garlic poster

Image by Muffet

In light of flu/cold season, garlic with all it’s wondrous antibacterial properties seemed like the perfect herb for kicking off the real, official start of A Year of Herbs!

(Okay, I sort of started it already with Herbs for the New Mama and Herbs for the Fussy Baby. But this time, I’m actually studying individual herbs… my original goal!)

History

It seems that almost every ancient culture had a place for garlic in their traditional healing remedies. Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians ate garlic often for strength and endurance. Chinese texts refer to it’s use back to 2000 B.C. and it’s been reported that Chinese prisoners were fed one clove daily to keep them healthy, energized and able to work. It was even sometimes used as a form of payment in various cultures! It was frequently used during times of plague, as well as for many diseases and infections. There is a story in France folklore of 4 thieves required to deal with dead bodies during a particular plague, who ate garlic-infused vinegar to keep themselves healthy. More recently, it was used during WWI as a natural antiseptic and antibacterial when clinics were low on medical supplies.

General Qualities and Uses

Garlic is most known for it’s abilities to cleanse, heal, expel metals and toxins, kill yeast and parasites, help arthritis sufferers (anti-inflammatory), warm the body and increase circulation, balance blood sugar, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, prevent heart problems, and mostly for it’s potent anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties.

Garlic contains alliin, which converts to allicin when crushed or minced. Allicin has antibiotic effects, which I have read can be equivalent to anywhere from 1% to 20% of a standard penicillin dose. It also contains sulphur compounds (where much of it’s healing power is), as well as vitamins C and B, flavanoids (antioxidants), and the trace minerals selenium and germanium (excellent for cancer prevention among other things).

The active components in garlic are heat sensitive and fairly volatile, and therefore most of it’s benefit will be lost if the garlic is cooked. Please, by all means, continue to cook with lots of garlic just because it tastes amazing and still contains some benefits. But for medicinal use, it must be kept raw to truly be effective.

Methods of Use

Fresh, Raw Garlic Cloves

This is my favorite way to use it. Try to choose the freshest, nicest looking bulbs you can (organic is best if it’s available). Make sure to peel and wash them well, as the peels can have bacteria or mold in them. They can be eaten whole, swallowed in chunks, sliced or minced and added to foods, etc. Personally, my husband and I love to make toast and butter it, then mince garlic and spread it on top for a “raw” garlic toast. My daughter will even eat it this way, though I make hers more mild. Other ways to consume it raw: in a sandwich where the toppings help hide the strong flavor, with a teaspoon of honey, in homemade guacamole, in salad dressings, etc.

Garlic Oil

I found this recipe in 10 Essential Herbs, one of the books that I’m studying:

1/2 cup minced fresh garlic

1/2 cup olive oil

Blend thoroughly, then add 1/4 cup more olive oil. Stir and put in a covered glass jar on a sunny windosill and let it sit 10 days. Gently shake the jar about 3 times a day. On the 10th day, strain it through a cloth and store the oil in a well-sealed glass container in the fridge. (I have made less of it, and stored it in an old glass Stevia bottle with a dropper lid).

Garlic Powder

You can use any dried garlic powder, but it will be most potent if you buy it from a reputable spice company who’s spices and herbs are very fresh and not irradiated (like Oregon Spice Company, or from somewhere like Mountain Rose Herbs). It can be the very same dried garlic you use for cooking, but it’s great to have it around for medicinal uses as well!

closeup garlic bulb

Image by photofarmer

Garlic Poultice

To make a garlic poultice, simply put either crushed raw garlic or garlic powder directly over the body part you wish to use a poultice on (a poultice is just a fancy word for any moist application put on the skin for healing purposes). Cover with a clean cloth or bandage. You can also warm the poultice with a hot water bottle to help it penetrate more.

On sensitive skin (such as the face, or on a young child or baby’s skin) use a light coating of oil or cream underneath. Petroleum jelly was suggested in one book, but I prefer to avoid petroleum products, so I would suggest something like coconut oil or a natural lotion instead. When garlic goes on the skin, it is absorbed and enters the blood and lymph system (this is how it is able to work and heal!), and you may actually begin to taste it in your mouth! This is just fine, but you might want to chew or sip on something to mask the flavor (mint, parsley, etc.).

Garlic Water

Simply add fresh crushed garlic and mix well with the water. You can add more or less depending on how potent you want it and may need to experiment. I wasn’t able to find any particular dose suggestions, but I would just start with a couple cloves and add more if needed.

Garlic Capsules

For those wanting to take it in a more palatable form (though I think you might learn to like it more if you try!), you can also take odorless garlic capsules. It is important to buy a very high-quality brand, as most garlic supplements are not made carefully enough to retain the maximum healing benefits. A few particularly good brands out there include: Kyolic (which I’ve tried may times- easy to take, truly doesn’t smell), Arizona Natural and Kwai. You can buy these at pretty much any reputable health food or supplement store.

Particular Uses

High Blood Pressure/High Cholesterol: Garlic contains a compound called “methyl allyl trisulfide” which gently dilates congested/restricted blood vessel walls. It also calms nerves and strengthens the heart. It should be taken daily, either about 3-5 capsules (check the brand for dosage), or 1-3 fresh cloves, or 1/4 tsp. powdered. It may take up to 3 months to begin to see effects, but there have been numerous scientific studies done (Loma Linda and Tulane University were two I ran across) showing significant decreases in both blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

Heart Attacks: It also thins the blood by inhibiting platelet aggregation, which reduces the risk of blood clots and heart attacks. Can be used in the same manner as for blood pressure, as a preventative.

Amoebic Dysentery: This is the fancy term for when you go on a trip somewhere (esp. third world countries) and you get an stomach upset, diarrhea, etc. This is from parasites or bacteria that your body is unfamiliar with, often from drinking the local water. Taking garlic several times a day (either raw or capsules would work well) will help to kill any bugs in your system and clear up the digestive upset.

Colds/Flus: Take garlic every 2-3 hours as an antibiotic (raw, capsules, oil, etc.- however you can get it in!). For children it can be taken with honey, or even applied to the bottoms of their feet as a poultice (remember to use a layer of oil or cream first). In addition to all the regular cold/flu remedies (rest, liquids, vitamin C, etc.) this can help to significantly boost your body’s ability to fight off the virus that has you down.

Coughs/Sore Throats: Can be taken as for colds and flus. I did this while fighting my recent throat infection and even though I ultimately ended up with a secondary infection, it actually seemed to clear up the first infection quite well. Another way to use it for the throat is by making a “cough syrup”. One method of doing this that I read was to crush a whole bulb’s worth of cloves into a bowl and then cover the crushed garlic with honey (just enough to cover it). Cover and let it sit overnight (you could probably use some after even a few hours). Take by the spoonful as needed, as you would a cough syrup.

child with garlic

Image by Milena Mihaylova

Bug/Insect Bites: Cut a slice of raw garlic and rub the bite with the wet, juicy side. This is very effective if the bite has become slightly infected as well.

Earache/Ear Infection: Place a few drops of Garlic Oil (see above) in each ear (even if the earache is in only one ear), and then hold in place with a cotton ball. Repeat several times a day til better. Our children have never had a full blown ear infection, but a couple months ago Abbie had the beginnings of one and I did this and it went away completely.

Pimples: Rub a small slice of garlic (again, the wet side) directly onto the pimple before bed.

Footbath: Use warm Garlic Water (see above) to soak feet in for about 20 minutes. This draws out toxins, soothes tension, helps to treat fungal infections like Athletes Foot or any sort of fungal nail issues, etc. as well as supposedly being quite relaxing (I wouldn’t know as I haven’t tried it yet!).

Insect Repellant: I’m not sure how stylish this would look, but I’m sure it would be effective! I read that you can make a string of garlic cloves for camping, hiking, etc. and wear it around your neck or hat brim. I’m sure you could also attach it to your backpack or somewhere a little less visible. :) Another idea was to make a pouch with raw garlic cloves and put it near your bed when sleeping somewhere rustic.

Arthritis: When taken regularly (daily, either in raw or capsule form, as for High Blood Pressure, above), garlic acts as an anti-inflammatory and has been known to offer signigicant relief from arthitic pain.

Boils: Use a Garlic Poultice (see above) to draw the boil out more, then drain it using a sharp, sterile needle. Reapply a fresh poultice until the boil is healed.

Skin Infections: The anti-bacterial qualities of garlic will also work externally, even by sprinkling garlic powder on top of an infected area (you can put a bandage over it if needed or preferred). I think that you could also try mixing the powder with something like coconut oil (which also has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal qualities) and rub it on like a cream.

Warts: Put a slice of raw garlic on the wart (wet side down) and cover with a bandaid. Keep replacing the slice each morning and evening until it is gone (keep it on overnight as well). The wart will decrease in size, but still leave behind black dots on the skin (these are somewhat like a root). Keep applying the garlic until these black dots go away as well to ensure that the wart is entirely gone and cannot return.

Candida/Yeast Infections: Taking garlic daily (your preferred form) will aid in decreasing the yeast and improving the efficacy of whatever else you are doing to get rid of the yeast (Candida diet, other supplements, etc.). This is because of garlic’s anti-fungal properties.

Wounds: First of all, use garlic water to rinse off an open wound and clean it out. Then apply garlic powder as a poultice before dressing the wound, to help speed healing and prevent infection.

Thrush: (related to Candida/Yeast Infections). For adults, either eating raw garlic or taking capsules will help to overcome a thrush infection (which is basically just yeast overgrowth inside the mouth). It would be particularly effective to be able to chew some of the garlic if you are able. For a child or baby, you can give garlic oil instead (using a smaller dose depending on how small the child is). A couple of drops for a young child, and perhaps 1 drop at a time for an infant (and I don’t know if I would use it for a newborn- I would probably take extra garlic myself as a nursing mom).

Warnings/Contraindications

  • Garlic is very heating and can irritate the stomach. It’s best to consume with food, rather than on an empty stomach, and if you’re not used to eating it much then work your way up slowly
  • Though generally considered to be safe in both pregnancy and breastfeeding, use more minimally. It can cause digestive problems (ie. heartburn) and very excessive use has some possible links to bleeding in pregnancy/childbirth (keep in mind- this is only excessive use- not a bit here and there to boost immunity which would be considered quite safe), and some babies may not like the flavor of too much in breastmilk.
  • If you eat garlic, you’ll smell like garlic. It can’t really be avoided! But you can freshen your breath by eating things like fresh mint or parsley, chewing on a piece of cinnamon stick, drinking lemon water, etc. If this really turns you off, try using the odorless capsules instead of fresh.

Can you believe all of the incredible uses for such a simple herb that most people already have in their kitchens? As I did this research, I found myself continually making notes for myself on ways that I would use garlic from now on, as well as turning to my husband and saying, “And honey, I think you should use garlic for…” at least five times. I already believed in garlic for immunity again colds and flus, for earaches, etc. but I am just thrilled to know about all of the other incredible uses for this God-given herb!

Have you ever used garlic for treating any ailments or for any other sort of medicinal purpose? Do these uses sound feasible to you? Which ones do you think you’d be most likely to try?

Note: In the next week or two, I plan to post about the books that I am using as resources for my herb studies. That is where the bulk of this information is coming from and I want to make sure to give credit to the authors of the books, as well as give you some starting places for your own studies of herbs.