Using Healthful, Pungent Garlic

This ancient allium has a place in every pantry — both as an aromatic flavoring and for the beneficial effects of its compounds.

| Winter 2017-2018

There’s a unique synergy in the intersection of food and medicine. We’re taught that each has its place: Food nourishes the body, and medicine cures the body. But what if we recognize that we can make use of the power of food and herbs to support the body?

Traditional culinary herbs and spices have formidable medicinal abilities. They support everything from digestion and metabolism to immune function, circulation, and the nervous system.

Take garlic, for example. Garlic (Allium sativum) contains highly medicinal sulfur compounds, including alliin, which, when acted upon by an enzyme called alliinase, is converted into allicin. Allicin has attracted lots of attention from researchers because of its potent antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity. Garlic just happens to contain both alliin and alliinase; they’re stored in different parts of the bulb, kept apart from one another by cell membranes. When you cut, crush, or juice garlic, these compounds come together and produce allicin.

Garlic has long been used as a remedy for asthma and other respiratory issues. Garlic infused in vinegar with honey is a classic tonic for upper respiratory congestion, asthma, and seasonal allergies. If fresh garlic is too harsh for your stomach, try adding fennel seed to soothe and soften its pungent flavor.

Some studies show that garlic helps the body better synthesize and utilize cholesterols. And garlic’s powerful antimicrobial compounds can be of assistance in cases of everything from intestinal bugs and parasites to cold, flu, and sore throat. Fresh garlic extract and garlic paste can be effective against fungal infections, such as oral thrush. Garlic has even been shown to help fight off some strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Externally, garlic-infused oil or a fresh plant poultice can be used on fungal or bacterial infections of the skin or nails; inflammatory conditions such as aches, sprains, and bruises; and mild skin irritations.

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