History of Garlic

Garlic is one of the oldest known remedies in recorded history. It grows all over the world and ancient medical texts record similar medicinal uses where it was traditionally used.  Moreover, the bible makes many biblical references to the virtues of garlic.

Garlic was found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb and it is rumoured that the workers building the pyramids went on strike when the onion and garlic rations were removed from their diet. They were believed to provide strength and increase stamina. 

Four Thieves Vinegar

There are many stories of garlic warding off various infectious threats down through the centuries. It was respected and appreciated by physicians most especially during epidemics. It was the first remedy sought to treat and prevent infectious illnesses. During the great plagues of Europe there are accounts of garlic being in great demand. It formed a principle ingredient in the ‘Four Thieves Vinegar’, a recipe used by thieves to protect them while plundering bodies during the great plague.

Garlic for wounds during World Wars I and II

Garlic was used in World War I and II as a treatment for infected wounds on the battlefield to prevent gangrene and the British government even paid citizens to grow garlic as part of the war effort. Although antibiotics were already beginning to be used during World War II, the Russian army had less access to this breakthrough and continued to use garlic and thus garlic became known as ‘Russian penicillin’.

Medicinal properties of garlic

A recent study that looked at lots of other studies supports the ancient observations of the value of garlic for its antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. It has also been shown to have immune boosting and anti-inflammatory properties.  Garlic helps to boost friendly gut bacteria, and as about 70-80% of our immune system is connected to our gut, this gives the body another immune boost.

Recent studies suggest garlic can protect against the common cold. During a twelve-week study from November to February, those people taking garlic had fewer colds, and the colds were better endured than those taking a placebo (a garlic substitute).

Some research facts about garlic

  • People eating garlic over a 3 month period had a 37% reduction in number of colds and a 30% reduction on the duration and severity of colds
  • Garlic stimulates the immune system
  • It reduces inflammation
  • Encourages the growth of friendly gut bacteria
  • Antimicrobial properties against some bacteria, viruses , yeast and fungal infections

There are very few plants with the therapeutic punch provided by members of the onion family, especially at this time of year. This is why I love garlic and its close relatives, onions and leeks, as a preventative against colds, flu and respiratory infections.

Garlic – the classic example of Food as Medicine

Allium sativum is the Latin name for garlic. Allium is a Celtic word for pungent, hot and burning. Garlic only releases it’s therapeutic benefit once it has been cut or crushed and the two chemicals, which are kept in separate cells, interact producing allicin, a sulphur containing component of the garlic. Once cut, it can lose its benefits, so is best taken fresh.

Cooking garlic may reduce some of the antimicrobial benefits, as they are volatile and are lost to the air. That said if you can smell it on the breath it is having some beneficial effect.

The active parts of garlic are broken down in the gut and then exhaled through the lungs, that is, we breathe out the antimicrobial odour. This is what creates garlic breath, but if everyone eats it, no one smells it, which is why garlic really should be a family affair.

Garlic - a great preventative medicine in winter

I usually suggest that for people who are prone to chest infections or asthma in the winter, adding onion and garlic to their diet on most days, may provide some preventative benefit.  These can be added to most main dishes you prepare, such as meat, fish, vegetables, casseroles, stews, and soups.

For the braver souls, or when you feel that you are starting to come down with something, you may want to take a clove from the bulb and eat it raw, crushed and mixed into a soup or stew just before eating it. Crushed garlic on toast can work too.

Chewing mint or parsley after your meal may help reduce garlic breath

Onion Syrup

Try this onion and garlic syrup recipe. I advise parents with young children to keep a jar of this in the fridge throughout the winter and at the first sign of a cold or sore throat, to give some to their child. It can be taken each morning too as a preventative strategy. Adults can benefit from it too. Surprisingly, despite the pungent odour, children seem to love it. You can find the recipe here.


Petrovska, B. and Cekovska, S. (2010). Extracts from the history and medical properties of garlic. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 4(7), p.106.

Ried, K. (2016). Garlic Lowers Blood Pressure in Hypertensive Individuals, Regulates Serum Cholesterol, and Stimulates Immunity: An Updated Meta-analysis and Review. The Journal of Nutrition, 146(2), pp.389S-396S.

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