Harness the healing properties of this powerful plant in Garlic: The Mighty Bulb (Firefly Books, 2012). Author Natasha Edwards shares her expert knowledge on all things garlic with this comprehensive guide. Learn how to separate fact from fiction about garlic’s medicinal claims, and try some garlic remedies for common illnesses in this excerpt taken from the section “Health and Remedies.”
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Garlic: The Mighty Bulb.
Written records of the last few centuries contain numerous references to garlic’s use as a natural medicine, but which of these still hold value to us today? Let’s have a look at the evidence for garlic’s main medicinal claims, from historical traditions to current scientific research.
“Garlic is a veritable pharmacopeia. That’s why garlic has been found in every medical book of every culture ever.” —Dr Herbert Pierson, former director of the National Cancer Institute’s “Designer Foods” program
Bites and Stings
Many references in traditional medicine suggest garlic’s use as a first-aid remedy against assaults from bug bites and stings. Modern science has taught us that although garlic can be of some limited use in stopping the spread of stings or venom, this is not its trump card. Thankfully, we now have access to correct anti-venoms for serious bites and stings so I strongly recommend seeking them out rather than using garlic! We also know that pain or irritation from minor bites from mosquitoes, for example, is due to inflammation, so garlic has limited use once bites and stings have occurred. As an antidote, garlic may be used as a last resort remedy to help slow the spread of stings from bees or wasps or venom from snakes or scorpions, but in the latter cases the correct anti-venom should be sought.
Garlic works better as a deterrent rather than as an antidote for most bites and stings. Regular consumption of garlic is an effective repellent to mosquitoes and gnats: a small amount of sulfur released in the perspiration after eating garlic prevents insects from biting. Alternatively, a solution of garlic and water or garlic crushed into petroleum jelly and applied to the skin is helpful in warding off all types of insects. Indian women add garlic to the oil they rub on their hair to keep head lice away. Rubbing garlic into your children’s hair before school may create worse problems than lice, but for pets it can be an ideal way to keep their coat free from fleas, ticks and lice. Combining garlic with your pet’s food is another way to repel such parasites.
Cardiovascular Disease and Poor Circulation
Diorcorides, the ancient Greek physician and author of De Materia Medica (Regarding Medical Materials), claimed that garlic cleared the arteries and the ancient Egyptian Ebers Papyrus also suggested the use of garlic to improve circulation. The influential Ayurvedic medical text Charaka Samhita, written more than 2,000 years ago, recommended garlic for the treatment of heart disease, and in Asian medicine garlic was specifically used to remove fat from the blood and dry out excess moisture from the body. In England in the late 16th century, garlic was recommended as a cure for dropsy, where part of the body swelled up and became waterlogged, a condition now known as edema.
Today, diseases of the heart and circulation are among the most serious health conditions. There is no quick-fix solution to these problems as they generally occur as part of a degenerative process affected by many factors, including saturated fat in our diet, lack of exercise, smoking and stress. But there is a great deal we can do to improve our cardiovascular health with simple lifestyle changes and our good friend garlic. Extensive research has investigated the effect of garlic on all aspects of cardiovascular health, including how it can thin the blood, improve circulation, reduce cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure.
The heart of the matter
To understand how garlic can work to aid heart health, it helps to have a basic understanding of how cardiovascular problems occur. Cholesterol has been commonly named as the root cause. High levels of “bad cholesterol” or LDL (low-density lipoprotein) are closely associated with the risk of a heart attack. LDL taken up by the arteries creates fatty lumps, causing furring of the arteries that can eventually block or seriously interrupt the transit of blood. Restriction of the blood supply damages the heart muscle very quickly and can lead to a heart attack. Restricted blood supply to the brain due to congested arteries or from a clot is known as a stroke.
HDL (high-density lipoprotein), on the other hand, is the “good cholesterol” as it actually protects from heart disease. HDL is manufactured by the liver and removes unwanted cholesterol from the walls of the arteries, returning it to the liver for disposal. Our bodies do need a small amount of cholesterol to maintain our cell membranes and make natural hormones, but keeping the correct balance of HDLs and LDLs is essential. If the LDL level is too high and HDL too low then cholesterol material will be deposited on the walls of the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
We have been told that diets high in fat increase cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease, yet statistics from across Europe reveal that this is only part of the story. In southern France, Spain and Italy, consumption of saturated fats is relatively high, but the incidence of heart disease is relatively low. Explanations for this conundrum, dubbed the “French paradox,” have been sought by looking at other factors in the Mediterranean lifestyle that could have an effect on cardiovascular health. An often-quoted Canadian study conducted by Ancel Keys in 1980 investigated the effects of diets rich in wine and garlic on coronary heart disease and concluded that the more garlic a nation consumed, the lower its level of heart disease. In addition, garlic consumption was found to have a greater association with better cardiovascular health than wine drinking.
Healthy blood flow
Garlic has a two-pronged effect on circulation and heart health. It lowers blood pressure by dilating the muscles of the blood vessels, which increases blood flow and improves circulation. Consumed over the long term, it can significantly reduce cholesterol levels and is especially effective at lowering the level of harmful blood cholesterol. Garlic’s effect is more pronounced when cholesterol levels are high. According to 30 clinical studies, a dose of 1-2 cloves per day (or equivalent in supplement form) was able to lower cholesterol by an average of 15 percent. This would reduce the risk of heart attack by 30 percent. These studies also concluded that garlic is most effective if regularly consumed for at least three months, a further indication that garlic should be part of our daily diet.
As well as lowering cholesterol levels, a number of studies reveal that garlic reduces blood clotting and so improves circulation, reducing the risk of thrombosis. The effect is almost immediate. Garlic works in a similar manner to aspirin, the remedy often suggested as a longterm preventative against excessive clotting. Comparative tests show that garlic is at least as effective as aspirin in achieving improved circulation.
Warning: If you are taking prescribed anti-coagulant drugs such as warfarin, you should consult your doctor before taking any garlic supplements or eating large quantities of raw garlic.
For centuries many cultures have hailed garlic as an aphrodisiac due to its ability to boost blood circulation. Some men with heart disease may suffer from impotence due to poor circulation and narrowing of the arteries in the groin. By aiding blood flow, garlic can act like a natural Viagra and is commonly prescribed by Ayurvedic practitioners to increase virility.
With current statistics suggesting one in three people will develop cancer at some time in their life, one of the most exciting prospects for garlic’s therapeutic use is as a potential anticancer agent. While modern medicine is constantly finding new and better ways to combat the disease, we are coming to realize that natural alternatives have much to offer too. Preliminary studies suggest that garlic consumption may reduce the risk of developing several types of cancer, especially those associated with the gastrointestinal tract. Both the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the US and the World Health Organization (WHO) recognize garlic as having potential anticancer properties.
It seems that garlic is one of the most ancient spice plants reputed to have an effect on cancer. Ancient Egyptian physicians applied garlic externally for the treatment of tumors, as recorded in the Ebers Papyrus c.1550bc, while the Greek physician Hippocrates and ancient Indian physicians applied it internally. The earliest modern scientific confirmation of garlic’s value as an anticancer agent was an experiment conducted in 1958, when US researchers Weisberger and Pensky successfully demonstrated that garlic extracts inhibited the growth of tumor cells.
Most recently, population studies have been used to test the effectiveness of garlic in cancer prevention and the evidence is promising. A number of these studies show an association between an increased intake of garlic and reduced risk of certain cancers, including cancers of the stomach, colon, esophagus, pancreas and breast. Clinical trials conducted so far are few and further studies are needed, but the results are encouraging.
So how does garlic act to prevent cancer? Studies so far point to a number of factors. As with other infectious diseases, garlic’s role in stimulating the immune system may be part of the explanation. The vitamins and minerals in garlic, like selenium and vitamin C, which enhance the action of the body’s natural killer cells are also antioxidants, which protect from harmful free radicals and attack tumor cells before cancers can develop. A review of current research by the National Cancer Institute suggests other possible reasons, including its antibacterial properties, its ability to block the formation of cancer-causing substances, enhance DNA repair, slow down cell reproduction and induce cell death.
Garlic by no means offers a simple anticancer cure, but when consumed regularly and in reasonable quantities, it clearly has a profound impact on our bodies’ ability to keep certain cancers at bay.
Heavy Metal Toxicity
In our modern world, heavy metal pollution is a global problem that is a growing threat to humanity. Heavy metal toxicity is the silent destroyer: seldom reported but largely damaging to our health. Exposure to heavy metals is usually connected with areas of intense industry, yet road travel is also a widespread source of heavy metals, with lead, zinc, iron, copper, cadmium, chromium, nickel and aluminium commonly found in road run-off. Lead poisoning is now falling in industrialized countries, where lead is no longer used in plumbing systems, petrol and food packaging. But we are still exposed to other heavy metals such as mercury through pesticides, wood preservatives, some medicines and contaminated fish. Heavy metals are a concern because at high levels our bodies are not able to metabolize them. They accumulate in the soft tissues and cause nutritional problems and other debilitating chronic conditions. For example, mercury poisoning can cause, among other symptoms, anxiety, mood swings and antisocial behavior. The phrase “mad as a hatter” is derived from poisoning among hat makers who used mercuric nitrate to soften the hair of animal hides.
Research scientists at the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology found that garlic can act as an antidote to heavy metal poisoning, showing effectiveness in reducing levels of cadmium, arsenic, copper, mercury and lead. Garlic has a dual defense against heavy metals in the body. Since it is rich in sulfur compounds, which have purifying properties, it can act as a “sulfur donor,” providing organic sulfur to the body to help detoxification. Garlic’s antioxidant activity can also reduce oxidative stress caused by heavy metal toxicity which can damage or destroy the cell walls within the body and potentially lead to cancer. In some cases, the curative effect of garlic was found to be superior to pharmaceutical remedies. The precise way in which garlic works to achieve protection against heavy metals is still not wholly understood, but given that current synthetic drugs can have harmful side effects, garlic presents an attractive natural alternative.
Traditionally, garlic was used to treat both internal and external infections. It was commonly prescribed for internal conditions of the ears, mouth, skin, stomach and throat, and applied externally to treat boils, spots and ulcers. During the First and Second World Wars garlic was used to treat open wounds, and troops in the trenches relied on garlic as protection against gangrene and as a cure for dysentery. In China and India, garlic has long been recommended for cholera, dysentery and as an antiseptic lotion for washing wounds and ulcers.
Garlic’s anti-infective power is now supported by a huge amount of scientific evidence. The first to demonstrate it was the French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur, in 1858. When he grew bacteria in a culture dish, he found garlic juice managed to kill all the bacteria around it. Throughout the last century, numerous similar laboratory tests were conducted to test garlic’s effectiveness against disease-causing bacteria and yeasts. The results overwhelmingly show that garlic can work against a variety of bacteria and fungi, including Candida (see further along in this article), Cryptococcus (which causes meningitis), Microsporum (ringworm) and Salmonella.
Apart from having fewer side effects, garlic’s overwhelming advantage over antibiotics is two- fold. First, it does not create bacterial resistance in the way antibiotics do; there is no evidence that bacteria become so accustomed to garlic that they start to live with it or even on it. Second, garlic has the ability to act on a range of bacterial and fungal infections rather than targeting specific bugs. It does not work as precisely or as quickly as antibiotics, but has a gentle and persistent action on the body. For this reason it is ideally suited to the treatment of infections that are not acute or immediately life threatening. Bacterial problems of the chest, gums, skin, throat and stomach all respond well to garlic. Fungal and yeast infections, such as athlete’s foot, Candida (see below), cystitis, vaginitis, thrush and ringworm, are also suitable for treatment. The latter can be quite relentless and hard to tackle with modern drugs, which often meddle with the body’s own immunity. As well as eliminating unfavorable yeasts, regular consumption of garlic helps promote the growth of healthy intestinal flora.
Yeast infections plague millions of people and can cause conditions such as thrush, vaginal yeast infections and intestinal yeast disorders. Candida is an opportunistic pathogen: it thrives in human hosts with compromised immune systems. It is thought that the growing number of people suffering from Candida albicans is due in part to the overuse of antibiotics as they destroy both good and bad bacteria, giving the disease a chance to multiply, so it has become an increasing concern to find effective natural solutions. Several studies have shown the great potency of garlic against yeasts, including Candida. A 2009 study by Lemar et al., for example, showed the reduction of Candida albicans growth by introducing fresh garlic and garlic extracts.
Some children are particularly prone to ear infections and they can be very distressing for both the child and parents. Although antibiotics may well be necessary in severe cases, this garlic oil remedy will generally resolve simple earache (first stages of inflammation) within 24 hours. If the earache persists you should seek professional help — do not delay treatment, especially where children are concerned.
Garlic remedies: Garlic oil
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small pan until slightly warmer than body temperature but not very hot. Remove from the heat and crush 1 large garlic clove into the hot oil. Allow the oil and garlic to cool to body temperature — a few minutes should suffice. Strain out the garlic then put a few drops of the warm oil onto a cottonball and gently place it in the opening of the ear and leave for 30-40 minutes.
If treating adults, you can try this alternative:
Chop 1 large garlic clove so the flesh is exposed then wrap it in cotton gauze to avoid direct contact with the skin, and place it over the opening of the ear canal for as long as possible. The longer you leave it, the more effective it will be. Under no circumstances must you put anything inside the ear canal — this can be dangerous for both adults and children. These preparations should be applied only to the outer ear and entrance to the ear canal.
Garlic has been successful in combating even the most aggressive bacteria responsible for stomach upsets. If you have severe vomiting or diarrhea, you should seek medical advice immediately. But for mild stomach upsets, this garlic drink should get your digestive system back in healthy working order.
Garlic remedies: Warm garlic milk drink
Crush 3 large garlic cloves into 2 teaspoons of olive oil and mix into a paste. Slowly incorporate 3 tablespoons of warm milk. Add sugar or honey to taste. Stir well and drink.
Garlic has wonderful antiseptic properties that can be used to treat many skin conditions and external infections. There are a number of options for antiseptic applications, depending on the nature of the skin complaint:
Acne, spots or mouth ulcers
Simply hold a chopped clove against the affected area for a few minutes.
Small areas of skin such as a minor wound, boil, blemish or infection
First apply petroleum jelly to the surrounding area of skin. Crush a small amount of garlic onto a cotton ball or a plaster then stick it in place and leave for 15-20 minutes while it draws out the infection and reduces any swelling. Carefully peel off and rinse with warm water. You can repeat this morning and night for as long as necessary to promote healing.
Larger areas of skin
Make a solution of 100 ml (1/4 cup) warm water and 3 cloves of crushed garlic then dab onto the affected area with cotton wool. Use the solution within 3 hours as it will lose its potency over time. Always make a new solution for each application.
First protect the healthy skin around the wart by smearing it with petroleum jelly before applying the garlic. Thinly slice a clove of garlic then put a slice onto the wart, securing it in place with a plaster or piece of gauze and medical tape. Replace with a fresh slice of garlic daily. This method should dissolve the wart within a week.
This fungal skin infection is incredibly common and can be itchy, but applying garlic paste helps to clear it.
Garlic remedies: garlic paste
Crush a few cloves of garlic into olive oil to make a paste. Leave for 24 hours before applying the oil between the toes 3-4 times a day. You can also soak a cotton ball in the paste and place it between the toes overnight. Put socks on to protect your bedding from garlic aromas! Alternatively, sprinkle powdered garlic daily on wet feet and allow to dry (socks may be worn).
Garlic tea, applied cool with a cotton ball or by drinking, will relieve itching, painful rashes caused by poison ivy and poison oak — see the recipe later on in this article (Colds and coughs). It is also good for nettle stings.
Garlic has long been thought to possess antiviral properties and for many it reliably wards off the most prevalent viral infection of all: the common cold. Where other viruses are concerned, however, little work has been done to investigate garlic’s potential. The latest research indicates that garlic extract shows positive activity against a number of viral illnesses. Among these are human rotavirus (the most common cause of stomach flu among small children), various types of herpes, viral pneumonia and even Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). However, more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be reached. What is known is that garlic also has a very encouraging effect on the immune system, enabling the body to better cope with infections of all sorts.
While there is no known cure for the herpes virus that causes cold sores, consumption of garlic may reduce the severity and frequency of outbreaks and topical application can help to speed the healing process.
Cut a clove and hold the exposed edge directly against the sore for 5-10 minutes. It’s going to sting like crazy, so be prepared to grit your teeth and do not leave the garlic on the skin for longer than 10 minutes.
Colds and coughs
For centuries garlic has been used as a natural antiviral to ward off symptoms of colds and respiratory infections. These basic garlic preparations will bring overall relief and resistance.
I’ve found that this garlic infusion will help knock a cold on the head if you drink it at the early onset of the symptoms. Or just drink it whenever you feel the need to boost your immune system.
Garlic remedies: Garlic tea
Pour 250 ml (1 cup) boiling water over 4 large roughly chopped garlic cloves and allow them to infuse for a few minutes. Stir in the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar and honey to taste, then pour into a mug and sip the hot mixture. For maximum benefits, I’d recommend scooping out the chopped cloves from the bottom of the mug and eating those too. Don’t worry — they’ll be much milder than raw garlic.
Garlic-infused water can also make an excellent inhalant.
Garlic remedies: Garlic inhalant
Put 4 cloves of chopped garlic into a large bowl, pour over a kettleful of boiling water then add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. Place a towel over your head and the bowl, and inhale the vapors for at least 5 minutes.
My rather evangelistic approach to garlic has had our household trying all sorts of garlic concoctions to test their effects. Although my husband is a happy guinea pig, he did raise an eyebrow when I started rubbing garlic oil into our toddler’s feet before bed. While he remains a little skeptical, I’m convinced that the horrible cough had subsided by the morning.
The skin is the largest organ in the body and is often disregarded as a way of absorbing nutrients. The feet do a great job of absorbing the active ingredients of garlic into the bloodstream. In fact, this method is so effective, you can smell garlic on the breath shortly after applying the rub.
Garlic remedies: Garlic oil foot rub
Garlic can be quite astringent if applied directly to the skin, so it is best to mix it with oil, such as jojoba or sweet almond, before applying it to any part of the body.
Sore throats and wheezy coughs
This soothing syrup is similar to garlic tea but stronger and thicker in texture to help reach the spot.
Garlic remedies: Garlic syrup
In a small bowl, crush 8 large garlic cloves and mash into a paste before adding 8 teaspoons apple cider vinegar. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours. The next day, warm 3 tablespoons of honey and add it to the garlic vinegar mixture before stirring in 4 teaspoons of lemon juice. Store in the fridge until required.
For a sore throat, take 2 teaspoons of the mixture. Retain it in the mouth, allowing the syrup to reach the tonsils, before gargling and swallowing. Repeat 2-3 times a day. For a cough, take 2-3 teaspoons morning and night. Make your excuses to your bedfellow as I’m afraid this one does have odorous side effects.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Kyle Books from Garlic: The Mighty Bulb by Natasha Edwards, published by Firefly Books, 2012, $24.95 paperback. Buy this book from our store: Garlic: The Mighty Bulb.