Garlic: The Ultimate Superfood
No doubt you must have heard about the benefits of garlic for our health. Throughout ancient and modern history, garlic has been used for medicinal purposes to treat and prevent numerous conditions and diseases. Luckily, this pungent bulbous plant is widely used in our healthy Middle Eastern diet. You will hardly find a Lebanese kitchen without it! Garlic simply makes everything taste better, from sauces, soups, stir-fries to koftas, almost everything we cook uses this flavorsome ingredient! So, let’s take a closer look at this amazing root vegetable….
Garlic Medicinal History
From earliest recorded history, garlic references can be traced. According to the Journal of Nutrition, ancient medical texts from Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and India each prescribed medical applications for garlic. In addition, garlic was frequently administered to laborers to provide strength and to increase their work capacity (then again, it may even be the secret as to how the Egyptians built those awesome pyramids without modern machinery!). Records also show that garlic was given to the early Olympic athletes in Greece to enhance their physical performance.
The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.), often referred to as the ‘father of modern medicine’, prescribed garlic for many conditions, and in particular for treating respiratory problems, parasites, poor digestion and fatigue. Much later, another famous physician from the 16th century, Paetro Mattioli of Siena, prescribed garlic to his patients for digestive disorders, kidney stones and to help mothers during difficult childbirth. We also know that Native Americans would put wild garlic bulbs in their tea to treat flu-like symptoms, while the English turned to garlic for treating toothache, constipation and the devastating plague. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, garlic was famously used to ward off vampires. However, that may have links to the wide use of garlic to repel blood sucking insects (and we’ll cover this use later).
Clearly garlic has an excellent track record when we look at early medicine. But what is truly remarkable is that many different cultures, without contact with one another, came to similar conclusions regarding the benefits of garlic! Today, the global trend towards the use of natural remedies with fewer side effects has encouraged garlic consumption as an alternative therapy.
It’s no wonder that garlic is good for us when we look at its nutritional value. In fact, three cloves of garlic contain the following vitamins, minerals and nutrients:
- 8 mg vitamin C (5% recommended daily intake)
- 1 mg vitamin B6 (6% RDI)
- 16 mg calcium
- 36 mg potassium
- 13 mg phosphorus
- 8 mg omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 g carbohydrates
- Traces of vitamin A, K and B-group vitamins
- 13 calories
The medicinal property of garlic comes from a compound called allicin, which is the main bioactive chemical in raw garlic. Allicin is a sulfur-based compound that has an anti-cancer, anti-hypertensive, and antimicrobial effect. You can see the extensive list of medicinal uses for garlic courtesy of Medical News Today, but do keep in mind that only some of the claimed uses are backed by research.
Choose Organic Locally Sourced Garlic
We can’t stress enough the importance of getting your garlic from a good source: go for locally produced organic or you can grow it yourself at home. The reason being is that the market is flooded with imported garlic from China (globally 80% of garlic is from China). However, what many don’t realize is that they’re heavily contaminated with bleach, chemicals and pesticides! In Lebanon, you will normally find most of the garlic sold being imported from China, too. You will find some grocers with local or ‘baladi’ garlic, and these tend to be smaller in size and even sometimes less ‘perfect looking’ than their imported counterparts.
Don’t be fooled by the large size and ‘polished looking’ cloves, the Chinese garlic has been bleached with chlorine to make it look more appealing. Also, as reported by Times of India, as per Chinese law, it is mandatory for farmers to spray pesticides which contain methyl bromide (in order to help fight off insects and plant matter). Furthermore, according to some reports, Chinese garlic is grown in untreated sewage water which may even contain lead and sulphites. Another reason to get local garlic means that it is likely to be more recently picked (in season). Imported garlic may have been stored for long periods of time which can lead to the decline of allicin, the main reason why garlic is so healthy!
Imported Garlic Local “Baladi” Garlic
Useful Tips When Buying and Cooking Garlic
- Check Weight: Try to always select garlic with firm bulbs and avoid those that are light, soft and less bulbous.
- Check Taste: If the garlic is relatively bland in taste (and even slightly metallic), it might be imported (local is more flavorsome).
- Don’t cook the garlic immediately after crushing or chopping it. You need to wait for ten minutes in order to preserve the allicin and its therapeutic effects. Also do not microwave garlic as it will completely kill the allicin.
- Finally, don’t want the garlicky breath afterwards? Why don’t you eat fennel seeds for dessert to neutralize the smell? Otherwise you can try munching on lettuce, apples, parsley or raw mint leaves which also helps.
Aside from its amazing flavor and nutritional value as a food ingredient, garlic has multiple practical uses for the home as well. We rounded up four of our favourite uses for garlic to share with you:
1. Mosquito Repellant
As we hinted earlier garlic has the ability to ward off mosquitoes. Scientists aren’t sure why, but research shows that people who rub garlicky concoctions on their arms and legs were not bothered by the pesky blood suckers. You can try making a solution of garlic oil, petroleum jelly and beeswax at home. One study found that this was effective in preventing mosquito bites for up to eight hours! Alternatively, just place cloves of garlic nearby, as this can also do the trick if you prefer something less smelly.
2. Preventing and Treating Colds
This time of year, when the weather regularly switches from mild to cold and back again, may mean you are more susceptible to cold and flu. Garlic is packed with antioxidants, thanks to the organic compound allicin, which can improve your immune system. So, getting plenty of this good stuff in your diet does pay off. If eating a clove raw is not your thing – it can cause bad breath and can be hard on the digestion for some – there are plenty of amazing dishes rich with garlic you can eat. Check out our previous garlic story with a recipe perfect for the flu season (http://thewellnessproject.me/fifty-clove-garlic-soup-ultimate-weapon/), and we will be mentioning a few more recipes later on.
3. Treating Athlete’s Foot
Garlic has always been known for its microbial properties, specifically because it contains ajoene. This compound has proven to be especially effective in the battle against athlete’s foot. For those with a mild case of athlete’s foot, home remedies using garlic has proven to work well. You can try soaking your feet in a bath of water and crushed garlic. Otherwise, it is best to consult a medical doctor who will prescribe more effective solutions.
4. Make Natural Pesticide
In addition to mosquitoes, other garden pests also don’t like garlic. This means you can easily make a non-toxic (and economical) organic pesticide at home. To make this, crush 4-5 garlic cloves in a food processor. Try to get the consistency as smooth as possible then dilute this concentrate with 2 ½ cups of water. Once water is added, pulse a couple of times and pour the mixture into a glass container and let it sit in a covered dark place for a day. Then transfer the mixture to a spray bottle. Soak the leaves in the infested area once every week until it is cleared. You can also soak the infested soil with this garlic water once a week to get rid of fungus gnats and nematodes. This homemade garlic spray works for vegetable, fruit, ornamental and indoor plants.
Perhaps, you have some other interesting remedies that involves garlic? If you do, please share them with us. We always love to know about natural remedies, which are also eco-friendly! Finally, let’s end with three super tasty and healthy garlic recipes that you can try at home:
Garlic Culinary Delights
Before we delve into our first recipe, we must stress that many of our popular Lebanese dishes involve raw chopped garlic, which is the best way to consume garlic to reap the benefits! This includes our two creamy culinary staples: Humus and Mtabal.
So, let’s start with our super garlicky and versatile Toum paste which is extremely rich with nutritious raw garlic. Like Humus, Toum paste can be enjoyed as a dip with pita bread and crackers, or it can be used as a base for a salad dressing. Many of us have been eating Toum in restaurants and as you know this intense paste packs a powerful punch! Here is one of our favorite recipes from Mamas Lebanese Kitchen.
Soup is also another fantastic way to incorporate plenty of garlic cloves! With winter approaching soups are great comfort meals and can boost your immunity when packed with lemon zest and garlic, like this wonderful flavorsome soup from Simply Quinoa.
Our third and final recipe is an Italian classic pasta sauce from The Splendid Table which requires two Mediterranean staples: extra virgin olive oil and garlic. It is very easy to make and the ideal dish when we
come back home from a long day at work or school and need something quick to make, yet healthy. Kids love this pasta dish too! Make sure you have good quality grated parmesan cheese in your fridge to add for the topping. Sahtein!
Well, we hope you liked our story on garlic! And remember to always source organic, pesticide free garlic and make sure all other ingredients you use are also organic and pesticide fee. Don’t compromise because it really makes a difference to your health; the environment and it encourages a healthy chain for all parties involved – from (organic and local) suppliers to consumers.
Lastly, let us stress that we need to build our strength, our immunity and to eat nutritiously during this challenging political period! Take good care of yourself, eat well and exercise every day to maintain a healthy body and mind. The more fit we are, the better equipped we are to overcome life’s challenges!
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