Garlic A Wonder Herb
Garlic, a common house hold vegetable / herb used for centuries, has emerged as a centre of attraction to medical scientists all over the world.
Many scientific studies have revealed its magical medicinal and nutritional properties and its (could be!) potential role in restoring Cardiovascular health, as an Anti cancer food supplement, as a potent Anti-bacterial, Anti-viral and Anti-fungal agent, as a very good digestive aid, as an Anti inflammatory and anti obesity food, as an excellent Anti oxidant and Nutritional supplement for a few trace elements like Manganese, Selenium, Vitamin B 6, Vitamin B1, Vitamin C etc. This has certainly increased the interest of the common people to know more about these wonderful health benefits of Garlic and the best way to consume it.
Interestingly enough, Ayurveda, which is regarded as the first ever documented Medical Literature of mankind, has described the unique health-boosting (and medicinal properties) of Garlic thousands of years ago. And to our surprise, we find that the same old genius Rhushis and Saints (who have written literature of Ayurved), had described the wonderful qualities of Garlic to which the modern scientists are confirming today by various experiments and clinical trials etc. Let me explain this. In Ayurved, the medicinal properties of Garlic (which is known as “Rasona”) are described in detail. Ayurvedic literature is written in Sanskrit language and the medicinal properties are described on the basis of Ayuredic philosophy.
The following table is an illustration of comparison of the ancient description of uses of Garlic and the modern claims through research.
||Ayurvedic properties of Garlic
||Modern claims of Garlic benefits
||Best Digestive aid
||As an aphrodisiac and to enhance Libido
||As cardio-protective, as anti-atherosclerotic, to reduce hypertension (owing to its contents like alliin, Allicin, which act as vasodilator, reducing the levels of homocysteine, antioxidant reducing the oxidative stress and as anti-platelet agglutination agent which helps to increase blood circulation to heart and reduce formation of clots)
||Balya and Rasayan
||To increase the utilization of stored Iron, as a health tonic
||As Anti-bacterial, Anti-viral and Anti-fungal
||In bronchitis, Cough, Cold, Flu etc
||To enhance healing of fractured bones
||In skin diseases owing to its sulfur rich constituents.
||A highly effective remedy for Rheumatism (Anti inflammatory properties of Garlic)
||Beneficial for soreness of throat , viral flu
We can see that, the medicinal and health boosting properties of Garlic as confirmed by various research and experiments, match exactly with those mentioned in Ayurved, documented thousands of years ago. Aren’t you curious to know the complete information about Garlic as given in Ayurved?
The Philosophy of Ayurveda in relationship to Garlic
The basic philosophy of Ayurveda, depicts that every substance (including medicinal plants) in this universe is made up of five basic elements, known as Panchamahabhutas. They are Prithvi (earth); Aap (Water), Teja (Fire), Vayu (Air) and Akash (Space or ether). Each substance has different combination of the above five elements which determines its properties. Although there are hundreds of thousands of living and non-living things on our planet (including herbs), yet their basic building structure is made of these five basic elements. And the composition of the five elements determines their properties.
Ayurveda has enlisted various properties of herbs on different parameters. These parameters help us to understand the usefulness of a particular herb. According to Ayurveda, each herb has Rasa, Veerya, Vipaka, Prabhava and Guna. Rasa is the taste of the herb; Veerya is its potency (or nature?). Vipaka is the taste of the herb after its cellular digestion and prabhava is the unique pharmaco-dynamic property of that herb. Guna means special properties of the medicinal herb.
Accordingly, Garlic has five rasas (tastes) namely Pungent, Bitter, Salty, Astringent and Sweet. It lacks only one taste which is sour. The Vipaka of Garlic is pungent and its Veerya is Hot. Different parts of Garlic have different tastes as Roots- Katu (Pungent); Leaves- Tikta (Bitter); Stem-Kashaya (Astringent); Tip of stem – Lavana (Salty); Seeds- Madhura (Sweet).
Also Garlic has following properties. Guna (Characteristics): Snigdha (Unctuous); Teekshna (Sharp); Pichchhila (Slimy); Guru (Heavy); Sara (Mobile). Knowing these properties, we can logically correlate its medicinal uses and effects on various doshas (body humors). Garlic pacifies vitiated Vata and Kapha and vitiates Pitta. Garlic is therefore useful in diseases where Vata and kapha humor is aggravated. Garlic vitiates Pitta dosha and also can vitiate Rakta (blood). Consumption of Garlic helps to increase pitta (digestive fire). Also its other properties (like sara and snigdha) renders it as an carminative and mild laxative. Due to hot potency and pungent taste, Garlic can vitiate Pitta dosha which can cause heart-burn and hyperacidity. Also, vitiated pitta dosha can affect Rakta dhatu, which causes bleeding and increases clotting time and bleeding time. This unique property of Garlic is also confirmed by modern science. Numerous experiments have proved Garlic to act as an anti-platelet agglutination agent. This property of garlic has earned reputation of being useful for cardiovascular health.
Garlic, when consumed in moderate / optimum quantity can serve as a complete remedy for Atherosclerotic Heart disease and hypertension. Also, Garlic is used as a potent Anti bacterial, anti-fungal and anti viral agent. Garlic oil is used topically for a few fungal infections like Athlete’s foot etc. Garlic oil is also used to sooth ear ache. Garlic is also hailed as a potent anti-cancer agent especially for colorectal and renal cancer. Garlic, is an obvious potent digestive and carminative, used since ages. Newer evidence also suggests Garlic to be a novel agent to control Obesity! The study suggests that Garlic, by releasing a compound (1,2,-vinyldithiin, or 1,2-DT) stops the progression of Fat cells from a preliminary stage called “preadipocytes” to a final stage called “adipocytes.” One of the sulfur compounds in garlic (1,2,-vinyldithiin, or 1,2-DT) appears to lessen this conversion of preadipocytes into adipocytes.
Ways of Consuming Garlic
After knowing the various benefits of Garlic, we may jump on to the conclusion that Garlic, being a wonder herb, can be consumed by everyone and also can be consumed in large quantity so as to reap its many health benefits. Wouldn’t we want to consume something daily that can prevent cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, infections, and inflammations besides providing us vital trace nutrients, anti-oxidants etc? You aren’t wrong!
Wait! The modern research has raised a few concerns regarding consumption of Garlic. Garlic may be allergic to a few people who are also allergic to vegetables of allium species. Garlic causes Bad breath and Halitosis. Garlic consumption can also result in excessive sweating with offensive odor. Garlic can interfere with a metabolism of few of medicines likeIsoniazid (INH, Nydrazid), Medications used for HIV/AIDS, Birth control pills, Cyclosporine, heart medications called calcium channel blockers (diltiazem, nicardipine, verapamil), cancer drugs (etoposide, paclitaxel, vinblastine, vincristine, vindesine), fungus-fighting drugs (ketoconazole, itraconazole), glucocorticoids, medications that slow blood clotting (Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs). Garlic should not be consumed in large quantity by pregnant and lactating women and also by young children.
Well, well, well…..it looks like a long scary list and may raise thousands of doubts in your mind. The possibility of such interference or restriction to consuming Garlic should be consulted with your treating physician before arriving to any conclusion.
In Ayurveda, it is clearly mentioned to whom Garlic will benefit and to whom it will not. Also, Ayurveda gives you various ways to consume Garlic so as to avoid a few unwanted effects. Ayurveda has clearly mentioned various dosages and combinations of medicines for different age groups and disease conditions. According to Ayurveda, the dosage of herbal medicine depends upon age, sex, disease condition (chronic Vs Acute, mild Vs Moderate etc), the timing of the medication, it’s association with food, the body constitution (or prakriti) of the person, the seasonal variation in atmosphere etc.
Accordingly Garlic should be mixed with Honey if the disease is caused by Kapha. It should be taken with Ghee (clarified butter) if disease is caused by Vata and along with sugar if the disease is caused by pitta. Also Garlic consumption must be reduced in hot summer season and people with Pitta disorders. People with bleeding disorder and GERD should avoid consumption of Garlic or should take Garlic in lowest possible quantity. According to Ayurved, Garlic should be triturated or suspended in buttermilk and purified before being used as a single medicine or with other herbs. Garlic when used as a flavoring agent or as food can be consumed in low quantity of around 4 gm/ serving (one to two cloves). If it is used as a medicine then its quantity would change accordingly.
To reap the most medicinal and nutritional values of Garlic, it should be crushed or chopped and kept for 5 to 10 minutes. By this time the alliin will be converted into allicin which is the most active component. If Garlic is cooked at high temperature its majority of medicinal properties are destroyed. So Garlic should be added just 5 to 10 minutes before the cooking process is finished. Also Garlic must be consumed fresh to extract most of its medicinal properties. Unfortunately, processed Garlic or its extracts may lose most of its active component Alliicin and hence its health benefit would be far below than expected. Also the storage of Garlic plays an important role in preserving its potency.
Before we conclude, we can definitely confirm following truth regarding Garlic consumption;
1) Garlic is best when it is used fresh, one or two Garlic cloves when chopped or crushed and consumed after 5 to 10 minutes give us maximum benefits.
2) Garlic should be avoided by people who have Pitta constitution and suffer from Hyperacidity or heartburn, peptic ulcer, bleeding disorders etc.
3) Garlic may to allergic to a very few people, so they need to avoid Garlic consumption.
4) Garlic is best avoided by pregnant and lactating women and small children. But it can be safely consumed in culinary quantities (one clove or 4 gms) by pregnant women, around 3 times a week.
5) Garlic is a very good remedy for Vata and Kapha disorders. As a culinary use Garlic can be added to a hot soup to fight common cold, Flu, cough and chest congestion. Garlic should be purified according to the Ayurvedic principles, before it can be used as medicine.
6) To most people, Garlic is safe if consumed in optimum quantity. Excess consumption of garlic is not encouraged unless confirmed by the Healthcare provider. Garlic supplements or its extracts must be used as prescribed by the treating doctor.
Hope this information clarifies the doubts about the use of this wonderful herb. Detailed scientific research on medicinal properties of Garlic as described in Ayurveda would highlight the hidden benefits of Garlic and would equally justify its use over thousands of years by many generations.
Dr. Pankaj Patki
Senior Ayurveda consultant, Biogetica, India.