Plant of the month: Garlic

  • A common cooking ingredient, garlic adds a unique flavour to meat, fish and vegetable dishes.
  • Loved and loathed in equal measure, its pungent aroma hardly goes unnoticed when used in cooking.
  • Highly nutritious, garlic is also praised for its abundance of health benefits. Here’s a guide to some of the most remarkable.

Belonging to the Amaryllidaceae family, garlic (Allium sativum) originally hails from Asia, from where it was introduced to the Mediterranean. It grows underground as a bulb comprised of 6 to 12 cloves and a white covering. Above ground, the plant produces long, green leaves and white flowers. Each individual clove is capable of forming a new plant, as these fleshy seeds germinate easily when in contact with the ground.

An essential ingredient in a number of cuisines including Mediterranean, garlic has a unique pungent flavour that can be too strong if eaten raw.

What are the therapeutic uses of garlic?

Besides enhancing the flavour of foods, garlic has wonderful health benefits to the body. Used since time immemorial to treat a variety of conditions, it was a common therapeutic tool in ancient civilisations including Egypt, Greece and Rome. Thanks to modern science, we now know garlic's medical benefits result from the bioactive sulphur compounds that form when mincing, cutting or chewing the cloves.

Garlic can be used therapeutically to: 

  • Fight colds: Garlic has been found to help strengthen the immune system – in a study involving two groups of patients with common cold symptoms, cold cases were reduced by 67 per cent in the group administered with garlic, compared to the control group, which received a placebo.
  • Prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia: Garlic is rich in antioxidants that protect the body from cell damage and ageing. This, coupled with other beneficial effects of the plant such as cholesterol and blood pressure control, makes garlic a powerful tool against neurodegeneration.
  • Reduce blood pressure: Heart disease is one of the major concerns of our time. According to various studies, high blood pressure and cholesterol – key factors that can lead to heart attack and stroke – can be improved by adding garlic to the diet. 
  • Detoxify the body from heavy metals: The above-mentioned sulphur compounds can protect organs from damaged caused by heavy metals, reducing blood lead levels by up to 19 per cent and improving symptoms including headache and high blood pressure.
  • Improve sport performance: Garlic supplements can help enhance performance in high intensity sport. Ancient Greeks were familiar with this effect and used it to reduce fatigue and improve the performance of Olympic athletes.

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