Garlic is Nature's most powerful anti-viral food and drug. I am posting this article in response to queries on what are other sources of substances that fight off viruses, other pathogens notwithstanding. This is particularly important because of the present threat of a pandemic caused by the swine flu virus or A(H1N1) virus. There are of course, other natural anti-viral food plants and herbals, fruits and vegetables generally, among them onions (Allium cepa) and kutchai (Allium tuberosum) which belong to the same family of garlic - Liliaceae.
Basang, an auntie and yaya of mine, used to treat kabag (gas pain) with garlic. She would roast two large cloves over candle, crush and wrap them with a piece of cloth, and while still warm, apply the bandage around both my large toes. She made sure that the garlic covers the joint at the base of the nail. While doing it she inaudibly said some prayer imploring divine intervention. And indeed, relief came and calmed me down.
“The garlic draws out the gas,” she explained. “But before the trapped gas is released, garlic relieves tired and cold nerves, frees cramped muscles, drives out tension, and restores normal body temperature.” This is what people call traditional medicine - or natural medicine, as some put it. Today, the term natural is more than just the use of herbals known to be effective, but also includes the enhancement of normal healing without the side effects of synthetic drugs.
Many years later when I suggested to our family doctor to apply the same remedy to my own children, he just smiled and scratched out a prescription, which the patient was to take every after meal. Meantime to relieve the pain, he gave Carlo, my youngest son a tablet, which soon made him comfortable. I only knew the brand and generic name of the medicine but how it worked was not explained as vivid as Basang described the roasted garlic wound around my large toe. Oh well, that is the difference between traditional and modern medicine.
Since the advent of modern medicine, the medicinal value of garlic has been virtually forgotten, and this once powerful panacea has been relegated to the kitchen. The fact is that garlic is the oldest recorded herbal remedy to a long list of human afflictions, dating as far back to the ancient Chinese and Egyptian civilizations.
Ancient Healing with Garlic
We do not know when garlic was first used as food or medicine, but in a book, Calendar of Hsia, written 4000 years ago, it tells us how the followers of Emperor Huang-ti who happened to have eaten a poisonous plant were saved by eating wild garlic they called suan. Since then garlic became an important Chinese herbal medicine.
Garlic bulbs were found in the tomb of the celebrated Egyptian king, Tutankhamen, an evidence of the inscriptions of earlier pyramids describing garlic as food and medicine. The Israelite slaves who built the pyramids drew their strength and nourishment from garlic. And the bible mentioned how Moses and the Israelites sorely missed it while they were crossing the desert and fleeing Egypt. Garlic as food and medicine is also mentioned in the Koran, in the writings of the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans. The Vikings took garlic among their provisions in long sea voyages.
In the Middle Ages, Jewish superstition suggested that carrying garlic bulbs would protect a person from the dreaded pestilence, the Bubonic Plague, which decimated the population of medieval Europe by more than one-third. The scientific explanation of course, is that garlic has antiseptic and anti-microbial properties against the bacterial pathogen, while its volatile oil repels the flea vector (Xenopsylla cheopis). But during those times the magic of garlic was ascribed to superstition that it drives evil spirits, a belief many still hold today. In the provinces we still see garlic hanging at the doorway and around the house for fear of aswang and manananggal, monsters of the evil world who scare and even hurt people.
Origin of Herbolarios
Don’t you know that the great Greek doctor, Hippocrates, applied garlic on a variety of diseases, including leprosy? Hippocrates, the “father of medicine” and author of the Hippocratic Oath, code of ethics in the medical profession, made garlic popular as treatment for wounds and toothaches, and as diuretic and laxative.
When the Romans conquered the Greeks, many of the medicinal practices such as the use of garlic were continued. The Roman doctor Dioscorides spoke highly of garlic. To wit:
“It is sharp, biting, wind-producing, and excites the belly, dries out the stomach, creates thirst and reduces growths on the skin. If eaten it helps eliminate tapeworm. It drives out urine. It is good against snakebite with wine or when crushed in wine. It is good against the bite of a rabid dog. It makes the voice clear and soothes continuous coughing when eaten raw or boiled. Boiled with oregano, it kills lice and bed bugs. It doth clear the arteries. Burnt and mixed with honey, it heals white skin spots, herpetic eruptions, liver spots, leprosy and scurvy. Boiled with pinewood and incense, it soothes toothache when the solution is kept in the mouth. Boiled flowers is good for bath to help the coming of menstruation. xxx”
Why these are the very things our local herbolarios are practicing! Could it be that natural medicine spontaneously developed along with the evolution of man and his society?
(A subject that deals with the natural relationship between man and plants – ethonobotany – is offered at the Graduate School of the University of Santo Tomas, and other universities as well.)
Garlic - “White Gold”
From the economic point of view, garlic is regarded as a high-value crop with farmers earning as much as three times more than rice or corn. Generally, garlic is planted soon after the rice crop is harvested in November or early December. It is harvested before summer sets in. The two Ilocos provinces comprise the garlic capital of the Philippines, contributing up to eighty percent of national production which is equivalent to 15,000 metric tons, well worth above P100 million a year. However, with the present globalization policy, imported garlic mainly from China, is threatening the local garlic industry. Imported garlic is very much larger in size and cheaper, although our own is more pungent and aromatic, which means that it contains higher levels of phytochemical substances.
The Wonders of Garlic
Garlic not only makes food more appetizing and aromatic, it also has various healing and herbal qualities.
Garlic, a bulbous crop, is easy to grow. It can be potted or planted in plots or an empty container. Have you noticed that its cloves, when left alone, begin to shoot even without a medium? Which only goes to show that this crop can be grown even by an inexperienced gardener.
Garlic is not only easy to grow, it is a must spice in every home. It is also healthful and medicinal. In the book Calendar of Asia, written 4,000 years ago, the followers of Emperor Huang-ti, who happened to eat a poisonous plant, were saved by eating wild garlic they called suan. Since, then garlic has become an important Chinese herbal plant.
A. Power Food
Garlic bulbs were found in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh, Tutankhamen. Inscriptions on pyramids describe garlic as food and medicine. The Israelite slaves, who built the pyramids, drew their strength and nourishment from garlic. And the Bible mentioned how it was sorely missed by Moses and the Israelites while they were crossing the desert after fleeing Egypt.
Garlic, as food and medicine, is also mentioned in the Koran, in the writings of the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans. In the history of the Vikings, garlic was also among the provisions in their long sea voyages.
B. Supernatural Powers?
In the Middle Ages, Jewish superstition suggested that carrying garlic bulbs would protect a person from the dreaded Bubonic plague, which decimated the population of medieval Europe by more than one-third. The scientific explanation, of course, is that garlic has antiseptic and antimicrobial properties against the bacterial pathogen and its volatile oil repels the flea vector. During those times, however, the magic of garlic was ascribed to superstition. Just like in the provinces, where people still hang garlands of garlic to drive away evil spirits, vampires and witches.
C. Advent of Herbolarios
The greatest Greek doctor, Hippocrates, applied garlic on a variety of diseases, including leprosy. During his time, garlic became a popular treatment for wounds and toothaches, and as diuretic and laxative. Hippocrates is better known as the “father of medicine” and author of the Hippocratic Oath, which doctors take before joining the medicinal profession.
When the Romans conquered the Greeks, many of the latter’s medicinal practices, such as the use of garlic, where continued. The Roman doctor Dioscordes spoke highly of garlic. “It is sharp, biting, wind-producing, excites the belly, dries out the stomach, creates thirst and reduces growths on the skin. If eaten it helps eliminate tapeworms and drives out urine. It is good against the bite of a rabid dog. It makes the voice clear and soothes continuous coughing when eaten raw or boiled. Boiled with oregano, it kills lice and bed bugs. It clears the arteries. Burnt and mixed with honey, it heals white skin spots, herpetic eruptions, liver spots, leprosy and scurvy. Boiled with pine wood incense, it soothes toothache when the solution is kept in the mouth. Boiling the umbel flower is good for bathing and helps the coming menstruation.”
D. Phytochemicals in Garlic
What secrets really has garlic for being a powerful medicine? Paul Simons in his book, Garlic, the Powerful Panacea, did an extensive research on the phytochemical properties of garlic. These are:
1. Allicin - This substance is believed to be largely responsible for giving garlic its anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effect.
2. Alliin - Garlic is often known as Russian Penicillin and the Russians believe, as do many other scientists, that this is the substance that produces its antibiotic activity.
3. Di-sulphides - These are believed to have a cholesterol lowering effect, which help control cholesterol and other fats within the arteries and blood vessels.
4. Anti-haemolytic Factor - It is claimed that this is responsible for the beneficial effect of garlic in the treatment of anemia.
5. Anti-arthritic Factor - Japanese research teams investigating arthritis and similar conditions claim this factor to be present in garlic.
6. Sugar Regulating Factor - It was reported in 1973 that garlic is useful for treating some forms of diabetes. It is this factor that is believed to be the cure.
7. Anti-oxidant Factor - Garlic has been shown capable of helping prevent foods from going rancid and spoiled. Garlic is a natural food preservative. It helps in digestion and breakdown of toxic substances.
8. Anti-coagulant Factor - Garlic contains certain active substances which prevent blood from coagulating, thus benefiting heart conditions.
9. Allithiamin - This special type of vitamin B1 has been isolated from garlic and has beneficial properties as defense against infection.
Garlic as an Aphrodisiac
In Philippine Herbs to Increase Sexual Vitality, a book written by Dr. Romualdo del Rosario, Dr. Delia Ontengco (1999), and the author, garlic was described as a powerful aphrodisiac. Its use as an aphrodisiac is widespread among Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Japanese, Swedish and Germans. The East German pharmaceutical journal Die Pharmazie says garlic is especially suited for men and women of climacteric age because it contains compounds related to sex hormones.
The aphrodisiac effect is also associated with the fact that it makes food more appetizing, stimulates secretion of gastric juices, increases the appetite, tones up the organs, builds stamina and strength, and generally contributes to a feeling of well-being.
Nutritional Composition of Garlic
What nutrients do we get from garlic? According to the US Department of Agriculture, raw garlic gives 31 percent carbohydrate, 6 percent protein and 0.2 percent fat. It contains 61 percent water.
As to minerals, a 100-gram dried sample has the following mineral contents:
• Calcium - 29 mg,
• Phosphorus - 202 mg,
• Iron - 0.5 mg, and
• Potassium - 529 mg.
Calcium is important for our bones, while Phosphorus is important in the proper functioning of our brain and nerves. It fact it is called the “brain element”. Iron aids in the oxygenation of the body. Its deficiency is manifested by anemia, docile and sickly condition. Potassium maintains our heart and muscles healthy and strong.
As to the vitamin content of garlic, based on 100 grams raw sample, Vitamin B1 (thiamin) and B2 (riboflavin) comprise 0.25 mg and 0.50 mg, respectively. It is Vitamin C that is very rich (15 mg). The Vitamin B family prevents arthritis and rheumatism, enhances sexual vitality, and it is allied to rejuvenation. Vitamin C on the other hand, prevents scurvy, and aids in the absorption of Iron, thus help in the oxygenation of the body. People who lack vitamin C may experience bleeding gums, slow healing of wounds, frequent colds and infections, and shortness of breath.
Garlic Smell – a Pest Repellant
It is the peculiar smell that makes garlic a natural pesticide. It is one of the insect-repelling plants grown to protect many crops. How is this so? Here is a tip for gardeners. Plant some garlic around plots, between rows and among the plants to be protected from insects. Just the odor of the growing garlic is sufficient to repel destructive insects such as grasshoppers, aphids, mealy bugs, fruit flies and caterpillars, as well as those residing in the soil like crickets and grubs. And if there are thrips and mites around, they are attracted by the garlic which then serves as trap crop, thus saving the other plants like cabbage and beans. The trap crop (infested garlic plant) is then rouged and burned together with the eggs, young and adults of the attacking pests.
Why don’t you try making your own garlic insecticide? This is the procedure prescribed by the Rodale Herb Book.
1. Chop 75 grams garlic cloves and soak in 50 ml vegetable oil for 24 hours.
2. Mix this in 575 ml water in which 20 grams of powdered soap has been dissolved.
3. Stir well and strain with old nylon stocking, and store in a glass jar. Do not use plastic or metal container.
4. You can dilute this mother mixture one part to 20 parts water, down to 1 : 100, depending on the level and kind of infestation.
Entomologists at the University of California reported that even low concentrations of crude garlic extract could kill at least 5 species of mosquito larvae. Mosquitoes are vectors of dreaded diseases like malaria, dengue and encephalitis. Further experiments using refined extracts were found to be more effective. The author has successfully tried the formula against kiti-kiti (mosquito wrigglers) by directly applying the solution in the stagnant water and along canals where the mosquitoes breed.
Garlic is environment-friendly. Unlike synthetic ones, like DDT, organic phosphates and hydrocarbons – herbal pesticides are biodegradable and therefore, do not leave toxic residues that destroy the balance of nature and they do not enter into the food chain that may reach our dining table.
Many people do not like the smell of garlic though. It is really repulsive. The smell of garlic does not go well along fine culture, so some people say. On the other hand, good food does. To avoid the smell, take the garlic oil capsule or gel which is available without prescription. It is advisable to first consult the doctor since there are people who may be allergic to garlic extract.
Garlic is a health food and potent medicine rolled in one. Other than its culinary uses why don’t you try some sautéed garlic in oil or garlic with onion in vinegar? There goes the saying, “Garlic everyday drives the doctor away.”
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References: Living with Nature in Our Times, by AV Rotor, UST Press; Philippine Herbs to Increase Sexual Vitality, a book written by Dr. RM del Rosario, Dr. D Ontengco and Dr AV Rotor (1999); and Garlic, the Powerful Panacea, Paul Simons