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Garlic (Allium sativum) Is a member of the Lily family that is cultivated worldwide. The garlic bulb is the most commonly used portion of the plant and is composed of individual cloves enclosed in a white, parchment-like skin. The teardrop-shaped garlic bulbs vary in size; however, they usually average around 2 inches in height and 2 inches in width at their widest point. Elephant garlic has larger cloves and is more closely related to the leek.
Native to central Asia, garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. It’s usage predates written history. Sanskrit records document the use of garlic remedies approximately 5000 years ago, well the Chinese have been using it for at least 3000 years. The Ebers Codex, an Egyptian medical papyrus dating to about 1550 B.C.E., mentions garlic as an effective remedy for a variety of ailments. Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Pliney cited numerous therapeutic uses for garlic. Garlic has been used throughout the world to treat atherosclerosis, coughs, dandruff, diarrhea, diphtheria, dysentery, earache, hypertension, hysteria, toothache, vaginitis, and many other conditions.
Stories, verse, and folklore, such as it’s a legend ability to ward off vampires, give historical documentation to garlic’s power. Sir John Harrington, in The Englishman’s Doctor, written in 1609, summarized garlic’s virtues and thoughts:
Garlic then have power to save from death
Bear with it though it make unsavory breath,
And scorn not garlic like some that think
It only make up men wink and drink and stink.
Currently, China, South Korea, India, Spain, and the United States are among the top commercial producers of garlic.
Garlic is an excellent source of vitamin B6. It is also a very good source of manganese, selenium, and vitamin C. In addition, garlic is a good source of other minerals, including phosphorus, calcium, potassium, iron, and copper.
It is beyond the scope of this blog to detail all of the wonderful properties of this truly remarkable medicinal plant. Many of the therapeutic effects of garlic I thought to be due to its volatile factors, which are composed of the sulfur-containing compounds allicin, diallyl disulfide, diallyl trisulfide, and others. Additional constituents of garlic include other sulfur-containing compounds; high concentrations of trace minerals, particularly selenium and germanium; glucosinolates; and enzymes.
Chopping or crushing garlic stimulates the enzymatic process that converts the phytochemical alliin into allicin, a compound to which many of garlics health benefits are attributed. The compound allicin is also mainly responsible for the pungent odor of garlic.
Garlic appears to provide protection against atherosclerosis and heart disease. Many studies have shown that garlic decreases total serum cholesterol levels while increasing serum HDL cholesterol levels. HDL cholesterol, often termed “good” cholesterol, is a protective factor against heart disease. Garlic has also demonstrated blood pressure-lowering action in many studies. It has typically decreased the systolic pressure by 8 mm Hg and the diastolic pressure by 5 mm Hg in patients with high blood pressure.
Garlic also has a long history of use as an infection fighter. In fact, it has been referred to as “Russian penicillin” to denote it’s antibacterial properties. The anti-microbial activity is due to allicin. Allicin has been shown to be effective not only against common infections, such as colds, flu, stomach viruses, and Candida yeast, but also against powerful pathogenic microbes, including tuberculosis and botulism.
Garlic also appears to author protection against some cancers. For example, studies have shown that as few as two or more servings of garlic per week may help protect against colon cancer. Substances found and garlic, such as Allicin, have been shown not only to protect colon cells from the toxic effects of cancer-causing chemicals but also to stop the growth of cancer cells once they develop.
The beneficial effects of garlic are clearly quite extensive. It’s used as a food should be encouraged, despite its odor, especially by individuals with elevated cholesterol levels, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, candida infections, asthma, infections (particularly respiratory tract infections), and gastrointestinal complaints.
SELECTION & STORAGE
For best flavor and maximum health benefits, buy fresh garlic, as it is widely available. Purchase garlic that is clump, with unbroken skin. Do not buy garlic that is soft, shows evidence of decay, such as mildew or darkening, or is beginning to sprout. Garlic in flake, powder, or paste form is convenient, but it is simply not as good as fresh garlic.
Fresh garlic should be stored at room temperature in an uncovered (or loosely covered) container in a cool, dark place away from exposure to heat and sunlight. Storing in this manner will help prevent sprouting. Which reduces its flavor and uses up the clove.
Depending upon its age and variety, whole garlic bulbs will keep fresh from two weeks to two months. Inspect the bulb frequently and remove any cloves that appear to be dried out or moldy. Note: once you break the head of garlic, it greatly reduces its shelf life, to just a few days.
Unless you are roasting the entire bulb, when using garlic you will need to separate the individual cloves from the bulb. You will next need to separate the skin from the individual cloves. There are kitchen tools that will do this for you, or you can do it with either your fingers or a small knife.
When juicing garlic, it is best to remove the garlic cloves from the bulb and wrap it in a green vegetable such as parsley. This accomplishes two things: (1) it prevents the garlic from popping out of the juicer, and (2) the chlorophyll helps bind some of the odor. It is a good idea to juice the garlic first, as the other vegetables will remove the odor from the machine.
Garlic, either chopped, sliced, or crushed, is a valuable addition to many foods, sauces, and soups to improve the nutritional benefits as well as the flavor.
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