Garlic (Allium sativum)

Garlic is a flowering clustered bulb in the Liliaceae family. While most varieties are annuals, perennial varieties are available as well. The bulb is made up of multiple bulblets (which are also known as the cloves) that have covering of papery skin. It has one stem, thin leaves, and an umbel of edible flowers. There are dozens of varities of garlic available for growing, all with similar medicinal properties. Check out Gourmet Garlic Gardens to read about a ton of different garlic varieties! All alliums, such as chives (Allium schoenoprasum), welsh onions (Allium fistulosum), Chinese chives (Allium tuberosum), everlasting onion (Allium cepa var. aggregatum), wild garlic (Allium ursinum) and the tree onion (Allium cepa var. proliferum) have high iron and vitamin content, similar but milder medicinal properties, and are mildly antibiotic. Garlic grows easily from seed or cloves, planted two inches deep and six inches apart; interspersed with potatoes, it makes a great companion plant and prevents potato blight. It prefers full sun and well drained soil. To ensure large cloves, cut back the flowers mid summer – they are delicious in stir-frys. It’s best harvested when the leaves have withered in the early fall and stored in a cool, dry place.

Medicinal Uses
Garlic is an antiseptic, anti-viral, diuretic, alterative, carminative, expectorant, diaphoretic, cholagogue, hypotensive, and anti-spasmodic herb. Daily use of garlic is an overall health tonic, supporting bodily systems like no other herb and a preventative for diseases of the respiratory, circulatory, and digestive system. It is one of the most effective anti-microbial plants available. Some studies show that garlic, especially raw garlic, can help drastically reduce cancerous cell growth, especially in the stomach and colon. Garlic’s volatile oil’s are excreted through the lungs, making it useful for the treatment of chronic bronchitis, excessive respiratory phlegm, reoccurring colds, whooping cough, bronchitic asthma, and the flu. It is an excellent general remedy for most infectious or parasitic conditions, especially when in the respiratory or digestive systems. In the digestive system, garlic has shown to increase natural bacterial flora while killing the pathogenic organisms and bacteria. It has also shown effective at treating candida, cholera, salmonella, staphylococcus, dysentery, and typhus. Enemas of cold infused garlic oils can rid parasites such as pinworms. Garlic, taken regularly, will also reduce blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels and help control acne. As a heating herb, it is considered a yang tonic, and can also be used to help sweat out fevers. Aryuvedic medicine considers garlic a rejuvenative herb for kapha and vata and a powerful blood and lymphatic detoxifier, as well as an aphrodisiac. Garlic can be used as a pessary to control yeast infections.

External Medical Uses
Externally, garlic can be used to treat ringworm, threadworm, skin fungus and other conditions, and as an insect repellent. It can also be rubbed on the bites with a little sesame oil (as some varieties of garlic can be a skin irritant) to help them heal. Used as a hot poultice, garlic can help ease rheumatic joints and arthritic pain.

Folk Uses
Garlic has been grown by humans for over 7000 years, and used medicinally and culinarily for just as long all over the world. In ancient Egypt, the pyramid workers were rationed garlic daily to increase their strength and vitality. The Phoenicians and Vikings carried garlic abroad their expedition ships for medicinal and spiritual practices. The ancient Greeks used garlic before athletic events to increase power and strength, and the midwives of the time hung garlic around newborns to keep witchcraft and disease at bay. According to Pliny, garlic and onions were invoked as deities by the Egyptians at the taking of oaths. In Korea, garlic is an important part of their creation story. In Europe, centuries later, garlic was braided and hung in kitchens to ward off evil spirits, a tradition that continues to this day. In the Philippines garlic is also used to drive away folklore monsters. Garlic was also used in India to treat leprosy. Up until World War 1, garlic was used to treat infections and wounds on the battlefield, and was relied on so heavily it gained the nickname “Russian Penicillin”. Because garlic stimulates and sometimes irritates the reproductive organisms, it is avoided by some Buddhists and yogis who practice abstinence and meditation, which is why in India and some parts of Asia, vegetarian options (closely linked with Buddhism) will be garlic and onion free. The skins of garlic can also be used as a natural cream colored dye. Some mystics claim that garlic makes it easier to transcend the physical plane, make astral travel easier. And naturally, it will keep vampires at bay.

Four Thieves Vinegar, or Vinaigres des Quatres Voleurs, is an old Southern European folk wine medicine that dates back to the black plague and still found commonly in Provence. The legend is that after almost the entire population of a town was wiped out from the illness, the convicted criminals were ordered to bury them. This was an easy way for the city to infect and wipe out their criminal population as well. Turns out, four of the thieves made a garlic heavy concoction and drank it while working, successfully managing to avoid getting sick while looting the town to boot. Some recipes involve an infusion of sage, lavender, thyme, and rosemary, and garlic, and some have some additional herbs. My Fire Cider recipe is a similar tonic to the Four Thieves Vinegar involving lots of garlic. The Nourished Kitchen has a great recipe, link above.

One to three cloves, crushed (this releases the antibiotic allicin, maximizing is potency) and eaten three times daily. To minimize the odor, garlic oil capsules can be taken instead. For infections, it combines well with Echinacea. Pregnant women should avoid excessive garlic, as it can be a mild emmenagogue. A good treatment for a sore throat or lung and bronchiole infections is garlic, honey and lemon syrup. To prepare, macerate 3 cloves of garlic into raw honey, then adding freshly squeezed lemon juice. Take as needed.

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Freshly harvested garlic plants.

Freshly harvested garlic plants.