The Medicinal Herb Garden: Garlic
June 12, 2013 — by Stephanie Ross, Director of the Complementary and Integrative Therapy Program, Health Sciences Department
Garlic has been used for medicinal purposes for at least 5,000 years. Long before the recognition of garlic’s potent antimicrobial actions it was used to help protect against bubonic plague, which we now know to be a bacterial infection. Louis Pasteur noted garlic’s outstanding antibiotic activity in 1858. During World War I, garlic macerate was applied to the wounds of European soldiers to help prevent infection. Because garlic was so widely used by Russian soldiers during World War II for its antibiotic and antiseptic activity, it acquired the name “Russian penicillin.”
The pharmacological actions of garlic are due primarily to the volatile oil components composed of sulfur-containing compounds such as allicin, diallyl disulfide, and diallyl trisulfide. The pharmacological activity of garlic is very impressive and has been the subject of more than 3,000 published articles to date, which have investigated the chemical, toxicological, clinical, and epidemiological study of garlic and its active components.
The primary medicinal use of garlic includes prevention of hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis. Other potential uses include treatment of mild hypertension, improvement of blood flow, supportive therapy for peripheral arterial occlusive disease, and the potential prevention of stomach and colon cancer. Traditionally, garlic has been used to treat colds, upper respiratory tract infections, mild bronchitis and rhinitis, and to help relieve cough and congestion.