Garlic: magic or medicine?

If courage had a flavor, it would taste like garlic.

Is there any other stem that you know of that wards off plagues, vampires and demons? Or another scary flower that has stimulated warriors on the high seas, erected sand pyramids, entered the homes of slaves, kings and gods, followed pharaohs to their tombs, or turned a giant bear into a woman in 100 days?

As hard as it is to swallow, the truth is that garlic(Allium sativum) has been on the breath of those who have accomplished some of the most impressive feats in human history. Forget the history of superfoodsGarlic is absolutely supernatural.

Like onions, leeks and chives, garlic is a perennial plant that grows from a bulb. Although it is native to Central and South Asia, today it is found in almost every environment and kitchen in the world. With a history of more than 5,000 years of cultivation and consumption, it is the most widely used plant in history for gastronomic and medicinal purposes. And rightly so.


So, what's the story?

Plants, their uses and our perceptions of their role tend to change over time. However, it is one of the few foods that manages to demonstrate a remarkable continuity between ancient and current practices. There are few things in our lives whose importance is so powerful that they transcend, and even mitigate, cultural barriers. Garlic is one of them, and its benefits can be traced back to the third millennium BC.

At that time, in China, Japan and Korea, garlic was widely used and was already an important part of the daily diet. It was used to help digestion, breathing, fatigue and depression, and even found its way into ancient Korean shamanism as a powerful food that allegedly turned a bear into a goddess.

In ancient India, garlic appears in some of the earliest written records as a fundamental part of the Ayurvedic medical tradition. It was used to treat heart disease and arthritis, conditions that contemporary doctors agree can be alleviated with its use.

The ancient Egyptians were also great advocates of garlic. The plant was not only a key ingredient in the daily diet, but was also intentionally distributed to the workers who built the pyramids, as a means of increasing their physical strength and protecting them from sunstroke. In fact, when the mummy of King Tutankhamun was buried some 3,500 years ago, a few cloves of garlic also found their way into the pharaoh's tomb, where they remained well preserved until it was excavated in 1922.

Similarly, evidence of the existence of this food has also been found in the nearby temples of Ancient Greece. As with the Egyptians, it was recognized as a source of strength by the Greeks, who administered it to their Olympic athletes, sailors and warriors before competitions or battles. It can therefore be considered one of the first performance-enhancing drugs, but it was also used to treat medical conditions. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, advocated the use of garlic to treat lung diseases and Pliny the Elder noted its effectiveness against 61 diseases, from baldness to epilepsy.

history of garlic

The Romans, and later the Vikings, continued to use this food for courage and strength at sea, but also as a medical aid. The belief that garlic could be used to "cleanse arteries", treat gastrointestinal disorders and relieve joint pain was a firm conviction in Ancient Rome, and is still the subject of medical research today. Thanks to the Romans, garlic was then introduced to northern Europe, where it maintained its healing reputation throughout the Middle Ages, and was even used as a treatment for the Great Plagues. At the other end of the Atlantic Ocean, Native Americans and early European settlers also used it in tonics and flu remedies.

As the world changed and distant cultures came into conflict, people's taste for garlic remained. On the battlefields of the First and Second World Wars, garlic paste was used in the absence of penicillin. The idea that this food can treat illness and introduce strength is recurrent in isolated groups and has been an important catalyst for much of the medical research that has taken place in the last century. The rejection of garlic by higher social castes is also a recurring theme that draws links between Buddhist Brahmins, the ancient Greeks and the Victorian aristocracy. Even today, the stigma persists and the fear of smelling garlic can create dilemmas at the table. From adoration to contempt, it really has left a whole range of flavors in people's mouths. Not bad for a vegetable.

The reason for your success

The reason behind garlic's ambivalent reputation is allicin. Allicin is a sulfur compound that gives garlic its powerful flavor. It is also allicin that gives it its irrefutable health benefits. Allicin is a pesticide, antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral, which means that garlic can suppress the growth of almost any microorganism. As a result, it is often used to regulate imbalances in the intestinal flora and, in fact, garlic has been considered a potential global warming buffer, because when it is incorporated into cow feed, it reduces methane emissions by half!

Allicin is also an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals, slows down ageing and increases the absorption of other nutrients such as zinc and iron. From diabetes to asthma, allicin proves to be a remarkably effective chemical. But its most reputed benefit is its effect on the circulatory system. Allicin lowers blood pressure and prevents platelets from clotting, which means it thins the blood and destroys blood clots. It also acts on bad cholesterol and prevents it from accumulating in the blood vessels, making it a great food for preventing atherosclerosis (a chronic vascular disease). Considering that cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in Portugal, these properties make garlic one of the most valuable foods available.

More recent studies show that regular consumption of garlic can even activate or deactivate certain genes related to cell growth and it is believed that the activity of allicin in our DNA can help prevent the development of cancer. No wonder people used to put garlic under their pillows and around their necks.

But apart from allicin, garlic is relatively poor from a nutritional point of view, containing some vitamin C and vitamin B6, but consisting mainly of water and carbohydrates. That's why it's best to mix garlic with other ingredients and, fortunately, this is easy to do. From tea to salad to roast chicken, garlic cloves can be added to almost anything, making it an authentic daily remedy.

That's why we're very grateful to be working with Chico Das Cebolas, a fruit and vegetable vendor with a family business who has been supporting our fight against food waste since the early days of our project.

We hope that now you too can appreciate the phenomenal benefits of including garlic in your diet and support our goal of turning wasted food into healthy treasures.

benefits of garlic