Friday, April 11, 2014

Garlic - a Food, a Medicine, an Aphrodisiac?!

"The basket on Mrs. Fitz's arm carried a profusion of garlic cloves, the source of the summer's crop. The plump dame handed me the basket along with a digging stick for planting. Apparently I had lazed about the castle long enough; until Colum found some use for me, Mrs. Fitz could always find work for an idle hand."-- OUTLANDER, by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 6
Claire might not have known how to grow garlic before Mrs. FitzGibbons handed her that basket of cloves and a digging stick, but she was undoubtedly familiar with garlic's medicinal value from her work as an Army nurse during World War II.

In the 1940s, one of the first mass-produced antibiotics, penicillin, was available to treat wounded soldiers. But when supplies ran out, the medical staff turned to garlic, which had been used successfully from ancient Roman times through World War I to prevent gangrene and fight infections. This was particularly true in Russia, which is how garlic came to be called "Russian penicillin."

During World War I, planting garlic was patriotic. In 1916, the British government asked civilians to grow more garlic to assure that there was enough to supply military medical needs.

Botanical Information

Family: Liliaceae
Genus: Allium
Species: Allium sativa
Common name: garlic

Garlic is believed to be native to central Asia.  The exact origin of the first plants is not known. What is called "wild garlic" in many regions is in fact cultivated garlic that has naturalized, setting up colonies of its own wherever conditions were favorable. It is mentioned in the histories of ancient civilizations going back 7,000 years.

Garlic is in the same genus as onions, shallots, chives and ornamental alliums.

Health Benefits

The National Center for Biotechnology Information has a detailed article online about the history and medical uses of garlic, which I suggest you read if you want more information and links to numerous studies involving this plant.

Here's an overview of some of the health benefits garlic has to offer.

  • Garlic contains sulphur compounds, such as allicin, which are antibiotic and anti-fungal. 
  • It has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels and lower triglycerides. 
  • Garlic is an antioxidant. 
  • It has high levels of Vitamin C, and thus can prevent scurvy.
  • Studies indicate that garlic prevents cancer by boosting the immune system.
  • Garlic has been used to reduce the size and stop the growth of cancerous tumors.

Companion Planting

Plants, like people, grow better in the company of friends. Mrs. Fitz, of course, knew this. These are the instructions she gave Claire for planting garlic:
"Divide 'em and plant the buds single, one here and one there, all round the garden. Garlic keeps the wee bugs awa' from the other plants. Onions and yarrow will do the same." 
Besides being a bug repellant, garlic has the ability to accumulate sulphur compounds that are in the soil. Sulphur is a good natural fungicide. In fact, sulphur is being used more and more in vineyards and orchards as farmers transition from chemical pesticides to natural pest and disease control. An easy way to add sulphur to the soil around susceptible plants is to plant garlic, or other members of the Allium family, along with them. I plant garlic chives under my roses, for example, to keep black spot away.

Cultivation
Garlic is easy to grow. Here's a video from Kitchen Gardeners International to show you how.



Garlic as an Aphrodisiac?

Perhaps it is more accurate to say that garlic is a "performance enhancer" for men.  In her book, PLANTS WITH BENEFITS, an Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers & Veggies in Your Garden, Helen Yoest explains that garlic is a "hot" herb and that it increases blood flow, an important factor in male performance. Good blood flow means that men can "be ready when the time is right," to quote a popular commercial.

For this reason, devout followers of certain religions, including Hindus, Jains and celibate Buddhist sects, have traditionally practiced abstinence from eating garlic. They believe that it stimulates sexual desire and aggressive behavior, which gets in the way of spiritual practice. But not all religious folk see this as a bad thing, Yoest says. "On the other hand, we have the prophet Ezra to thank for commanding the eating of garlic on the eve of the Sabbath, to ensure the mitzvah of conjugal pleasure."

Besides the blood flow issue, garlic may be a natural remedy for another condition, described in drug advertising aimed at men, as "low T." Garlic contains a compound called diallyldisulfide which enhances the release of a hormone that stimulates testosterone production. This may not turn a 50-year-old into a frisky teenager, but it might be all a guy needs.

So all you men out there - are you ready to kick the drug companies out of bed? If so, you need to eat more garlic.

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