Garlic: The Mystical Health Food
The Story of Garlic for the Love of It
By: J. Marlando
I was raised in a garlic-eating family. My mom cooked with it, put it in salads, stews, spaghetti and roasts. We also ate it raw! My dad grew it in our back yard and ate so much of it that his skin had a garlic smell. He’s been dead for many years now but anytime I catch the scent of garlic, thoughts of him manifest in my heart and I become mindful with memories.
When my grandmother was a little girl her mother would make her and her brothers wear garlic around their necks when they went to school in winter. The idea was that it would keep them from catching colds. And, as far as superstition is concerned, we had a friend who would set garlic around the house to get rid of unfriendly ghosts. It must have worked, however, because we never saw an unfriendly ghost in his house.
As for me, I love garlic cooked and raw. I especially like garlic on pizza but of all the pizzas I’ve had over the years, I found only one place that would add garlic if someone requested it and that was many years ago. As for salads, my mom used to take roasted red peppers and garlic, mix them in some olive oil and we ate it like candy. Well, garlic is healthy for you—unless you have an allergy of course.
I call garlic the “mystical health food” because it has so many ties to religion and superstition. Indeed, it is well known for keeping evil spirits away and, historically, some people hung a clove over their doors to keep old Satan
Garlic, however, is a healthy food and a food that has been used for medicinal purposes in cultures longer than any other. This begins in the Sumerian culture, the supposed birthplace of Abraham and the launching of civilization itself. We can no doubt assume that a form of garlic was eaten in prehistory too. Most certainly the American Native ate wild garlic as seen here:
As a quick aside and speaking of “wild garlic” it is thought that garlic is probably a variant from the Lillie family and, the experts believe, originated somewhere in Central Asia.
The role that garlic has played in the unfolding of human history is incredible, fun and fascinating. As a history buff and…a lover of garlic, my intent is to take the reader on a memorable and inspiring journey across the millenniums into our own times where garlic remains one of the most healthy and important natural foods we can eat.
We know the garlic held great medicinal importance to the ancient Egyptian over 3,000 years B.C. Indeed, you may be familiar with the mystery that surrounds the building of the pyramids with those blocks of stone weighing tons. Well, the builders of those pyramids believed that garlic gave them tremendous strength and so…who knows?
Although I am being a little tongue-in-cheek here, the truth is that garlic was so important in the Egyptian culture that the only slave revolt (not counting the Jewish Exodus) occurred over a lack of garlic by the laborers of those times.
Garlic was also included in “Ebers Codex” the ancient “book” of medicinal remedies of Egypt. Garlic was so important in those times that Tutankhamen
During the long journey of the Israelites escape from Egypt (Numbers 11:5) the Jews missed garlic and other foods they had eaten in Egypt. In fact, according to the Talmud, the ancient Hebrews referred to themselves as “the garlic eaters.”
In ancient Greek aristocracy did not approve of garlic and refused anyone smelling of it entrance into the temples. Yet, that some of the citizenry ate garlic is for certain. For one thing, garlic was included in their medicinal remedies and Aristotle called it an aphrodisiac
In ancient Rome it was believed that garlic added strength and courage to their armies of men and, at the same time and worked to cure colds, rashes, worms and other ailments. Pliny the Elder
Garlic goes back into Ancient China starting around 2700 B.C. with their finest cooks using it to season. As the reader may know Chinese philosophy divides nature into the forces of yin and yang
It was because of garlic’s stimulating effect that Buddhism rejected it. It was thought that garlic would or could upset one’s spiritual harmony. Even to this day garlic and onions are traditionally left out of Japanese cuisine.
The Jain religion refuses to eat garlic, onions and potatoes because of their reproductive potentials. The Jain philosophy is one of non-violence and thus to eat, we’ll say, potatoes with its many eyes and garlic with its many cloves would be, to them, destroying the potential of new souls.
When the conquering armies of Rome entered Northern Europe they were the ones who, with little doubt, introduced garlic, leeks and onion to the Europeans When Rome fell and Charlemagne
In Ireland, garlic was used to treat serious diseases like whooping cough and tuberculosis. As for France, the French Navy served their sailors brandy and garlic to keep them warm and to prevent them from coming down with scurvy. The British followed and I assumed both countries had a much healthier…and happier Navy.
On a more serious note, during World War I British doctors created a liquid made of garlic juice and water which was applied directly to wounds in order to control infections. This worked so well that the Russians used the same formula during World War II.
Garlic was introduced to America between the last of the 1400s and the early 1500s. (As said earlier in this text the American Indians were already eating wild garlic along with wild onions and leek type herbs). As for the earlier citizens, however, garlic was thought of as being unsocial so regardless of what the rest of the world thought, Americans were not very receptive to herb at all. Nevertheless, the Shakers—a religious group
Actually, as the reader will see, garlic did not really grow in U.S. popularity until the 1940s but we will talk about this later.
Folklore and Mystical Mythologies
Where do superstitions come from? For example who was first to believe that garlic contains the power to chase away evil spirits…even vampires? This, someone suggested may go back to Homer in 8 B.C. who tells about a goddess in the Iliad that uses magic to turn men into pigs. He suggests that eating the Moly plant will defeat the sorcery. The Moly is a relative of garlic. Here is its root
By 300 BC, a Greek custom was for travelers to leave garlic at a crossroads to confuse the bad spirits and demons and keep them from knowing which direction they took. The ancient Greeks were, as most of the old cultures, extremely superstitious. For example, midwives would crush a clove of garlic to purify the birthing room and chase any evil away. Once the baby was born, a necklace with a clove of garlic was placed around the baby’s neck for safety’s sake.
In India garlic is and historically has been used as a traditional medicine to increase semen and as an aphrodisiac. Traditionally in Transylvania, garlic is used to keep vampires away. Actually Transylvanian folklore teaches that mosquito bites are the bites of vampires so the use of garlic was used as a repellent by people. In modern times it has been discovered that garlic actually works to repel mosquitoes.
People in the Philippines are known to be a superstitious people and so garlic is used by them to keep their families safe from manananggal
The folklore includes how to track and kill a manananggal which includes wandering about the shadows of town or forest and setting a trap. Since manananggals leave the bottom half of their bodies when they fly, the trick is finding the lower half and sprinkling it with garlic and salt. When the upper half returns to find out what’s going on, it is trapped and either killed or forced to remove any curses it might have given. Filipino’s who actually fear becoming a victim of the manananggal carry a mixture of garlic and salt to protect themselves at all times.
There are also dangerous creatures called tiyanaks. A tiyanaks takes on the form of a new born baby to attract victims. In fact, they are believed to have manifested from the corpses of babies who died in the womb. A more modern take is that tiyanaks
Other superstitions include Danish mothers using garlic to keep their children safe from evil spirits. In old Serbia women rubbed their breasts with garlic to protect them from the evil spirits that fly around at night. In Europe garlic was used to keep devils and werewolves at bay. And, my grandmother told me that in the back hills of Kentucky whenever folks walked through the darkness or felt that they were in some kind of danger
The truth of all the mythologies and superstitions, however, are really grounded in truth. Well, at least in this way. Garlic does keep us safe in terms of our good health and we’ll be talking about that next.
Garlic and Health
When I was a teenager I still remember my first toothache—it was a doozy and delivered a pain that I had never experienced before. It had awakened me in the middle of the night and I didn’t know if I should bawl….scream or hit my head against the wall, as the reader will know, you can’t run away from a bad toothache.
My mom and grandma heard my groans and as soon as they found out what was wrong, they hurried into the kitchen and cut a garlic clove in half. They instructed me to rub it on the tooth and gum which I did. The pain actually subsided and I went back to sleep. The next day I saw a dentist and “got repaired.”
Today it is well known that garlic also helps protect us from heart disease but that garlic has extreme healing and antibiotic properties have been realized since ancient times. Indeed, it was discovered in World War II that in a few cases garlic worked better than even penicillin in treating infections.
Garlic is also good news for diabetics (as I am) because it actually helps to regulate blood sugar metabolism while detoxifying the liver and stimulating blood circulation.
It is also documented that garlic reduces cholestral and reduces the inflammation from painful arthritis and lumbago.
Garlic also works to keep the blood healthy.
We’ll talk about “garlic breath” and avoiding it a little later but, for now, let’s stay on the topic of garlic’s health benefits.
Unlike other herbs and vegetables garlic can retain its antioxidant properties for up to six months after harvest,
Antioxidants are packed with vitamins, minerals and nutrients that protect your cells and add strength to your immune system so it can combat health threats such as heart disease, arthritis, dreaded cancer and other illnesses including the common cold.
Garlic for one thing is known to stabilize our mass cells. Mass cells are found throughout our immune system and works against asthma and allergies because they release the chemical, histamine. At the same time, mass cells induce an inflammatory response to germs and viruses. Garlic simply has the ingredients to help keep us healthy…naturally.
Incidentally, while it is true that some doctors deny that all of garlic’s health claims are true it is generally agreed that along with so many other benefits that garlic has both anti-tumor and anti-diabetic properties.
Here’s what some readers will consider the “bad news.” While it is said that drinking a little milk after eating garlic will reduce the scent of it, the truth is that the “odor” of garlic is difficult to cover up even with the best of mouthwashes. As for me, I like the smell of garlic but I assume I am in the minority. My wife finds it somewhat repulsive for example. On the other hand, garlic is known for killing mouth bacteria. There is a catch to all this, however. The truth is that cooking garlic reduces its curative and other medicinal powers. Thus, it is best to eat at least one raw clove a day if you can. There is an entire world history telling you that you will be all the healthier if you do.
If you are curious, the reason the garlic has such a poignant smell is that when raw garlic is cut, broken or chewed its alliin converts into alliicin.
Alliicin is the major ingredient in garlic that is responsible for the herbs anti-bacterial activity that includes its anti, hypertension, anti -cancer and anti-microbial effects. Interestingly alliicin is not found in fresh garlic and doesn’t evolve until the clove is crushed or cut or, in other words, broken in some way. As I understand alliicin does not have a long span of effectiveness and this is why it is best to eat garlic raw. I am no expert in the extremely complex chemistry of garlic, however.
What I do know is that garlic is good and good for you. And, if you can’t bring yourself to eat it raw, go to your health food store and take it in liquid or tablet form. You’ll be glad that you did!
There are simply a lot of ways to enjoy garlic and, these days it is said, that no pantry is complete without it. As said, my own mom put it in roasts, in stews, in salads and made her spaghetti sauce with it. We loved it at our house!
Way back to the Middle-Ages—the English cooks included garlic in all their sauces for meats and poetry while King Richard
Today in Turkey garlic is made into a side dish with pickled garlic being roasted and afterwards seasoned with salt and olive oil. I’ve never tasted this but it sounds good. I did live in Mexico for a number of years however, and they make a wonderful garlic soup: They take a large white onion, a big bulb of garlic and simmer them together in a quart of water. Afterwards the onion and garlic are mashed, put back in the pot and seasoned with vegetable broth powder, cayenne and some salt. Try that on a cold day and see how warm and cozy you feel.
Another favorite dish of mine is Korean kimchee. Well, the flavor that most people love in kimchee is—you’ve got it—garlic.
I frankly like garlic best in salads, raw and fresh but this reminds me—never let garlic marinate in room temperature as it can go bad when mixed with oil. Let your salad marinate and then add your garlic before serving.
If you desire something healthy and tasty you can always put a little butter on rye read. Spread some chopped raw garlic on it and add a little tasty cheese. I was given this recipe and well, its doggone good!
And finally, I remind you not to throw the garlic shoots away. They are really tasty in salads and other dishes. So remind yourself, the next time you’re in the market shopping for your healthiest foods
Garlic is a warehouse of minerals. If you eat only a hundred grams (3 1/2 ounces) your body will enjoy:
Copper 0.30 mg
Iron: 1.7 mg
Manganese: 1.12 mg
Phophorous 153 mg
Slenium 14.2 mg
Zinc 1.16 mg
If you enjoyed this article you should enjoy: Tomatoes The Unexpected Story--click below
or Onions, the Miracle Food--click below
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