Garlic, a member of the onion family, originated in Central Asia. It is one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and its benefits were identified thousands of years ago. It was used in all the ancient civilisations, both for its taste and flavour, as well as for its medicinal properties.
In 1858, Luis Pasteur scientifically validated its anti-bacterial properties, and during the 1st World War, surgeons used poultices soaked with garlic juice as an antiseptic and anti fungal for treating war wounds.
In Ayurveda, garlic holds a unique position, as it has five of the six tastes – sweet, pungent, bitter, salty and astringent. Only sour is missing. In Ayurveda is it used:
- As an anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant.
- As a blood purifier and immunity builder.
- As a treatment for lowering blood sugar levels.
- As a treatment for lowering bad cholesterol levels in the body.
- As a preventive for heart disease as it helps prevents blood clots and reduces the risk of stroke.
- As a treatment for skin diseases.
- As a pain killer for cramps and muscle pain, especially arthritis.
- As a cleanse for the digestive system.
- As an aphrodisiac.
- Eating raw garlic everyday improves the immune system and reduces the risk of developing cancer.
Although garlic contains several nutrients in rich amounts (20% or more of the DV), including vitamins B6 and C, the dietary minerals manganese and phosphorus, and moderate amounts (10–19% DV) of certain B vitamins, including thiamin and pantothenic acid, as well as the dietary minerals, calcium, iron, and zinc, its main nutritional value comes from the sulphur compounds it contains.
Garlic’s main health benefit comes from the sulphur compound Allicin. Allicin is known to help control atherosclerosis, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. However, allicin does not exist naturally in the garlic pod. Garlic contains an enzyme called allinase and a sulper compound called alliin. The enzyme and sulphur compound are stored separately within the garlic pods and do not interact. When the garlic pod is crushed, chopped, sliced or bitten into, the cell walls within the garlic pods break down and the reaction between allinase and alliin creates allicin, and a whole lot of other sulphur compounds that have health benefits.
In its natural state, the garlic pod does not have any aroma. The pungency of the garlic cloves comes from the creation of allicin, and is created as a protection from herbivores like cattle, to prevent them from being eaten.
To get the maximum benefit from garlic, eat it raw. Crushed is better than chopped or sliced. When adding garlic to any dish, whether when cooking or adding it to a sauce or raw dressing, crush the garlic separately, wait for a minute, and then add. Although the chemical reaction to produce allicin is almost instantaneous, giving it a minute allows the process to complete.
Allicin is destroyed when heated. However, some benefit remains from the other sulphur compounds in the garlic. One way to enjoy the flavour of the garlic in our food and also get some of the health benefits from the allicin, is to add crushed garlic to a dish or curry/sauce after turning off the heat and stirring thoroughly. Adding the raw crushed garlic to a warm dish as opposed to cooking it allows the allicin to combine with the food and give it flavour, while retaining its health benefits.
If taken for health, you do not need much. A single garlic pod per day is sufficient.