Actions: Blood cholesterol normaliser, hypotensive, antimicrobial, anticatarrhal, expectorant
Qualities: heating, pungent
Affinities: cardiovascular system, especially blood pressure
Safety concerns: As a food source, there are no serious concerns, although allergies to garlic exist. In high doses, it may inhibit thyroid function and increase the likelihood of postoperative/spontaneous bleeding. Of course, there's the smell too!
This is a perennial angiosperm (flowering plant), growing up to 1m on a tall and erect stem. The leaf is flat, linear, acute apex (pointing end). The flowers, known as “scapes”, are trimmed to encourage bulb development and are edible - a very pleasant edition to salads and pesto! They bloom pink/purple (or sometimes white) and hermaphroditic, meaning they produce pollen and contain the ovules that develop into seeds. They are pollinated by bees and other insects. The genus name for garlic, Allium, comes from the Celtic word for "burning" or "smarting." Onions and leeks also belong to this group.
Garlic is one of those wonderful plants that exists in the overlap of food and medicine - arguably they are all one in the same! This relationship with us is very longstanding, confirmed by
archeological records. It's warming quality and pungent flavour probably led to its use in 'cold'
states and can be used like other warming remedies, such as ginger and capsicum. Hoffman suggests its use to trigger a febrile state when the body has struggled to mount one itself.
By now, garlic's protective effects on the cardiovascualr system, as well as its antimicrobial action, is well known. This is now doubt bolstered by the vast amount of research that has been done to investigate these effects. The evidence varies in quality and type, but is extensive and is far beyond a brief summary. However, some of the more salient things we know about the action of the sulphuric constituents of garlic from modern research include that they:
are hypoglycaemic - acting in competition with insulin
inhibit the synthesis of enzymes involved in plaque formation while sparing the vascular synthesis of important prostaglandins
lose their antimicrobial effects in cooking, but not their hypotensive effects
protect the heart during cardiac surgery and after a heart attack and could be used as a treatment for heart failure
decrease LDLs while increase HDLs
Garlic can be taken indefinately, and is probably best used as a preventative when there are high risks of developing atherosclerosis and the associated complications.
It combines well with Tilia and Crateagus, probably due to their cooling and dispersing qualities. Liquorice FE is another option to mask the flavour.