Old New York proverb, "A nickel will get you on the subway, but GARLIC will get you a seat."
Garlic is actually considered both a vegetable and an herb. Garlic is an central Asian plant root, related to lilies, shallots, leeks and onions. The cultivated varieties are grown from bulbs, and have been used throughout history for a wide range of culinary and medicinal purposes. Garlic has a pungent aroma and spicy distinct flavor, only noticeable when the plant's cells are damaged, such as by chopping or chewing. It's sulfur compound most responsible for garlic's spiciness is called Allicin. There is a large body of research on the web that shows garlic to have numerous health benefits. A little history...Egyptian slaves were given a daily ration of garlic, as it was believed to ward off illness and to increase strength and endurance. As indicated in ancient Egyptian records, the pyramid builders were given beer, flatbread, raw garlic and onions, for their food ration. Upon threatening to abandon the pyramids leaving them unfinished, they settled for an increase of garlic allotment. It cost the Pharaoh to keep the Cheops pyramid builders supplied with garlic. During the reign of King Tut, fifteen pounds of garlic would buy a healthy male slave. When King Tut's tomb was excavated, there were bulbs of garlic found scattered throughout the rooms.
Not only has it been used successfully as a natural remedy for thousands of years, but science is now proving its effectiveness, too. Sanskrit records show its medicinal use about 5,000 years ago, and it has been used for at least 3,000 years in Chinese medicine. The Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans used garlic for healing purpose. There is a long history of using garlic to get rid of many insects, in particular for protecting people from mosquito bites. Hippocrates (300BC) recommended garlic for infections, wounds, cancer, leprosy, and digestive disorders.Greek athletes would take copious amounts of garlic before competition, and Greek soldiers would consume garlic before going into battle. It became custom for Greek midwives to hang garlic cloves in birthing rooms to keep the evil spirits away. As the centuries passed, this ancient custom became commonplace in most European homes. Among the medicinal talents of garlic, we find an apparent ability to fight infections such as the common cold, and especially to help clear up respiratory infections and lung congestion. The active compounds in garlic reduce the adhesiveness of blood platelets and have anti-thrombotic action, thereby reducing the tendency of blood to clot. These active compounds dilate blood vessels, thereby reducing blood pressure; they also help immune system, as well as having anti-microbial action against certain types of pathogenic bacteria. Clinical studies have shown supplementation with garlic to have the following benefits:
- Garlic inhibits the development of atherosclerosis
- Garlic reduces blood cholesterol levels
- Garlic reduces high blood pressure
- Garlic inhibits the development of certain types of cancers
Randomized controlled clinical trials have shown supplementation with garlic reduced arterial plaque formation in patients with atherosclerosis (Koscielny et al, 1999), and reduces the risk of death from heart disease by inhibiting atherosclerosis (Sobenin et al, 2005). A meta-analysis of the effect of garlic on blood pressure indicated that garlic may be useful in reducing blood pressure in patients with mild hypertension (Silagy & Neil, 1994). The effectiveness of garlic in reducing blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels has been the subject of debate, however the balance of evidence from randomized clinical trials suggests that garlic supplementation is capable of moderate reductions in blood cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels ( Silagy & Neil, 1994; Stevinson et al, 2001; Alder et al, 2003; Warshafsky et al, 1993).
The reputation of garlic as an effective treatment for malignant tumours extends back to the time of the ancient Egyptian civilization, but scientific support for its therapeutic potential has been obtained only recently. Cell culture, animal model and epidemiological studies have shown evidence for anti-cancer activity of garlic extracts or specific chemical compounds derived from garlic. These effects include the regulation of cell cycle progression, the modification of signal transduction pathways, the stimulation of immune function, and the regulation of nuclear factors involved in inflammation. A number of case control studies have been reported which demonstrate a protective effect of garlic consumption against human cancers. Examples include prostate cancer (Key et al, 1997), breast cancer (Challier et al 1998) and gastric cancer (Kim et al, 2002). A meta-analysis of the epidemiological literature by Fleischauer et al (2000) demonstrated a protective effect of garlic against stomach and colorectal cancers
Garlic also keeps the delicate mucous membranes of the digestive and respiratory system healthy and can be soothing for sore throats. Garlic extracts are also very effective in healing wounds. In 1858, Louis Pasteur noticed garlic's antibacterial properties, and it was later used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene during both World Wars. In conjunction with a high-protein diet, it might even boost testosterone levels in men, like it has so far in rats. In a study conducted in Russia in 1955, garlic extract used therapeutically was found to bind with heavy metals in the body, aiding their elimination. Workers suffering from chronic lead poisoning while working in industrial plants were given daily doses of garlic extract and saw a decrease in their symptoms. Other experiments that took place in Japan using mercury and cadmium also found that garlic bound with the heavy metals. It has also, in some instances been known to keep vampires at bay for a short time. Garlic has been used in Romania for centuries to ward off evil. In Romania, garlic is a weapon of choice against vampires. Romanians used to make certain that they ate some garlic every day for their personal protection, little did they know they were helping out their hearts as well. They also smeared garlic on the windows, doors of their houses, on the gates to their farmyards, and even on the horns of their cattle. They believed that the undead had a great fear of garlic. Now to get the ideal benefit from Garlic, the garlic must always be fresh organic and uncooked, or its allicin component will be lost. The difficulty with that centers on it's strong smell and flavor, when garlic is raw. Which is where good garlic supplements can help. They provide the benefits, without any of the antisocial qualities associated with fresh garlic cloves. I know this goes against my usual advise to always eat fresh when you can, however in this case a good supplement can really help out. When you buy fresh garlic, be sure to pick bulbs that are firm and not sprouting.
The papery outer skin may be white or purple, but should be unbroken and free of discoloration. Garlic keeps best in a cool, dark place and stored uncovered. If stored correctly, fresh garlic can last for several months or more. Once you break open the bulb, however, the shelf life will shorten. When a recipe calls for garlic cloves, start by separating the number of cloves you will need from the bulb. Then peel the skin off with a knife or by hand. It should be loose and easy to remove once it is broken. Chop or press the garlic. If you chop on a cutting board, allow it to sit for 10 minutes, before adding it to your recipe, in order to get the most benefit from the phytonutrient, allicin, one of the health-giving components of garlic. I'm a big fan of the garlic hand press. It finely dissects the bulbs, and extracts the tasty oils as well. It's also a good idea to add the garlic as late in the cooking process as possible, since overcooking the garlic will reduce it's health benefits. While you can cook with garlic in the form of powders and flakes, DON'T. Fresh organic is best.
If your garlic has sprouted, it is still usable although it has lost some of it's flavor and health benefits. The smell of garlic can be removed by running your hands under cold water while rubbing a stainless steel object. One of my favorite treats in the world is roasted garlic and brie baked in a French pastry. Now, if you're on prescription meds. like blood thinners check with your doctor before eating garlic. Do not give any to your dog or other pets because like chocolate garlic is lethal because their bodies can't metabolize the garlic and it causes kidney failure.
I know that garlic is not for everyone, since it may cause unpleasant side effects such as heartburn, indigestion, gas and garlic breath. I know you can help alleviate the first three by limiting the amount of garlic you eat, by eating slowly and by chewing your food. As for garlic breath, make sure the people you have dinner with eat garlic too! Good Luck...
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