Garlic has been used throughout the Ages as a food and also for its medicinal properties. It has been both revered and reviled over time. Garlic is a member of the onion or allium family, its botanical name being Allium sativum.
Modern herbalists use garlic as an antimicrobial to help treat infections caused by both bacteria and fungi. It is used to treat ringworm, athletes foot, and other skin infections. Garlic is considered to be particularly effective in treating respiratory infections such as coughs, colds, and sinusitis. It is also used for gastrointestinal infections and to help maintain a healthy gut flora.
During the First World War, prior to the availability of antibiotics, garlic was used extensively to treat wounded soldiers. In the past it has been used to treat serious infectious disease including diphtheria, typhus and influenza.
Garlic has effects that may help to promote good cardiovascular health. It has been found to lower blood cholesterol and to lower blood pressure. Garlic also possesses an anticoagulant action which inhibits the blood from clotting. Its activity as an antioxidant may help to further protect the heart. Inclusion of garlic in the diet may offer useful benefits to cardiovascular health. If you have been diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition such as high blood pressure then this requires management by a qualified health professional.
Although garlic may be added freely to the diet in cooking, heating does reduce the medicinal effect. Up to 3 raw cloves of garlic (or equivalent) can be eaten daily to reach what is considered to be an effective or therapeutic dose. This higher, or therapeutic dose, is the level that herbalists recommend for treating infections.
Garlic is very strong and is not suitable for children. It can cause gastrointestinal irritation and skin contact allergy. Due to its anti-coagulant effects high doses of garlic should not be used by those on blood thinning medications such as warfarin, or by those with blood clotting disorders. Garlic may interact with protease inhibiting drugs. Avoid therapeutic doses of garlic whilst pregnant, breastfeeding, and prior to surgical or dental procedures. It is important to note that these cautions apply to high or therapeutic doses of garlic (5 grams or higher per day of fresh garlic) and not to the normal levels used in cooking.
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Bone, K. & Mills, S. 'The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety' Elsevier: Philadelphia
Grieve, M. (1931) 'A Modern Herbal' Penguin: London
Petrovska, B. & Cekovska, S. (2010) Extracts from the History and Medicinal Properties of Garlic. Pharmacognosy Review. 4 (7),106-110. see link
If symptoms are severe or persist then you should consult a GP, Medical Herbalist or another health professional. As with all herbal remedies you should consult your GP, Medical Herbalist, Pharmacist or other health professional if you are taking any prescribed drugs, have a medical condition, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. Always ensure that you buy from trusted sources to be certain that you are buying the correct species of plant.
Sarah Flower MNIMH BSc (Hons) Herbal Medicine
I am a Medical Herbalist based in Brighton, East Sussex. I am passionate about herbal medicine. Plants have been used throughout the ages for food, medicine, pleasure and more. Learning about the medicinal qualities of plants allows us to reconnect with nature and our heritage.