Botanical Name: Allium satvum

Family: Liliaceae

Hindi Name: Lahsun

Garlic is believed to have stemmed from Central Asia, although no wild form is known. Of the 700 species of the genus Allium, many stem from Central Asia, the centre of diversity ranging from the Himalayas to Turkey.

Garlic finds mention in the Bible and in the ancient Egyptian times when they were fed to the pyramid builders daily, and as food for the Hebrews during their sojourn in Egypt. In Europe garlic has been a common spice since the days of the Roman Empire. It was used extensively from India to East Asia even before the Europeans arrived there. After the Age of Exploration, its use spread to Africa and both Americas.

Garlic is a hardy bulbous annual, with narrow flat leaves, small white flowers and bulbils. The bulb has 6-30 small bulbils known as 'cloves', and is surrounded by a thin white, or pale pink, sheath. The entire bulb is without odour, but once cut or bruised, they produce a pungent, acid flavour, and an intensely strong odour.

Different Asian cuisines make use of this versatile seasoning. Indian recipes add garlic in an early phase, and it is fried well together with onion and other spices to provide the basic masala, whereby the garlic taste is no longer discernible by itself. In Contrast, although Indonesian and Chinese stir-fries usually start with frying a few cloves of garlic, a faint garlic aroma persists until serving because of the much shorter of cooking time. Indonesian cuisine, mixtures using garlic are frequently used to season meat pieces before roasting or grilling. Thai cuisine, on the other hand, avoids frying of garlic, but prefers gentle simmering for spicy soups or creamy curries. In Cambodia also, a similar custom is found-pastes of garlic with chillies, lemon grass or ginger are added to soups or stews.

In North and Central Europe, garlic is normally cooked for a long time to reduce its odour, and is hence better suited to the rather mild food of this region. Cooks here tend to use garlic with some Mediterranean herbs like thyme, bay leaves, etc., but also with indigenous spices like juniper and caraway. Cooks in South Europe tend to use garlic more liberally, combining it with pungent chillies, especially while preparing spaghetti noodles: Garlic, finely cut and suspended in olive oil together with parsley leaves is often served with barbecued fish in Croatia.

In the Mediterranean countries, food prepared with both red or white wine calls for some garlic. Rabbit stewed in red wine together with generous amounts of garlic and bay leaves is a national dish in Malta. The Portuguese fried pork cubes seasoned with garlic is delicious. In parts of Austria, salads. are prepared with vinegar, oil and minced garlic.

In Greece, a paste made with cooked potatoes and raw garlic is used for thickening sauces. In Turkey, cacik sauce is made from plain yoghurt, cucumber, peppermint and garlic. In Vietnam, garlic is served with almost all preparations.

Fresh, peeled garlic cloves have the following compositions:

  • Protein: 6.3 %
  • Fat: 0.1 %
  • Minerals: 1.0 %
  • Fibre: 0.8 %
  • Carbohydrates: 29 %
  • Calcium: 0.03 %
  • Iron: 0.001 %
  • Nicotinic acid: 0.4 mg/100g
  • Vit C: 13 mg/100g

In the southern states of the US, garlic is also very popular. The small town of Gilroy in California claims to be the 'garlic capital' of the world, and here the annual 'garlic festival' is held for garlic recipes to be evaluated. Garlic consumption is also high in Central America, where the bulbs are, among others, used for Mexican paprika and salsa.

In France, the aioli is a popular food item that is basically a mayonnaise, based on olive oil and enriched with garlic. Occasionally, minced garlic is spread along the edges of the Italian pizza. Freshly grated garlic is served in liberal amounts to spring rolls and soups in northern Vietnam. Raw garlic may also be pickled in vinegar or olive oil.

Since some of garlic's aroma is extracted by the liquid, pickled garlic is usually very mild. Garlic contains a wealth of sulphur compounds amongst which allicin is the most important. Garlic reduces the blood's tendency to clot and clump. It lowers the serum total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol. It raises high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in humans. According to Ancient Sanskrit records, garlic is believed to be 5,000 years old. The Chinese have been using it for over 3,000 years. It has been used to treat a variety of conditions from cancer, cardio­vascular diseases and parasites, to common every day ailments, like the common cold, earaches, dandruff, diarrhoea, and toothaches. Its immune-enhancement properties make it a good choice to prevent cancer. Some studies and research also seem to support Its use.

Garlic prevents inflammation by preventing the conversion of arachidonic acid, and protects the liver from damage from synthetic drugs and chemicals. It has antioxidant effects, thereby protecting against radiation. It kills intestinal parasites and bad bacteria, as it is anti-bacterial. Garlic, being anti-microbial, is useful for immune enhancement, and is often used against common cold and flu.

Studies have proved that garlic is widely used to fight fungus, and is more effective against Candida albicans than commonly prescribed drugs. In herbal medicine, garlic has been traditionally used for asthma, deafness, leprosy, bronchial congestion, arteriosclerosis, fevers, worms, gall-bladder trouble, piles, catarrha disorders and cough.

It is a stimulant to appetite, and its fresh juice has been used to ease tubercular consumption. It may be externally applied as ointment, lotion, antiseptic or as a poultice. The essential oil is commonly taken as a supplement in the form of gelatine capsules.

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