The common kitchen herb, the garlic - Allium Sativum to botanists - is a familiar herb and culinary spice. This perennial herb is known for its white colored bulb that is composed of small white cloves that have a very peculiar odor and tangy taste. The various forms of sulphur compounds found inside each clove are responsible for the unique smell of the garlic. The smell of the garlic is of much renown and has attracted a lot of commentary. At different times throughout history it has been said that the garlic is "an herb that only the prince of hell himself could enjoy the aroma of full time with nary a complaint." This distinct smell is due to the heavy accumulation of the rather smelly sulphur compounds in the underground storage bulb of the herb. The garlic is used widely as a vegetable as well as in herbal medicine.
The garlic plant itself is not a remarkable herb on first sight, growing about two feet tall with flat, long, and pointed leaves - the main repute of the garlic lies in its underground storage bulb. The herb bears flowers in mid summer and the colors of the flowers can range from pink to white in different varieties. Garlic flowers are edible and are consumed in many places. The garlic plant comes in many varieties and cultivars - each with its distinct characteristics. The American or California garlic varieties come in many large and white skinned types. There are also early and late cultivars of the garlic that can be grown at suitable times. Garlic varieties with pinkish or purple skinned bulbs are variously known as the Chilean, the Creole, the Mexican or the Italian type. While it seems to grow best in dry and mild climatic regions, the garlic grows rather well in most places in the continental United States and is much naturalized in this country. The bulbs of most garlic varieties that are grown in northern climates are not large due to the shorter growing seasons. A relative of the garlic called the "elephant garlic” - A. ampeloprasum to botanists - develops prodigious heads or bulbs, each with four to six large cloves and each of these bulbs can often reach the size of an orange fruit.
The herb known as the “Rocambole “- A. sativum var. ophioscorodon to botanists - is yet one more garlic like plant that is sometimes grown by garlic aficionados of the world. This particular herb is also known by many other names including the Italian or the French garlic and has a rather striking appearance. This herb has numerous flat leaves like those of the garlic chives plant - A. tuberosum - that tend to appearing in the spring, it also bears looped flower stalks in the summer months. The variety of garlic has a “floral head” that opens to reveal the presence of a cluster of bulbils inside the bulb instead of flowers as in other garlic varieties. The “rocambole” is entirely edible and all parts of the plant are consumed. The bulbs produced by this variety are also harvested like regular garlic bulbs and used for culinary ends. French or Italian garlic is a good crop to grow for other reasons not connected to culinary uses alone, according to people who have cultivated it. One major reason cited by these cultivators is that the bulbs of this variety of garlic tend to keep very well and are easy to store. The other reason is that the cloves on the bulb are a lot easier to peel off. The final reason given is that the distinct flavor of this variety of garlic is quite good compared to other varieties of garlic. Though seldom offered as a seed plant in nurseries, the ‘rocambole” is readily available through some mail-order seed houses.
The garlic herb is an effective herbal remedy to treat viral, bacterial, fungal, and other parasitic infections in the body. A compound released by crushed raw garlic called allicin, is known to be much more potent as an antibiotic than the common antibiotics such as penicillin and tetracycline used in most standard medical regimens. Remedies made from the garlic are usually employed in treating problems such as chronic sore throats, common colds, flu, infections in the bronchial and general pulmonary systems, to treat infections of the gut and also to help reestablish the natural populations of beneficial bacteria in the gut - these helpful bacteria in the gut are often eliminated during an infection or on the use of orthodox antibiotic treatments to treat infections. The remedies made from the garlic are also effective and potent for treating intestinal worms as well as problems such as candidiasis. Garlic remedies can also be used topically to treat thrush affecting the mouth or the vaginal cavity. The general rate of digestion is improved by garlic; the herb also helps alleviate excessive gas and abdominal distension in the body. The remedies made from the garlic also help boost the rate at which food is absorbed and assimilated in the intestines. Garlic is also a good remedy for blood sugar related problems in diabetics as the herb boosts the secretion of insulin in the pancreas - thus helping the body better regulate sugar levels.
The remedy made from the garlic also has a decongestant action and is very useful in treating problems affecting the respiratory passages. At the same time, the expectorant action of the garlic remedy is excellent for treating acute and chronic bronchitis, to treat whooping cough as well as bronchial asthma, it is also effective in treating sinusitis, in the treatment of chronic catarrh, in the treatment of hay fever and rhinitis and other allergen induced complaints. Fevers can be alleviated by consuming garlic - the herb induces perspiration in the body and this helps in lowering the elevated body temperature. Elevated blood cholesterol levels are also lowered to a significant degree on consuming garlic regularly. The elevated blood pressure in the body and the tendency to form clots is also lowered by garlic - this effect of the herb is helpful in the prevention of heart attacks and strokes in susceptible patients. The blood vessels in the body are also opened up and dilated by the action of garlic - this action results in an increase in the flow of blood to different tissues in the body, thereby improving the general circulation. The beneficial action of garlic helps relieve cramps and alleviates general circulatory disorders affecting a person. The evidence from recent clinical research points out that garlic can act as potent anti-carcinogen and possesses strong anti-tumor properties, due to the fact that it is a powerful antioxidant by virtue of the numerous sulphur compounds found in it. Garlic is also believed to help the body deal better with the effects of nicotine and pollution, helping protect the body against the destructive effects of such long term exposure to irritants.
Since very early in human history, the garlic has held an esteemed position among common herbs due to its healing powers and its use as a spice. The garlic was used to treat all kinds of infections, ranging from diseases like tuberculosis to typhoid fever before the development of anti-biotic drugs. In fact, the garlic was used as a remedy for wounds till quite recent times and the herb was often employed to dress the wounds sustained by soldiers fighting during the World War I.
Other medical uses
Many dishes contain garlic as an essential seasoning. Garlic used in the preparation of food may be fresh, dried, or freshly ground. Garlic helps in increasing the flavor of all kinds of dishes including seafood, poultry preparations, various pasta items, all kinds of meat dishes, vegetables and meat stews. It can be added to casseroles, vegetables, and soups; it brings zest to salads and salad dressings. Many cuisines cannot exist without using some garlic in the preparation of the meal. The dish known as ailloli, which is a hearty and thick French mayonnaise prepared using eggs, olive oil, and crushed garlic is one dish that cannot exist without the use of garlic. Indian, Mediterranean, Chinese and many other cuisines will not be what they are if it weren't for the garlic.
Habitat and cultivation
The garlic is probably native to central Asia and is believed to have originated from there. However, it has been extensively cultivated on a worldwide basis for many centuries and is one of the most familiar kitchen herb in the world.
Containers can be used to grow garlic plants, this is a good way of cultivation particularly when a suitable cold storage area for such containers is available during the months of winter. This storage area can include an unheated garage or garden shed. The soil must be moist when during freeze up; the soil must again be checked for moisture content during the thaws in mid-winter. In late March, the containers can be brought out of storage and if everything has gone as planned - green spears will soon poke up from the soil. This method of growing in container is redundant for regions with warmer climates and the cold storage arrangement isn't necessary. All the garlic containers can be kept outside over the winter without fear of losing the crop.
Extensive laboratory based studies on the garlic has been conducted from the 1980s onwards in places like Germany, Japan, and the United States. However, till date, most clinical authorities still have a lot of disagreement over the exact nature and benefits of the remarkable anti-biotic action seen in the garlic. The compound called alliin present in the garlic is released when the fresh clove is crushed; it is broken down instantly by alliinase into allicin - the main active compound in garlic. A potent anti-septic and anti-biotic action is evident in the compound allicin and in the other chemical constituents of the volatile oil found in the garlic. The presence of these compounds is an explanation for the effectiveness of garlic in relieving even severe infections like chronic dysentery and related digestive disorders.
Different people use garlic in different ways, and there are individuals who actually chew one whole clove of raw garlic daily to boost their health. The best way to take garlic for those who prefer it over other herbs, is in an odor controlled, enteric coated tablet or capsule form that is made with a standardized allicin potential. These tablets or capsules can be taken at doses of 400-500 mg one or two times daily - for a total intake of 5,000 mcg of allicin a day. The tincture can also be taken instead, at doses of 2-4 ml thrice a day. Taking garlic in this way boosts health and reduces the chances of many diseases.
Side effects and cautions
Garlic is enjoyed as a food by most people and garlic remedies are also well tolerated by and large. However, some individuals can experience dermatitis on being exposed to garlic dust and these people need to take care when using garlic for any purpose.
How it works in the body
Garlic's distinctive smell is due to the presence of the volatile oil. The oil contains the compound called allicin that has been proven to induce an antibiotic action over the Staphylococcus aureus strain of bacteria. It is also effective over other bacterial strains and in general, it can be used to treat all bacterial infections in the human body. Infection caused by Candida albicans has also been successfully alleviated using allicin as the primary remedy. The allicin also possesses a potent hypoglycemic effect and helps in reducing blood sugar levels when they are elevated - mainly in diabetics. Allicin in addition, has a demonstrated anti-thrombotic effect, helping in reducing the rate of blood clot formation. This compound also has the ability to lower blood pressure and helps in reducing elevated cholesterol levels in the blood.
Collection and harvesting
Garlic is harvested when the tops of the plant dry up and starts bending; the bulbs are pulled up at this stage. The mature plants possessing the large and multi-clove bulbs are pulled out straight from the ground and then dried in the sun for about a week's time. After this initial airing, each one is trimmed down or a braid is made from the stalks - this is then hung as garlic "ropes" in the shade for an additional period of drying in the open air.
Set the unpeeled cloves in the boiling water. Bring to a boil, and boil 5 minutes. Drain, peel, and rinse the cloves under cold water. Return to the boiling water, and allow the water to boil up once more. Drain the garlic again, and with the salt and pepper, pound it to a smooth paste in the bottom of a small bowl.
Herb and garlic cheese
This is an extremely easy way to transform an ordinary creamy cheese into a gourmet item, at a fraction of the price of the ready-made product. You can use full-fat cream cheese, curd cheese, or sieved cottage cheese but, if you opt for the latter, you will need to add 3 tablespoons of double cream to achieve the right consistency. As with herb butter, delicately flavoured herbs with fairly soft leaves, such as chives, chervil or parsley, are best for herb cheese.
Work the garlic and herbs into the cheese with a fork, until all the ingredients are well combined. Form into a round, place on a dish, cover with cling film, and refrigerate before serving.