Garlic: magic or medicine?
If courage had a flavor, it would taste like garlic.
Is there any other stem you know of that wards off plagues, vampires, and demons? Or another scary flower that has spurred warriors on the high seas, erected pyramids of sand, 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 superfoods, garlic 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 exists in almost every environment and cuisine in the world. With a history of over 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 is the story?
Plants, their uses, and our perceptions of their role tend to change over time. Yet it is one of the few foods that can demonstrate remarkable continuity between ancient and current practices. There are few things in our lives whose importance is so powerful that they transcend, and even attenuate, cultural barriers. Garlic is one of them, and its benefits have been recorded since 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 aid digestion, respiration, fatigue, and depression, and even reached 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 physicians agree can be relieved by its use.
The ancient Egyptians were also great advocates of garlic. The plant was not only a key ingredient in their 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 heat stroke. In fact, when the mummy of King Tutankhamen was buried about 3,500 years ago, some garlic cloves also made their way into the pharaoh's tomb, where they remained well-preserved until their excavation 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.
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 "clean 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 cold remedies.
As the world changed and distant cultures came into conflict, people's taste for garlic remained. On the battlefields of World War I and World War II, garlic paste was used in the absence of penicillin. The idea that this food can treat disease and introduce strength recurs in isolated groups and was an important catalyst for much of the medical research that took place in the last century. The rejection of garlic by higher social castes is also a recurring theme that draws connections 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 has really 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 irrefutable health benefits. Allicin is pesticidal, 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 aging, 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 reduces 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 building up in the blood vessels, making it a great food to prevent 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 garlic consumption can even activate or deactivate certain genes related to cell growth, and it is believed that the activity of allicin in our DNA may help prevent the development of cancer. No wonder people used to put garlic under their pillows and around their necks.
But other than allicin, garlic is relatively nutritionally poor, containing some vitamin C and vitamin B6, but it is mainly composed of water and carbohydrates. That's why garlic is best mixed with other ingredients, and fortunately, that's easy to do. From tea to salad to roast chicken, garlic cloves can be added to almost anything, making it a real daily remedy.
So we are very grateful to be working with Chico Das Onions, a fruit and vegetable seller with a family business who has been supporting our fight against food waste since the early days of our project.
We hope you can now also appreciate the phenomenal benefits of including garlic in your diet and support our goal of turning waste food into healthy treasures.