It’s believed that garlic was first discovered thousands of years ago in central Asia. We have valued the root ever since. How did it all begin? One imagined scenario is that about ten thousand years ago (or possibly earlier), a few hunter-gatherer women were walking along a hillside. They lived among the Tien Shan Mountains, in part of the “Garlic Crescent.” They wore animal skins and clothes made from plant fibres and fed themselves by foraging for nuts, berries and eggs while keeping an eye on the young children who accompanied them.
One of them pulled some bulbs of garlic from the soil. Were they safe to eat? Would they be useful for survival…or poisonous? She sniffed it and noticed that it smelled similar to related plants she had eaten. She hadn’t been sick then, so these were probably edible, too. So, She kept them. On the way back, she noticed that, unlike the berries and fruit they were carrying, no insects crawled on the garlic. It seemed to have strong powers. Perhaps it could fight illnesses. She nibbled on a clove to taste it and was surprised by a curious heat sensation. It burned her tongue.
Discovery of Garlic Benefits
Back at their makeshift camp, she cooked the bulb over burning embers. They all licked their lips at the pleasant aroma it emitted and gobbled up its sweet, caramel flavour. Sweet foods were a rare treat. News of its valuable benefits would pass from tribe to tribe, from generation to generation. Later, garlic became a valuable trading commodity, along with spices, obsidian, seashells, precious stones and other high-value materials. Over the centuries it became an important plant used as food, preservative, medicine and ritual ingredient in spiritual and religious practices.
Many ancient beliefs about garlic’s medicinal benefits continue to be followed in the modern world. Many other ailments have been treated for centuries with garlic, right up to twentieth-century Ontario. In fact, people have long used garlic as a medical prophylactic, whether worn, carried or hung over a doorway. Doctors in eighteenth-century England carried garlic in their pockets to ward off the odour of disease and chinese used garlic for medicinal purposes for at least three thousand years.
Garlic Benefits: How can we make sense of all the claims about garlic?
Deeper analysis of the research results revealed that a subset of the participants actually showed a significant benefit from garlic. But their results were snowed under by the other participants. And then there are small studies in which an effect was shown, but this is critiqued by lack of rigor because too few patients were studied. Huizinga suggests that while the beneficial effects of garlic might not apply to everyone, it might help those with a particular biological makeup.
If you want to take garlic for medicinal purposes but prefer it in a capsule form, freeze-dried garlic is preferable, as it will retain as much as 80 percent of the allicin content. That’s according to Chung-Ja C. Jackson, PhD. Dr. Jackson studied garlic at the Guelph Centre for the Functional Food, Laboratory Service, University of Guelph.
Science simply may not fully understand the benefits of garlic. Dr. Block concedes that “medicine is not just about molecules. It’s also about the psychology of feeling positive, which stimulate the bio-molecules that help healing and come from following your grandmothers’ advice.” What do I do when I feel a cold or flu coming on? I reach for the (Ontario) garlic. Whether it cures me or not, it tastes great.
Get a better understanding on garlic benefits at the 8th Annual Toronto Garlic Festival on Sunday, September 16, 2018, 9am to 5pm at Artscape Wychwood Barns – 601 Christie Street at St Clair Ave West, Toronto. Admission is only $5!