Garlic is a common culinary herb, and is easily accessible at the grocery store, farmer’s markets, or to grow your own. The accessibility of fresh garlic makes the health benefits of garlic accessible to everyone, at least, as long as you like garlic!
Garlic gets it’s pungency from the compound allicin, this sulfur based compound is also what can make garlic irritating to the digestive system. Black garlic has the allicin broken down into antioxidant compounds and flavinoids instead, if your gut is sensitive to raw garlic, black garlic may be something to look into. You can also ferment raw garlic in honey to tone down the allicin too. Either of these options are also good if you want to enjoy some garlic while nursing, as they help keep the sulfur compounds from passing through breastmilk, since they’re already partially broken down.
I like garlic as an herb, because it’s easy to grow. With hard-necked garlic, as long as you plant it in the fall and it gets a freeze, the entire growing season is pretty much hand’s off. I much my garlic heavily when planting, so other than some weeding, and removing garlic scapes (they make awesome pesto!), it’s just harvesting and replanting that are labor intensive. The best part of replanting your own garlic cloves each fall is that your garlic will become acclimated to your exact micro-climate, and thrive for you.
Garlic is a great cooking herb, and is an easy herb to use in many different foods. This makes it even easier to gain the herbal health benefits of garlic, without having to eat raw garlic by the clove. Admittedly, when I have a cold a raw clove of garlic on a spoonful of honey does work, but it’s my least favorite way of accessing the immune boosting health benefits of garlic.
Garlic is most well known for it’s immune boosting properties. It is often recommended to take raw garlic during cold and flu season, or make your own garlic bread with fresh minced garlic and butter. Garlic and onions are both in the allium family, and both are standard herbs to include in Grandma’s famous chicken soup, my family’s go-to immune supporting comfort food.
During a cold, or if I’ve been exposed to an ill person, I’ll take garlic on top of a spoonful of honey. The honey helps counteract the burn of the garlic, and makes it more palatable. The honey also helps with the stomach burn from taking an entire clove of raw garlic. My home grown garlic has large cloves.
Garlic is also one of the ingredients in fire cider, a very famous immune boosting folk remedy. That is built off of the immune boosting and supporting actions of many of our friendly, spicy culinary herbs. If you want the immune boosting impact of garlic, straight garlic, fermented garlic, or garlic in your normal cooking are awesome ways to include it. You don’t need specialized garlic extracts, or garlic pills, to enjoy the health benefits of garlic.
Garlic is a useful anti-inflammatory, especially for joint complaints. Garlic infused oil has been studied for topical use for arthritis relief. Garlic oil is quite warming to the skin, and should be diluted with other carrier oils and supportive herbal infused oils before directly applying it to the skin. Garlic pairs well with many other anti-inflammatory herbs, especially our culinary friends of ginger and turmeric. Simply bump up the garlic in your favorite curry recipe by a few cloves to help access this benefit, without worrying about taking garlic supplements.
Other members of the allium family also have similar properties, due to also containing the allicin compound. Some of these include leeks, shallots, onions, garlic chives, ramps, and walking onions. You can use multiple members of the allium family in a dish, or soup, for some very interesting intensifying of flavor, and immune system benefits. I like combining onions, garlic, and leeks in chicken soup specifically, since each of the three has a slightly different flavor profile.
Due to it’s sulfur compounds, eaten garlic can be turned into hydrogen sulfide gas by your red blood cells. This action can help improve blood flow by being mildly dilating to blood vessels. This does mean that therapeutic amounts of garlic, amounts in excess of 2 – 5 cloves a day, could interact with medication that either dilates or contracts blood vessels. For very mild high blood pressure, or fears of hypertension and high blood pressure, garlic in the diet could serve as a health sustaining measure.
Garlic is highly anti-microbial and anti-bacterial, it’s a great option for beating bacteria related colds, and boosting one’s immunity in high-germ environments. Some people have tried using raw garlic to help treat acne and pimples. I’d prefer an infused oil, myself, rather than rubbing raw garlic directly on the skin as the sulfur compounds can burn.
Taking garlic, or an aged garlic extract like black garlic, can help against infections, and help your body fight unhealthy bacterial load. Pair garlic with active probiotic plain yogurt and make tzatziki for a double health boost of bad-bacteria fighting garlic, and gut supporting good bacteria.
Garlic is highly anti-fungal and can be used to help protect your body, and digestive tract, from yeast overgrowth. It may also be beneficial against candida, athletes foot, or other fungal infections. Taken as food, it lets your body determine where it’s compounds and antioxidants are needed, and gives your immune system the support it needs to stay health.
However, garlic does taste awesome pan-fried with some fresh lion’s mane fungi, or your favorite mushroom. Innovative cooking with garlic can be one way to get more of the health benefits of garlic, without having to take it on it’s own.
Garlic can help lower ldl cholesterol, balance cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Garlic can as a heart protective herb, and a protective herb against heart disease. It’s also highly anti-oxidant, which is also good for your heart health. Consuming garlic in culinary quantities is sufficient to help you get the heart benefits of this herb.
Making infused olive oil, to use either topically or as an ingredient oil for salad dressings, or other cooking, can also be a good way to increase the accessibility of garlic in your kitchen. I also like keeping dried garlic, and minced garlic on hand for some recipes. Though my fall garlic braids do last, as whole garlic heads and garlic cloves, until August when the new harvest of garlic comes in.
Part of the anti-cancer properties of garlic come from it’s antioxidant activity, as well as the sulfur compounds. Since bacteria, yeasts, and fungi can also contribute to cancer in some cases, the fact that garlic works against these communities in one’s body is also helpful. There have been a few small scale studies with using garlic against different types of cancer, including renal, colon cancer, prostrate cancer, and esophageal cancer. Due to the small scale of the studies, while the results were promising, more research is still needed. These were also done with cancer cells from those types of cancers in a petri dish.
We do know that antioxidants are helpful against cancer, and many vegetables are high in antioxidants. Including garlic with roasted veggies, or in cooking can be part of a healthy lifestyle to reduce one’s risks.
Improve Brain Function:
The antioxidants in garlic help protect the body and brain from oxidative damage due to aging. A diet high in antioxidants can help prevent, or slow, some of the signs of dementia and alzheimer’s disease. Spices can be an awesome way to increase antioxidants in one’s diet, as the more flavorful a dish is, the more we enjoy it. Other herbs that help the brain can include sage and rosemary, which sounds like a delicious roast chicken to me.
If you want the protective effects of high antioxidant foods, without the garlic after-taste. Rich colored fruits and veggies can have similar protective effects, like blueberries, or purple carrots, while also giving you even more vitamins, without the aftertaste.
Garlic juice has been used against filiform warts, twice daily application of garlic juice removed the warts in two weeks in a study of 23 adults. Filiform warts are caused by some strains of the HP virus. Garlic juice, or infused oil, was affective against them in this study. It can also be a gentle enough treatment for children, though a diluted infused oil would probably be more recommended for sensitive skin than a direct application of raw garlic, to decrease the presence of warts.
There is still some uncertainty of why garlic is effective against warts. It could have something to do with the enzymes, as well as the combined anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Viruses often do seem to be impacted by broad spectrum herbs, like garlic and oregano, even if not to the same degree as they can be impacted by elderberry or olive leaf.
Garlic, in as small a dose as two grams a day, was found to reduce estrogen reduction related to menopause and help prevent the inflammation from osteoarthritis. This is because garlic can improve oestrogen levels, and taking phytoestrogens from plants can help even out one’s estrogen levels during menopause, reducing bone loss and risk of brittle bones as well. Of course taking calcium, magnesium, and potassium, as well as trace minerals, found in a varied diet, can also help support one’s bone health too.
If you are allergic to onions or other members of the allium family, you may also be allergic to garlic. Take precautions before consuming garlic if there might be an allergy.
If you have stomach sensitivity to sulfur compounds, in eggs, onions, or garlic, it may be better to cook, or ferment, garlic before taking it. Same if you are nursing, as the allicin can cause stomach upset in infants.
If you’ve only ever used the recommended amount of garlic in recipes, up garlic in cooking before beginning to take garlic on it’s own. It’ll help your body adjust to the allicin, and make stomach upset less likely. I like tzatziki for increasing garlic intake, as the yogurt helps cut the indigestion of the allicin when I’ve been off of garlic for awhile.
If taking any pharmaceutical medicine, especially those for blood pressure and blood sugar, check with a licensed pharmacist or medical practitioner before adding therapeutic quantities of garlic to your diet. A dose of garlic that’s equivalent to average culinary use is generally considered safe and normally won’t cause side effects or interactions. However, a therapeutic dose is 5-10x what you’d get from even a heavy garlic dish, like garlic scape pesto or tzatziki. Especially if that dish is split between multiple people.
Choosing Your Garlic:
The best garlic to get the health benefits of garlic onto your plate is the garlic you’ll use. If you hate peeling cloves of garlic, then garlic clove and unpeeled garlic bulbs may not be the best idea. Dehydrated garlic powder works in many dishes, for adding flavor though there will be fewer benefits from dried garlic, compared to fresh.
The best garlic for health benefits is actually fermented garlic, as the allicin is broken down and the nutrients and minerals in the garlic are more accessible. You can make your own honey garlic, or your own black garlic. Consuming whole garlic does give you more access to things like vitamin c and fiber that are in the garlic.
More Options for Cold and Flu
Garlic is a strong remedy, and sometimes our stomachs or body just doesn’t want to take garlic when we’re already feeling sick. Lemon and ginger, can also help with cold and flu, and ginger is especially soothing to the stomach.
It’s always good to have multiple herbs in your knowledge base and alongside garlic, ginger is great for colds and flu too.
You probably already have ginger at home, too. You can use ginger for quick relief of a headache, cough, congestion, and even nausea. I was updating my DIY Herbal Apothecary Course this week to add more downloadable files (one of my New Year goals) and in the process went down the “rabbit hole” digging deep into the benefits of Ginger. I created this ebook, Using Ginger for Cold and Flu Relief so that you can feel better faster, using what you already have in your kitchen.
You can download a copy of this FREE the Using Ginger for Cold and Flu Relief ebook here.