Garlic, or Allium sativum, has been used from very ancient times, and was probably a native of Afghanistan. [N.W. Simmonds (Ed) — Evolution of Crop Plants] Clay models of garlic bulbs have been found in Egyptian pharaohs’ tombs pre-dating 3000BC. There are references to garlic in the Bible, as well as ancient medical texts of Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and India. Garlic was used to ward off Satan and vampires, and worn as a necklace around the neck to keep away plague. In more scientific terms, it was used to treat infections, toothache, ulcers, asthma, bronchitis, influenza, fatigue, small pox and even leprosy — in various countries, where its benefits were discovered independently.
In modern day usage, garlic is now being used to treat contemporary “plagues”, such as cholesterol, cancer, MRSA and, according to some, even AIDS. Clinical trials all over the globe have discovered more and more therapeutic properties of this herb which some call “the single medicine chest under the earth”.
Miracle Properties of Garlic
Garlic has sulfur-containing compounds, which give it such a wide range of healing properties. These are also responsible for the pungent aroma, but this isn’t released until the pod is crushed. The ‘magical’ component in garlic is Allicin, which is proven to be anti-microbial and contains anti-fungal properties. It inhibits the growth of parasites in the intestines, as well as inhibits synthesis of fats (lowers blood lipid and cholesterol levels). Allicin can be transformed into Ajoene, which has anti-clotting properties and thus helps reduce heart ailments. Garlic's sulfur compounds, in addition to certain selenium-containing compounds, add up to make extremely potent antioxidants.
- Garlic is known to reduce cholesterol:  The largest study so far has been conducted in Germany where 261 patients were given either garlic powder tablets or a placebo. After 12 weeks it was observed that mean serum cholesterol levels dropped by 12 per cent in the garlic-treated group and triglycerides dropped by 17 per cent compared to the placebo group [Anti-viral effects of Garlic by Peter Josling].
- Garlic fights infections: One of the most active compounds in garlic, allicin, is an excellent anti-microbial drug, which can fight a wide variety of infections. Allicin effectively blocks two groups of enzymes — cysteine proteinases and alcohol dehydrogenases — which are found in many bacteria, fungi and viruses, thus making it an excellent natural broad-spectrum anti-microbial. 
- Garlic cures certain fungal infections: Garlic has long been a traditional cure for Candida infections, thrush and Athelete’s Foot. Again it is the allicin in garlic that has strong anti-candidal properties. Wash the fungus-infected skin with an infusion of garlic and water, and include plenty of garlic in your diet .
- Garlic and cancer: Garlic contains allyl sulfur and other compounds that decrease or prevent the growth of cancer cells . Demographic studies have shown that fewer number of garlic eaters have got cancer compared to non-garlic eaters. This is especially true of stomach and prostrate cancers. Studies conducted by the Penn State University have shown that a by-product of allicin, S-allyl Cysteine, prevents the growth of breast cancer cells. Another study conducted by the same university showed that garlic contained two compounds known as diallyl disulfide (DADS) and diallyl trisulfide (DATS) that helped in the prevention of lung, skin and colon cancers .
- Garlic and hypertension: Those suffering from hypertension can have garlic (along with their prescription medicines) to help in blood pressure management. Although it hasn’t been proven conclusively, it does appear that there is some evidence to support the role of garlic in reducing systolic and diastolic blood pressure . The garlic sulphides, rather than allicin, help in this case. Since garlic helps in cholesterol reduction, it also indirectly helps in managing hypertension.
Allicin is destroyed by cooking, but garlic sulphides are not.
Garlic should be eaten fresh for maximum benefits. A medium clove (or two cloves) a day is an adequate intake.
- Crush fresh garlic and eat it raw, as this releases beneficial oils — but eat it within 10-15 minutes. Have it with olive oil on toast, add it to your salad dressings, sandwich fillings, soups, dals, raitas, dips, hummus — the possibilities are endless.
- Saute it in oil along with onions and other spices for curries, gravies, pasta sauces, soups, stews, casseroles, etc.
- Infuse vinegar and wines with garlic for cooking.
- Infuse garlic in honey for a great cough syrup.
- Roast entire pods of garlic with the skin. Cool and squeeze out the pulp for a truly gourmet seasoning.
This is what the UC Wellness Letter has to say on the subject :
“Garlic supplements vary widely in their chemical composition, depending on the age of the garlic and how it is processed. There’s debate about which form—powder, oil, or aged “deodorized” garlic extract, for example—may be best; there is no accepted standard dose. Some products give “alliin” amounts. Alliin is the substance that is converted to allicin by the enzyme alliinase when the pill is swallowed. But unless the pill is enteric-coated, stomach acid can destroy the enzyme. Claims such as “allicin-rich” or “high potency” don’t mean much either. And a new report from ConsumerLab.com found that eight of 14 supplements tested had problems; for instance, they did not meet label claims or were contaminated with lead.
Bottom line: We don’t recommend garlic supplements. Even if they do lower blood cholesterol, which is uncertain, the effect is relatively small, especially compared to medication. And no one knows what form or dose would be best. But there’s no harm in eating more garlic. Keep in mind that cooking garlic at high temperature destroys potentially active components. On the other hand, some people find raw garlic too strong-smelling or irritating to the mouth and stomach. So enjoy it as you like it. A milder option is elephant garlic. It’s not really garlic (it’s more like a leek), but it has the same types of compounds, only in smaller amounts.”
Garlic supplements may increase the risk of bleeding if taken with warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin, or other drugs that decrease blood clotting, or possibly with fish-oil pills. They may interact with some medications for diabetes, HIV disease, hypertension, cancer and cholesterol. Some supplements may cause nausea, heartburn, bad breath and body odour. [UC Wellness Letter]
Tackling Garlic Breath
- Chew a roasted coffee bean.
References and Useful Websites
- Evolution of Crop Plants, by N.W. Simmonds (Ed)
- The Journal of the Royal College of Physicians, Vol 28 No 1:39-45, by C.S. Silagy, H.A.W. Neil, 1994
- Anti-Viral Effects of Garlic, by Peter Josling B. Sc. (Hons.)