The health benefits of garlic are often highlighted in the news in relation to blood pressure, cancer research, and more. But did you know that this pungent food is also a powerhouse ingredient in many natural remedies for common illnesses as well?
This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be doing on some of my favorite herbs. First, we’ll take an overview look at the uses and properties of the herb. The following week, we’ll look at how to use the herb, including recipes and proven home remedies.
Today, we’re going to take an in depth look at garlic. When I first began to research natural remedies a few years back, I decided to begin by researching herbs for common illnesses that I wanted to treat at home. Time and time again, garlic was hailed as the cure all for almost any ailment you can name.
Chew on garlic.
Cold or flu?
Put garlic in your broth.
Ear infection? Yeast infection? Breast infection?
Clove it up!
So garlic looked promising, adaptable to a wide range of ailments, and I happened to have it in my pantry! Perfect.
Digging Deeper Into the Health Benefits of Garlic
The more I read garlic’s resume as a healer, the more impressed I became with the health benefits of garlic. The use of garlic dates back to the most ancient cultures. Pliney and Galen both wrote of garlic’s many uses, and Great Britain used garlic in treating wounds as recently as WWI with amazing results.1, 2
Modern science also hails garlic as having huge potential with some of the most serious diseases…it has shown impressive results in studies and lab trials in cancer treatment and prevention, cystic fibrosis, as well as hypertension and even MRSA.
But as good as it looked on paper, when I tried using it for different things, I was smelling, but not really seeing the benefits that I felt like I should. What I needed to understand is that how and when you use garlic are vitally important to tapping into the health benefits of garlic.
The Science Behind It
The compounds in garlic have not all been identified by science…it’s truly a complex and amazing medicine and ‘food’. Garlic, unlike over the counter medications, is a combination of chemicals and nutrients…when first crushed, raw garlic begins a chain of chemical reactions that combine in different ways to produce a variety of active compounds. So garlic, unlike commercial antibiotics, cannot be ‘decoded’ by bacteria, and therefor cannot create antibiotic resistance.1
Mark Pederson, in Nutritional Herbology says
“Garlic has been found to be effective in treating a myriad of conditions in the circulatory, urinary, respiratory and digestive tracts by a remarkably simple mechanism. Its vast arsenal of sulfur-containing volatile oils are readily absorbed and transported throughout the body (except through the brain blood barrier).”
The Fragile Silver Bullet
One of the most powerful compounds yet discovered in garlic is called allicin It’s responsible for garlic’s strong antibiotic/antiviral and anti-fungal properties. It’s a fragile compound…and it’s stinky. Allicin is created by an enzyme reaction when the garlic is first cut or crushed. In turn, the allicin becomes a catalyst, setting off further chemical changes in the garlic. After an hour or so, the allicin content diminishes significantly.
The components of allicin break down in acids and heat, so it can’t survive and move into the blood stream after garlic is eaten, but there are some simple ways that we’ll talk about next week to get the most out of this great antibiotic.3
Garlic, taken internally, rallies the immune system, and works to support the urinary, circulatory and digestive systems. When you combine garlic with anaerobic exercise (such as jumping rope, sprinting, etc.) the result is a ten fold increase in the quantity, longevity and killing power of natural killer cells. It contains compounds which:
- lower blood pressure, heart rate and blood cholesterol
- increase coronary circulation
- fight infections
- reduce muscle spasms
- increase immune response
- promote sweating
- increase the production of digestive fluids
- decrease the thickness while increasing the production of mucosal fluid 4
No wonder there are so many health benefits to garlic!
When to Grab the Garlic
Garlic is the go-to herb for any type of bacterial, fungal or viral infection both internal and external, as well as upper respiratory system (think ear/nose/throat type stuff). For infections you’re going to want to go for the fresh garlic, which brings out the big guns: allicin. We’ll talk more about how to use it next week.
Taking garlic internally, also known to us normal people as “eating garlic”, will give you the added benefit of enhancing your immune function when a bug is going around.
Now, eating garlic is not as horrific as it may sound to those of us with more delicate palates. I for one will not be noshing down on raw cloves. Adding garlic to salsa, soup, pasta sauce, salad dressing, hummus, or using the honey lemon remedy I shared here are all excellent ways to boost your garlic consumption. If a bug is being passed around, it’s just better that the whole family benefit from the garlic, so you won’t have to stink alone.
Next week, I’ll have lots of testimonials from my friends about how they have successfully used garlic to treat the following common illnesses:
- cough remedy
- sore throat remedy (including strep throat)
- colds and flus
- ear infection (ear pain/swimmers ear)
- toothache remedy
- allergic reaction to insect bites
- yeast infections
- and more!
When to Skip the Garlic
Garlic can be a food allergen or cause burn-like rashes if applied topically (to the skin) for some people. It is, however, a rubifacient, meaning that it will turn the skin red, but it should not be painful when applied.
Also, those on blood thinners or medication, and those facing surgery should speak with a doctor before adding significant or supplemental garlic into the diet, as garlic does have blood thinning properties.
Printable pdf Health Benefits of Garlic page for your herbal notebook.
Part II: Garlic Remedies
1. Practical Herbalism, Philip Fritchey
2. The ABC Herbal: A Simplified Guide to Natural Health Care for Children
3. Sloan Ketterling Cancer Research Center website http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69230.cfm
4. Nutritional Herbology : A Reference Guide to Herbs