Garlic Gives You a Boost

I had to avoid a friend during my weekly trip to Atlanta on Tuesday … he had either an awful cold or a strain of the flu that this year’s vaccine doesn’t cover. Either way, he was in bad shape and, although I’m paying attention to keeping my immune system healthy, I prefer not to take any chances.

One of the ways I stay healthy is garlic. Allium sativum has been used for centuries to fight various ailments. Garlic recipes have been found in Pliny the Elder’s writings (first century CE) and in Chinese herbals as early as 500 CE. As with most herbal medicine, science is catching up to history.

A well-known ethnobotanist (someone who studies the relationships between plants and the human body), James Duke, believes that all of the chemical compounds found in garlic have the potential to help more than 200 conditions. Dr. Duke thinks it’s the best plant stimulant for the immune system, the best anti-clotting herb, one of the best antifungal herbs and may help prevent heart disease and cancer.

Admittedly, garlic is really pungent and some people don’t like the taste. Others, like me, love it but it doesn’t love us back. I get horrible gastric upset when eating fresh garlic. Thankfully, in the last several years garlic capsules have come on the market which keep the good stuff and take out that which causes the upset. (Be sure to read the label to ensure you’re getting a good product.) However, as with all herbs, it’s best if you eat it fresh – at least one raw or only slightly cooked clove a day. If you’re concerned about garlic breath, eat a sprig of fresh parsley immediately afterward. The parsley will kill the bad breath. (This was the original reason for a parsley garnish on dinner plates. I miss it when dining out.)

A caution: garlic is a powerful anticoagulant so if you’re on blood-thinning medication or any other anticoagulant, please check with your healthcare professional before eating a lot of garlic. You also want to stop eating it about two weeks before any surgery.

If you don’t like (or can’t tolerate) garlic, try onions Allium cepa. They’re very closely related and share many of the same qualities, just not as strong in any of them.

Garlic and onions are really easy to grow. Heck, I had some wild garlic growing in my yard in Atlanta (used it, too). If you buy a bulb from the grocery store, separate the cloves and bury each individually – they’ll produce one bulb apiece. There are specialty garlics, too. Check the Internet for ‘seed’ stock. Garlic and onion like to be in a sunny location, and somewhat moist but not muddy. If you do harvest your own, be sure to cure and store them in a cool but not cold, well-ventilated place. Don’t put ’em in the fridge – they’ll sprout.

If you choose to use raw garlic or onions in cooking, either finely chopping or crushing the clove will release the most flavor. If you don’t like raw garlic, roasting it will make it a tad sweeter.

Although most cooks today will hang bunches of garlic and/or onions from the kitchen ceiling or keep them in baskets to ‘have them at hand’, the origination of that practice was a magical one: to prevent illness from starting in that room. You can also cut two onions in half, or crush four cloves of garlic and place them in the four corners of your house, or in the four corners of a room to absorb negative energy (great in sickrooms). Dispose of them outside either by burying them in your yard or deep into your compost pile after a day or so.

Indulge in your favorite Mediterranean dishes frequently and be sure to keep garlic and onions on hand in your kitchen to do so!