Celebrate your love of garlic by learning some interesting facts about this vegetable. There is much to be learned about garlic, its history, what it can do for your body and how to use it. Did you know that garlic is not only a vegetable but also an herb as well as a superfood? Garlic (Allium sativum) belongs to the Allium class of bulb-like plants which also include onions, chives, leeks, and scallions. Garlic is prized for its many health benefits and is known to have been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. Be careful, however, with how you use and prepare garlic. Knowing how to activate its medicinal properties is key to unlocking its fullest potential.
A Bit Of History
Garlic’s history tells us that the ancient Egyptians had the builders of the Great Pyramid of Giza ingest it to boost stamina and help prevent disease. The athletes of the original Olympic games in ancient Greece traditionally chewed garlic before participation in the games. Ancient Greek physician and father of modern medicine Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” During the Age of Pericles, Hippocrates used to prescribe garlic to treat various medical conditions. In addition, the Vikings and the Phoenicians also valued garlic and took hefty supplies of garlic on every voyage.
What’s So Great About Garlic?
So why has garlic been such a long staple in the Mediterranean diet for so many centuries? Garlic owes its healing properties to sulfurous phytochemical compounds. When raw garlic is crushed and its cells broken, the result is a chemical reaction called allicin. These sulfur compounds are what give garlic its pungent scent and medicinal properties. They also provide protection against harmful bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi. Here are just a few of garlic’s uses and benefits:
Human and animal studies show that garlic may be able to reduce plaque in the coronary arteries. The bioactive compound allicin has a relaxing effect on the smooth muscle cells of the pulmonary artery, allowing blood to flow more easily. Diallyl disulfide, one of garlic’s sulfurous compounds also contains antimicrobial properties which aid in cardiovascular health. Oral doses of raw garlic have also shown to help lower blood pressure.
Garlic is an excellent source of the mineral selenium. Selenium works synergistically with vitamin E to provide a boost of antioxidant power. Animal studies have shown that garlic extract increased the serum levels of antioxidants in both diabetic and hypertensive rats. Garlic’s potent antioxidants also protect DNA damage from free radicals. When allicin is active, it traps free radicals from doing damage. Other studies have shown that cold sufferers who consume garlic extract may experience milder symptoms and shorter duration of illness.
Liver detoxification and repair are important steps in maintaining the duration of life. Garlic is an effective detoxifier that provides liver protection. It stimulates the liver into producing detoxifying enzymes that filter toxins. Garlic helps your body’s manufacturing of glutathione, a peptide consisting of key amino acids that play vital detoxifying roles in your body. Your cells need glutathione for longevity and it is a predictor of how long you live.
Your body comes in contact with both good and bad bacteria on a daily basis. Diallyl disulfide, one of the sulfur compounds found in garlic, effectively helps to dissolve and destroy the protective biolayer formed by colonies of bacteria. Allicin, the most potent phytochemical compound in garlic helps kill unfriendly bacteria in your body. It has both natural antibiotic and antifungal properties that have made garlic famous in folk medicine for treating skin conditions such as athlete’s foot and other ailments related to unwanted bacteria and fungus.
How To Get The Most Out Of Your Garlic
Buying organic is always best. In the case of garlic, it is no different. Organic garlic tends to have a more potent sulfur content and flavor than conventional garlic. The more sulfur content, the higher the health benefits. Individual garlic cloves should be chopped, minced or crushed raw to release allicin. Cooking garlic lessens its medicinal value so it is best to consume it raw. According to studies, crushed raw garlic when left sitting at room temperature for 10 minutes has the highest amount of enzymes.
Fortunately, Allicin is not the only active compound found in garlic. Natural garlic supplements abound. Not everyone likes the pungent taste of garlic. Choose fresh garlic or aged, odor-free or not, liquid, soft gels, capsules or tablets. Find fermented black garlic or garlic blends. In other words, there is a garlic for you.
So break out those garlic cloves this month and celebrate the healing powers of garlic!