Powerful natural medicines are already in your home. Today we take a look at one of my personal favorites, garlic.
As an herbalist, people are always asking me what my favorite herb or spice is. Easy: garlic! Pungent garlic is a remarkable medicinal food with widely confirmed health benefits — all wrapped up in a delicate white paper case. Garlic has played a central role in herbal medicine for thousands of years. Traditionally, garlic was valued for its ability to ward off and treat infection. More recently, garlic has been shown to be an effective preventive in serious chronic health conditions, including hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and other cardiovascular conditions as well as chronic infections, immune dysregulation, and even some types of cancers.
Garlic is a powerhouse spice for the immune system and also boasts anti-inflammation and antimicrobial effects. Garlic’s ability to permeate the tissues of the entire body is just one of its amazing properties. When people joke about their garlic breath sticking (stinking!) around after they eat it, it’s not just their breath. The entire body absorbs garlic — skin, lungs, and blood. Here’s a weird experiment to prove it: Next time you’re home on a quiet Saturday night, slice open a raw clove of garlic and rub it on the soles of your feet. Within about 15 minutes, you’ll be able to taste it in your mouth as it travels through your body.
If you like the taste, use garlic for daily health support. You can add it into breakfast omelets, hummus at lunch, or soups, stews, or grilling for dinner. I recommended two to three fresh cloves per day, but consuming just one per day will also have benefits.
Fresh, raw, powdered, or aged
Using garlic in fresh bulb form is ideal. Look for bulbs with a slight purple coloring to the papery outsides; these are the most medicinal varieties. Peel the fresh cloves (there are all kinds of fun techniques to explore the best way to peel) and crack each clove by pressing it with the flat side of a knife — this allows the beneficial phytochemicals to become more potent. You can then slice or chop each clove to add to your cooking. If all that peeling sounds like too much work, you can buy pre-peeled cloves, but they are not as fresh, and some of the pungency is diminished.
I would avoid buying crushed garlic in jars altogether because it lacks the medicinal punch. Instead, you can find frozen garlic or, better yet, run fresh peeled garlic through a food processor and freeze small amounts of it yourself. High-quality garlic powders and garlic granules contain a large amount of the medicinal effects of garlic in an easy-to-use form. Garlic powder, while not equivalent to the flavor of fresh garlic, is easy to use and will keep on the shelf for several months. A high-quality garlic powder can be used as a legitimate medicinal spice. I recommend two teaspoons per day if you are using garlic powder medicinally.
As an antimicrobial, garlic is best when raw. If you’ve eaten raw garlic before, you know it is quite strong and not very palatable to consume in large amounts. There are also some strategies for making raw garlic easier to take. When using raw garlic, it’s best to coat it with something viscous. One easy method is guacamole — add raw garlic to freshly mashed avocado with lime juice and salt. You could also mix raw garlic into olive oil and spread on bread, pasta, or vegetables. Add raw garlic to peanut butter as the base of a spicy Thai peanut sauce. Or put it into honey for a sweet-savory mix. Cooked and aged garlic also have antimicrobial effects but they are significantly reduced. That doesn’t mean you can’t use cooked or aged garlic for antimicrobial purposes, but try to cook the garlic for as short a time as possible. Throw it in the pot at the very end of the cook time.
I love the taste of garlic, but I realize that not everyone does — and that garlic doesn’t seem to love them back and can cause gastrointestinal issues. If this is the case for you, consider aged garlic extracts which are commonly available as supplements and can deliver the health effects of garlic without the flavor. Aged garlic extracts retain and concentrate some of the fresh bulb’s medicinal effects, but some other beneficial constituents are lost when the garlic is aged.
Try a daily dose of garlic, either 2 cloves fresh or 2 teaspoons (8.4 grams) powdered, for overall health support.