Since time immemorial, garlic has been recognized in almost all the cultures for its medicinal properties as well as culinary uses. This wonderful herbal plant, grown for its underground root or bulb, contains numerous health promoting phyto-nutrient substances that have proven benefits against coronary artery diseases, infections and cancers.
This root herb plant belongs within the family of Alliaceae, in the genus, Allium; and scientifically known as Allium sativum. It is believed to be originating in the mountainous Central Asian region, from where it spread all over the temperate and subtropical regions the world.
|Garlic bulbs with individual "cloves".|
Allium sativum is a perennial herb, but grown as annual crop. The methods applied for its cultivation are similar to those used while growing onions. Fully-grown plant reaches about 50 to 60 cm in height and bears underground bulbous root containing about 8-20 bulblets known as cloves. The whole bulb itself is encased within several layers of white or mauve-tinged, papery-thin coverings.
|Garlic chives as potherb.|
Several cultivar varieties exist from extra-large elephant garlic to small sized solo garlic. Allium oleraceum or field-garlic is a wild, tall variety commonly grown in the United Kingdom.
Unlike in onion, garlic flowers are sterile and therefore do not produce seeds. New plants generally are grown from implanting the individual sections of the bulb.
Strong flavored, garlic cloves contain many noteworthy phyto-nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants that have proven health benefits. Total measured antioxidant strength (ORAC value) is 5346 µmol TE/100 g.
Its bulbs contain organic thio-sulfinite compounds such as diallyl disulfide, diallyl trisulfide and allyl propyl disulfide. Upon disruption of bulb (while crushing, cutting, etc.), these compounds convert into allicin through enzymatic reaction.
Laboratory studies show that allicin reduces cholesterol production by inhibiting the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme within the liver cells.
Allicin decreases blood vessel stiffness through facilitation of nitric oxide (NO) release. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels and thereby, bring a reduction in the total blood pressure. Further, it blocks platelet clot formation and has fibrinolytic action inside the blood vessels. This function of allicin helps decrease the overall risk from coronary artery disease (CAD), peripheral vascular diseases (PVD), and stroke.
Research studies also suggest that consumption of garlic is associated with a possible decrease in the incidence of stomach cancer.
Allicin and other essential volatile compounds also found to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal activities.
Garlic is an excellent source of minerals and vitamins that are essential for optimum health. The bulbs are one of the richest sources of potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium. Selenium is a heart-healthy mineral, and is an important cofactor for antioxidant enzymes within the body. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is required for red blood cell formation.
It contains many flavonoid anti-oxidants like carotene beta, zea-xanthin, and vitamins like vitamin-C. Vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals.
Garlic cloves have amazingly high levels of vitamins and minerals. Just
100 g provides (in % of recommended daily allowance):
95% of vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine),
52% of vitamin C,
33% of copper,
21% of iron,
18% of calcium,
26% Selenium, and
73% of manganese
Garlic bulbs are generally harvested when its lower leaves turn yellow and showing signs of dryness. Later, the bulbs are air dried in the shade for few weeks before sold in the market.
In the store, several forms of garlics found; whole bulbs, dried, individual cloves, processed cloves, dry-powder, or paste.
Dry bulbs can be stored at room temperature placed in a cool dark environment away from humidity where they stay in good condition for several weeks. Garlic paste, however, should be stored inside the refrigerator.
Garlic herb has been used since long time in many traditional Indian and Chinese medicines as a remedy for cold, cough, bronchitis, etc.
Garlic oil has been used as a local applicant for "ring worm" (fungal dermatitis) infection of skin.
In the modern medicine, this exotic herb is advised as health benefiting food for its anti-microbial, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and immune boosting and cholesterol-lowering properties.
Both cloves as well as tender green tops of garlic plant are used in a variety of recipes, especially as seasoning/garnishing.
In general, leaves are less pungent than the cloves and used in recipes in a similar way like onion tops or scallions.
To prepare, its outer layers are peeled away by hand, and internal creamy white smooth bulblet (clove) is either chopped using a knife or crushed just before adding into the recipes.
Here are some serving tips:
|Bruschetta with asparagus, tomato, and cheese toppings.
Photo courtesy: rizkapb
Garlic is one of the common ingredients employed to enhance the flavor of vegetable, meat, and seafood preparations.
Its cloves are added to give a spicy pungent flavor to the preparations like breads, toast and Bruschetta (grilled bread slices rubbed with garlic paste with toppings such as olive oil, pepper, tomato, cheese, meat...etc.).
The cloves also been used in the preparation of seasonal soups, chutney, and sauces.
The sulfide compounds in the garlic metabolized to allyl methyl sulfide, which is excreted through sweat and breathe producing unpleasant odor and breath (halitosis).
Its cloves contain allicin that acts as blood thinner. It is, therefore, advised to avoid in patients on anticoagulants like warfarin as the resultant combination might cause excessive bleeding.
Garlic-in-oil, as in the pickle preparations, favors growth of Clostridium botulism, which may result in a condition known as botulism (paralysis of nervous system). It is therefore, advised that garlic preparations should be preserved inside the refrigerator and should be used as quickly as possible. (Medical disclaimer).
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Research articles on nutrition.
1. USDA National Nutrient Database. (opens new window)
2. Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk (Link opens in new window).