8)
Garlic May Support Healthy Blood Pressure Levels Already In The Normal Range
Somewhat related to cardiovascular health, having healthy blood pressure is essential to overall health. In a recent randomized and placebo-controlled study, a group of researchers looked at garlic’s effect on hypertension, which is also known as high blood pressure.Some participants received a garlic supplement while others receiving the placebo. Compared with the placebo, garlic had a “significant lowering effect” on both systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure. Researchers concluded “that garlic is an effective and safe approach for hypertension.” However, they note that further research may be required. (9)
Garlic And Cancer Research
Recent studies also suggest that garlic contains bioactive compounds like allyl sulfide derivatives that are considered to have anticancer properties. As early as 1990, garlic was identified by the U.S. National Cancer Institute as “the most potent food having cancer preventive properties.” According to a number of studies, garlic “has a variety of anti-tumor effects, including tumor cell growth inhibition and chemopreventive effects.” This important function continues to be studied, although initial results appear promising. (10)
Other Potential Health Benefits Of Garlic
In addition to the studies above, garlic may also offer support for a healthy immune system, and one study concludes that “an allicin-containing supplement can prevent attack by the common cold virus.” (11) While garlic’s potential benefits are still being uncovered, it seems likely that research will reveal even more uses for this amazing herb.
Should You Try A Garlic Supplement?
Many people are hesitant to dive into the world of garlic supplements, particularly because of garlic’s strong taste. Luckily, a typical garlic supplement will be odorless, thanks to modern extraction processes. For most garlic used in supplements, this means that they are cold pressed, and the oil is used to make supplements. The garlic used is typically aged, since aged garlic has more bioactive compounds and is thought to have a higher allicin content. However, this process is difficult, as many of the compounds in garlic change quickly when isolated.
When looking for a garlic supplement, pay attention to the allicin or alliin content, since this is the part of the garlic supplement that will offer potential health benefits. Luckily, here at Natural Healthy Concepts we offer a number of odor-free garlic supplements that we hand select to support your health. Discover the potential benefits garlic could have for you. Shop for garlic supplements at Natural Healthy Concepts today!