Garlic is also referred to as Allium Sativum and belongs to the botanical order of Asparagales, botanical family of Amarylliadaceae and the botanical sub family of Allioideae.
Garlic is closely related to the onion and chive family and has been used extensively for purposes for flavoring and seasoning of food. It has been used as a food product right from the ancient Egyptian Era and continues to be used as the same till date.
Garlic grows almost all over the world and is a cultivated easily in almost every part of the globe.
The whole plant is used for a variety of culinary and medicinal purposes but the the bulb of the garlic or the pod which grows below the soil is most commonly used part.
Nutritionally, garlic is extremely rich and contains a variety of vitamins and minerals in abundance.
It also contains generous amounts of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Amongst the vitamins, major components include Vitamin B1 or thiamine, Vitamin B2 or riboflavin, Vitamin B3 or niacin, Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid, Vitamin B6, folate and Vitamin C. Thus we see it is a store house of essential vitamins useful for body functioning.
Amongst the minerals, garlic is known to have generous quantities of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc.
It also contains traces of selenium.
Biochemically, garlic is composed of sulphur related compounds and its derivatives such as allicin, poly sulphides, ajoene and certain enzymes, flavinoids and saponins.
The characteristic odor and taste that garlic gives off is primarily due to a reaction that occurs when the pod is broken or cut open which causes a spontaneous reaction leading to a breakdown of the sulphur and its related compounds.
Uses of Garlic
Garlic has been used for a variety of purposes since the ancient times. Apart from being an important component of our food, it has also been used for its medicinal benefits as well as certain religious and spiritual purposes. We shall now glance in detail at each.
The bulb of the garlic is the most commonly used part in food and for cooking purposes. The bulbs are normally fleshy and divided into many sections that are individually referred to as cloves. It has a characteristically spicy and pungent odor and flavor that tends to sweeten as it begins to cook.
The garlic plant leaves as well as the flowers or bulbils which form a part of the head of the plant are also consumed in certain parts of the world although they have a milder flavor as compared to the garlic pod.
Often, garlic is added to butter so as to obtain a garlic flavored butter and is also added to certain breads to obtain garlic bread. These are widely consumed in many parts of the world especially in Asia and Europe. Garlic is also stored with vinegar and consumed in a pickled form. This also helps obtain garlic vinegar which is used for cooking purposes and to be added as a condiment or accompaniment with food.
Garlic is widely used for cooking purposes in the South East Asian region as well as in regions of Europe especially Italy, Spain and France whose cuisines very often use the same as a major ingredient for cooking.
Garlic is now also available in the powdered and the paste form which can be easily stored made use of later apart from the fresh form that is also widely available world over.
The Chinese have been using garlic for their medicinal benefits since the ancient times. The Greek and the Romans used garlic as a remedy to relieve complaints coming on from the sun and was thus extensively used by them when on field during battles.
Hippocrates recommended its use for treating intestinal disorders as well as infectious diseases.
Garlic was also used in Egypt as means for invoking the deity while the emperors and rulers took their oaths. Large quantities of garlic were also found in their tombs which only signified its importance during the era.
Early historical records also show garlic being used to treat and cure dropsy as has been mentioned in William Cullens Materia Medica and also help control small pox as per texts written around the late 1700’s.
Garlic also found use as a remedy to ward off evil and bad spirits owing to its property that it could purify the one who kept it with himself as well as the surroundings where it was places.
The antiseptic properties of garlic were put to use during the world wars where it was used extensively on the battle field to treat and prevent gangrene in wounded soldiers.
Medicinal Uses and Benefits
The volatile oil in garlic known as allyll sulphate is known to have strong antiseptic properties and has been used for controlling the growth of the tuberculosis bacilli in the lungs and also controls its spread to other parts of the body.
Garlic stimulates peristalsis and helps improve the secretion of the gastric and other digestive juices and also helps in expelling worms from the intestines.
Recent clinical studies have shown that garlic is essential in preventing cardiovascular diseases and helps lower the blood cholesterol levels.
Studies have shown that garlic intake helps reduce the risk of cancers especially that of the stomach and the intestinal tract.
The sulphur related compounds in garlic have also helped in alleviating and relieving the symptoms of a common cough and cold and thus its use in treating the same has been also been recognized
It has also been used as an aphrodisiac and is known to improve the libido.
Religious and Spiritual Uses
Garlic pods have been used since many years to ward off evil forces especially demons, ware wolves, and vampires in many parts of Europe.
Garlic is traditionally displayed at homes where Nowroze or the Parsi Calendar New Year is celebrated.
Islam prohibits the consumption of raw garlic before going to the Mosque to offer prayers as has been advised by the hadith.
Thus we see how garlic has over the years evolved and used for many a purposes which include medicinal, spiritual as well as religious.