No herb is so closely tied to the human experience as garlic. The bulb of a member of the lily family, it is unknown from the wild. Garlic has actually evolved under cultivation during the past 5,000 years.
Garlic has been used as food and medicine since the age of the Egyptian pharaohs. The Greek historian and traveler Herodotus (484-425 B.C.) wrote that inscriptions on an Egyptian pyramid recorded the quantities of garlic consumed by the laborers. The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79) declared, "Garlic has powerful properties, and is of great benefit against changes of water and of residence." He recommended it to treat asthma, suppress coughs, and expel intestinal parasites, but noted some drawbacks (other than garlic breath): garlic dulled the sight, caused flatulence, injured the stomach if taken in excess, and caused thirst. In China, garlic was traditionally used for fevers, dysentery and intestinal parasites. Its antibacterial activity was first recognized in an 1858 study by the French microbiologist Louis Pasteur.
In the past twenty years garlic has been the subject of more than 2,500 credible scientific studies. Well-documented health benefits include reducing cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood (while increasing high-density lipoproteins, so-called good cholesterol), reducing blood pressure, improving circulation, and helping to prevent yeast infections, cancers, colds, and flu. Garlic has good antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic, antioxidant, anti- inflammatory, and immunostimulant properties. At least nine epidemiological studies show that garlic significantly decreases the incidence of cancer, especially cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, among those who consume it regularly.
When garlic is cut or crushed, it produces sulfur compounds, such as allicin, because a sulfarcontaining amino acid, alliin, comes into contact with the enzyme allinase. Garlic has an extremely complex chemistry, with more than 160 compounds identified from its bulbs and essential oil.
If your food should be your medicine, garlic should be part of your diet.
Garlic is available in many product forms, including, of course, fresh and dried garlic, as well as capsules, "odorless" garlic tablets, and aged garlic extracts.
Rare cases of allergic reactions to garlic have been reported. Some individuals experience heartburn or flatulence from consuming it.