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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Garlic (Allium sativum) & its medicinal properties

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Garlic as it is known in English is taxonomically known as Allium sativum.It belongs to the family Alliaceae or the family of onion. History reveals that garlic has been used across the world for both culinary and medicinal purposes.

Image 1 Garlic plantation

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Bulbs of Garlic   (credit : flickr )

Bulb of garlic is most prominent and commonly used part. It has stored food inside its cloves. Some garlic species have their bulbs single clove type where as other have many cloves. Cloves of garlic are fleshy sections of the bulb. Cloves are consumed in both raw and cooked forms. These are used as medicine too. The whole plant with its different parts the bulb, leaves and flowers is edible either as spice or as medicine.
The basal plate of the bulb has a number of fibrous roots. Applications of roots for either of culinary or medicinal purposes have not been reported so far.

Though garlic is grown in most parts of the world, China has been reported to be its  largest producer.  It produces approximately 10.5 million tonnes of garlic annually which is 77 percent of the total global out put of garlic.

Gilory, California, is called as the Garlic Capital of the world as much of the garlic production of the United States is centred on this place. In USA garlic is grown as a cash crop in all the states except in Alaska. However, USA stands on the fifth place in terms of garlic production. With 4.1 percent of garlic production, India stands on the 2nd place in the world. Production of garlic in South Korea is 2 per cent of the world. South Korea is followed by Egypt and Russia where garlic production ranks at just 1.6 percent.

Nutritional Value per 100g of garlic

Energy                                             149kcal
Carbohydrate                                    33.06g
Sugars                                             1.00g
Dietary fibre                                      2.1g
Fat                                                   0.5g
Protein                                             3.69g
Beta – carotene                                 5µg
Thiamine                                          0.2mg
Riboflavin                                         0.11mg
Niacin                                              0.7mg
Pantothenic acid                               0.6mg
Vitamin B6                                        1.23mg
Folate                                               3µg
Vitamin C                                         31.2mg
Calcium                                            181mg
Magnesium                                       25mg
Iron                                                  1.7mg
Phosphorus                                      153mg
Sodium                                             17mg
Potassium                                        401mg
Zinc                                                 1.16mg
Manganese                                       1.68mg
Selenium                                          14.2µg
Credit: USDA

Medicinal use and health benefits
Garlic has been reported to have antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal activity. It is also claimed to prevent heart diseases that include atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure etc. It has also been reported to treat cancer in some cases. Lower prevalence of cancer has been reported from countries using garlic as traditional cuisine. Studies on animals suggest that garlic consumption reduces accumulation of cholesterol on vascular walls. According to another study, intake of food supplementation with garlic extract can reduce vascular calcification in human being. The intake of garlic extract has been reported to have vasodilative effects.

Garlic has long history of its application as traditional herbal medicine for treating common colds, hoarseness, and cough.

Garlic has been reported to reduce platelet aggregation and hyperlipidemia. It regulates blood sugar level. Regular consumption of garlic has shown to prevent some complications of diabetes mellitus. However, it is suggested that patients taking insulin should not consume garlic.

Garlic’s antibacterial activity was first observed by Louis Pasteur in 1858. During the World War I and the World War II, garlic was used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene.

Garlic cloves are used as a remedy for infections   (especially chest problems), digestive disorders, and fungal infections such as thrush. Garlic has been found to enhance thiamine   absorption and therefore reduce the likelihood for developing the thiamin deficiency Beriberi. In 1924, it was found that garlic is an effective way to prevent Scurvy due to its high vitamin C content.

In an uncontrolled study conducted in China, garlic has been found helpful for AIDS patients to treat cryptosporidium and toxoplasmosis. Garlic consumption has been found by some researchers to boost testosterone levels.

Adverse effects and toxicology
Garlic is known for causing halitosis as well as causing sweat to have a pungent 'garlicky' smell which is caused by allyl methyl sulphide (AMS).  AMS is a gas which is absorbed into the blood during the metabolism of garlic; from the blood it travels to the lungs](and from there to the mouth causing bad breath) and skin where it is exuded through skin pores. Washing the skin with soap is only a partial and imperfect solution to the smell. Studies have shown that sipping milk at the same time as consuming garlic can significantly neutralize bad breath. Mixing garlic with milk in the mouth before swallowing reduced the odor better than drinking milk afterward. 

 Raw garlic is more potent; cooking garlic reduces the effect. The sulfur compound allicin, produced by crushing or chewing fresh garlic produces other sulfur compounds: ajoene, allyl sulfides, and vinyldithiins. Aged garlic lacks allicin, but may have some activity due to the presence of S-allylcysteine.

Some people suffer from allergies to garlic and other plants in the allium family. Symptoms can include irritable bowels, diarrhea, mouth and throat ulcerations, nausea, breathing difficulties, and in rare cases anaphylaxis. Garlic-sensitive patients show positive tests to diallyl disulphide, allylpropyldisulfide, allylmercaptan and allicin, all of which are present in garlic. People who suffer from garlic allergies will often be sensitive to many plants in the lily family (Liliaceae), including onions, garlic, chives, leeks, shallots, garden lilies, ginger, and bananas.
Garlic consumption in high quantity during pregnancy is not recommended because it has the property of thinning blood. Several reports of serious burns resulted from topical applications of garlic extract have also been found. Topical application of garlic extract in young children is not advisable. However, garlic has been consumed for several thousand years without any adverse long-term effects, suggesting that modest quantities of garlic pose, at worst, minimal risks to normal individuals. Possible side effects include gastrointestinal discomfort, sweating, dizziness, allergic reactions, bleeding, and menstrual irregularities. The safety of garlic supplements had not been determined for children. According to an important study, some breastfeeding mothers have found their babies slow to feed and have noted a garlic odour coming from their baby when they have consumed garlic.

Social Traditional perceptions
A number of religious and spiritual thoughts have also been associated with garlic. The Cassell’s dictionary of superstitions reports that in an Islamic myth when Satan left the Garden of Eden, garlic arose in his left foot print and onion in the right. Owing to its reputation as a potent preventive medicine, garlic has been used by many cultures in Europe against white magic. Folks in Central Europe believe that garlic can be used to ward off demons, werewolves and vampires. Garlic is worn, hung in windows or rubbed on chimneys and keyholes to ward off vampires.

In both Hinduism and Jainism, garlic is considered to stimulate and warm the body and to increase one's desires. Some devout Hindus generally avoid using garlic and the related onion in the preparation of foods for religious festivities and events. Followers of the Jain religion avoid eating garlic and onion on a daily basis. It is probably due to the odour of garlic that Islam views it inappropriate to eat garlic before going to the mosque as the smell from mouth may irritate the fellow worshipers.


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Key Words: Allium sativum, garlic, Alliaceae, cloves, USDA,traditional herbal medicine,testosteron, insuline

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