Monday, January 4, 2010

Garlic: Vampires, You've Been Warned!

(Allium sativum)

Garlic: Love it or hate it, there is no in-between. Much has been written about garlic; it is one of the oldest healing plants known to human kind. In ancient Egypt, slaves were given daily rations of garlic to keep their strength up while constructing the pyramids. Clay models of garlic were discovered in an Egyptian tomb dated 3750 BCE, as well as in the tomb of the infamous King Tutankhamen. Throughout history, garlic has been revered and maligned. It was praised in the most ancient of medical texts, from the oldest Sanskrit manuscript in existence to the most famous Ben Cao Gang Mu -The Compendium of Materia Medica written by Li Shi Zhen during the Ming Dynasty.

Contrarily, Mohammed forbade anyone who had eaten garlic from entering a mosque. In Tibet, monks were officially prohibited from entering a monastery, even to save it from burning, if they had eaten garlic (this restriction, I am told, was generally ignored). It was condemned as an evil plant in a Mohammedan legend whereby Satan, upon leaving the Garden of Eden, caused garlic to spring from the ground where his left foot had trodden and onion sprang forth from his right footprint.

Garlic’s pungent aroma is the cause of its reputation, for good or evil, as well as the source of its medicinal value. Perhaps it is the sulphurous quality of garlic that brings Ol’ Scratch to mind, but it is these very compounds which contribute to the array of health benefits that garlic offers. Garlic contains a compound called alliin; when fresh garlic is chopped or crushed, this compound is released and converted to allicin, the most well-known and bio-active component in this powerful herb.

Many studies have been done to ascertain the medicinal benefits of allicin and it has been shown conclusively that Garlic interferes with platelet aggregation; in other words, it makes the blood less sticky and prevents blood clots. The blood’s fibrinolytic (clot-dissolving) ability is increased within 1-3 hours after garlic is consumed; it gradually returns to previous levels after about a day, so taking garlic three times daily is preferable when the objective is to keep thrombosis at bay. It has been shown in other studies that as little as 1/3 a clove of garlic taken daily is enough to prevent blood clots from forming. Although large quantities of garlic may be taken without danger of excessive bleeding, it is prudent to avoid medicinal doses prior to surgery.

In Ayurvedic medicine, garlic is known for improving circulation and reducing fat in the blood. In fact, science has been researching garlic for the purpose of reducing cholesterol levels in the blood. Aside from helping the body shift the balance of cholesterol from LDL to HDL, garlic can actually help prevent the liver from producing excess fat and cholesterol. An obvious benefit of using garlic to keep cholesterol levels lowered is its safety. Garlic is very safe to take, especially when compared to the myriad of side effects that cholesterol-lowering drugs are known to cause.

In one of the several studies available for review, volunteers were given a breakfast rich with butter and fats, naturally their cholesterol levels were slightly increased when tested a few hours later. The same experiment was conducted again, but this time the volunteers were given garlic with their meal; the results showed a 10-15% decrease in cholesterol-lower than if they had not consumed the fat at all. That’s not to say that garlic is a substitute for healthy eating, or a panacea for a diet of French fries, gravy and ice cream, but when taken regularly as an addition to a good diet, garlic can really help offset those occasional binges.
Research has shown promise for the use of garlic as an adjunct therapy in cases of hypertension, cancer as well as diabetes, and many herbalists employ the judicious use of garlic for fungal infections, particularly Candida albicans. One of the most famous medicinal uses for garlic remains its powerful anti-bacterial properties. In laboratory trials, garlic was shown to be as effective as penicillin, tetracycline, streptomycin and chloramphenicol and showed no evidence of bacterial resistance.

More effective as a broad-spectrum antibiotic than modern antibiotics that target specific pathogens, garlic is especially useful for chronic, low-grade and recurrent infections. Garlic has been shown to kill particularly virulent bacterial strains, including, bacillus, staphylococcus, escherichia, streptococcus, vibrio and mycobacteria. It seems that the sulphides in garlic interfere with sulphuric enzymes that bacteria require for growth and reproduction; at a lower dose, garlic inhibits bacterial reproduction, and at high doses, it will kill the bacteria. Because it can cross the blood brain barrier (BBB), garlic is used frequently in the treatment of Lyme disease when there are neurological symptoms and is beginning to be studied for certain brain cancers.

Garlic performs well for infections such as cystitis, works admirably in cases of food poisoning, treats the poisonous toxins created by E. coli, and has even been used successfully for tuberculosis. Garlic is an effective remedy for coughs with excessive sputum and can be taken as syrup with honey for that purpose. Dr. Albert Schweitzer reportedly used garlic at his mission hospital in Africa for typhoid and cholera, and due to its effectiveness, it was used by Soviet troops at the front line during World War II and became known as “Russian penicillin.”

In Serbia, the concern about H1N1 has caused an increased demand for garlic, as it has been shown to be extremely effective when taken preventatively or when symptoms first appear. From my own experience I can tell you that while the flu was making its way through our home, my sweetheart ate copious amounts of raw garlic, and despite being up close and personal with me during my battle royale, he never even managed to get a sniffle. I was too late with the garlic and had to resort to different herbal remedies to kick the swine out, however, I succumbed to the dreaded virus for only 3 days! Hooray for Herbs!

Garlic works best at the very onset of a pathogen when taken in fairly high doses. For this, one to three freshly crushed or chopped cloves of garlic taken raw is most effective. In order for the alliin to break down through oxidation into the bacteria-fighting allicin, it is best to wait about 10-15 minutes after chopping or crushing to get the most benefit from the garlic. For daily maintenance, you can then choose to cook the garlic, but if you are going for the big guns, add the raw garlic to hummus or a bowl of soup to make it easier to take.

1 16oz. can organic garbanzo beans
6 medium cloves fresh organic garlic, crushed
3 Tbs. tahini*, more or less to taste
3 Tbs. organic lemon juice, or to taste
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
½ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper and cumin seed to taste

Place first 4 ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Transfer to serving bowl and gently stir in olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and cumin.
*tahini is a paste of ground sesame seeds

During the fourteenth century, garlic was heroic in keeping The Plague away from those who consumed it in generous amounts. There is a tale of Four Thieves who were released from jail in order to bury victims of the Black Death, after all, as criminals, they were expendable. Incredibly, none of these men fell ill, and it was discovered that daily they drank a potent concoction of powerful herbs, vinegar and two whole heads of garlic. It is well known that garlic is repellent to nearly all insects and vermin, so it is surmised that the biting fleas that carried The Plague simply didn’t favor the flavor of the Thieves’ blood and therefore they avoided giving them an infected bite.

When it comes to bites, garlic has long been applied as a healing poultice. Generally used for venomous bites, the sting of a scorpion is reputed to be soothed by the application of crushed garlic. It is the sulphides once again responsible for detoxifying the site. When a sting or bite is painful because of inflammation, garlic is not the best choice but it can prevent mosquito, tick and flea bites by making the blood unappealing to biting insects-even lice- if consumed regularly. Throughout history, people have known that vermin are repelled by the pungency of garlic; this includes parasites such as ringworm, lice and intestinal parasites such as threadworm as well as rats, mice and…no kidding: vampire bats!

Garlic is incredibly potent; in herbal pharmacopeias, it is considered to be very hot energetically (as you can see for yourself if you chew a fresh piece), and very drying. Because it is so hot, garlic is inappropriate when there is a high fever, inflammation, red rashes or eruptions, or when the tongue appears scarlet in color. Some people with a tendency toward acid reflux, or burning in the stomach will likely find garlic to be too harsh digestively, but for those with weak digestion, poor appetites and chronic loose stool, garlic may be a short term pick-me-up.
Garlic has somehow received the name “The Stinking Rose,” but the origins of the nickname are dubious. If you have ever eaten a great deal of garlic, you may have gotten a whiff of another notorious quality that garlic has and begin to suspect a rather sophomoric source for the moniker! Despite it all, it was recently reported in The Scientific American that cows given a dietary supplement of allicin showed a marked decrease in pathogenic bacteria and a subsequent 15% reduction of methane gas due to the infamous cow flatulence. Now we know that garlic can help reduce greenhouse gasses too!

It is believed that garlic originated in Asia, but it has been cultivated worldwide for so long, that it is no longer possible to propagate by seed. The bulb of garlic, made up of individual cloves is actually an extension of the stem, with rootlets bunched beneath. Single garlic cloves are planted; one clove will produce one head of garlic. Approximately 90% of all garlic is grown in California, and most of that in the city of Gilroy.

There are two main types of garlic that are cultivated for the market; generally the soft-neck variety is what one will find in a grocery store (it is also the type that can be braided), and the hard neck variety is found at farmer’s markets. The hard-neck garlic also produces an early-season treat: the garlic scape. A scape is a twisted/curly green stem of garlic that will produce a flower, but no viable seed; however, its flavor is bright, crisp and garlicky, but not overpowering. What a treat garlic scapes are in June when my garlic stores from the winter have long since run out!

One can feel the robust effects of garlic as soon as it is tasted, so it should come as no surprise that garlic is also a famed aphrodisiac, which may be one of the reasons it was eschewed by Puritans. Pliny the Elder wrote in his famous herbal treatise that it should be pounded with fresh coriander and taken with neat wine for that purpose. Garlic is pretty sexy actually, and if you eat some, please be sure to feed some to your lover also; it is well known that it’s much easier for your partner to tolerate your garlic breath if their mouth reeks of it too! If that fails, chewing on a good amount of parsley or cardamom may help reduce the rankness of your dragon breath, but remember the old saying, “Garlic is as good as ten mothers…for keeping the girls (and boys) away!”

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level II Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email if you have any questions, would like to schedule an appointment, attend meditations, weed walks, or are interested in taking classes.

1 comment:

  1. love this lisl:) and i learned many things too! thank you:)
    love the play on words for the hummus recipe:)
    very cool about the greenhouse reduction also:) lol
    i think using the four thieves as a spritz would keep nasties away also! lol
    sorry you got bit by the bug hon! i didn't know
    thank you for sharing all the different historical thoughts and uses of gorgeous garlic:)