When the children of Israel asked Prophet Moses (Peace be Upon Him [PBUH]) for a variety of food, one of the items they specifically mentioned was garlic. “…O Moses, we can never endure one [kind of] food. So call upon your Lord to bring forth for us from the earth its green herbs and its cucumbers and its garlic and its lentils and its onions…” (Quran 2:61). Those early ancestors were ungrateful complainers, but nonetheless clever. In addition to adding a unique and powerful flavor to a variety of dishes, garlic also contains distinct health benefits. At the same time that garlic is treasured to many, it can also be out of favor for certain people and places.
Garlic is one of the oldest known flavoring plants of many civilizations across the world. Garlic started its journey in central Asia over 5,000 years ago, domesticated during Neolithic times, spread to the Middle East and northern Africa, and eventually to the rest of the world. In ancient times, people used garlic for medical treatments and health maintenance. In the Journal of Nutrition, Richard S. Rivlin, notes the presence of garlic in Egyptian pyramids and ancient Greek temples. He says, “Ancient medical texts from Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, and India each prescribed medical applications for garlic. In many cultures, garlic was administered to provide strength and increase work capacity for laborers. Hippocrates, the revered physician, prescribed garlic for a variety of conditions. Garlic was given to the original Olympic athletes in Greece, as perhaps one of the earliest ‘performance enhancing’ agents.” (The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 131, Issue 3, 1 April 2001).
Modern scientific research confirms these findings as it also recognizes garlic as a vegetable with potential anticancer properties. Specifically, people who regularly consume garlic have a reduced risk of developing certain cancers, such as stomach, esophageal, pancreatic, colon, and breast. This is because diallyl sulfide, a component of garlic, breaks down carcinogens in the body. For centuries, civilizations have also recognized that garlic fights infections, boosts the immune system, and helps lower blood pressure. In a study on the effectiveness of garlic against bacterial infections, Gowsala P. Sivam found that, “1) raw juice of garlic was found to be effective against many common pathogenic bacteria-intestinal bacteria, which are responsible for diarrhea in humans and animals; 2) garlic is effective even against those strains that have become resistant to antibiotics; 3) the combination of garlic with antibiotics leads to partial or total synergism; 4) complete lack of resistance has been observed repeatedly; 5) even toxin production by microorganisms is prevented by garlic.” (The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 131, Issue 3, 1 March 2001)
Registered dietician, Joe Leech, MS, lists some of the known health benefits of garlic in his article for Healthline Newsletter. In it, he describes how allicin—a pungent oily liquid with antibacterial properties found only in garlic, is formed when garlic is chopped, crushed, or chewed. It enters the body from the digestive tract and travels all over the body where it exerts its potent biological effects. The World Health Organization’s guidelines for general health promotion for adults is a dose of two to five grams of fresh garlic (about one clove) per day. In addition to being highly nutritious, garlic contains only forty-two calories per ounce, 1.8 grams of protein, 9 grams of carbs, 0.6 grams fo fiber, as well as:
By providing unique nutritional and medicinal benefits, garlic is one of the most precious natural gifts. Over the years, the cultivation of garlic has expanded with selective breeding into a wide array available around the world. Garlic comes in different sizes, colors, shapes, taste, number of cloves per head, pungency, and storability. Most Americans aren’t aware of the different types since we usually see one kind in the market.
Other forms of garlic include extract, oil, and powder. Garlic oil or extract can be applied to the skin or nails to treat fungal infections, or to the hair to treat hair loss. Aged garlic powder can also be used on food to add flavor with a reduced odor side-effect. Garlic supplements are available but the process of making them renders them less beneficial than natural garlic.
Despite the many benefits of garlic, there are some drawbacks, most notably the pungent smell it attaches to a person’s breath, especially when eaten raw. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “He who has eaten onion or garlic or leek should not approach our masjid, because the angels are also offended by the strong smells) that offend the children of Adam.”—Sahih Muslim, Book 4, Hadith 1147. Consideration for not offending others with bodily odors, as well as maintaining personal hygiene is taken seriously in Islam. In addition to causing bad breath, garlic can also produce gas, body odor, and diarrhea. These side effects often occur when consuming raw garlic. Thankfully, most of us have access to countering agents such as toothpaste, mouthwash, breath mints, perfume, etc.
Garlic occasionally causes allergies that can range from mild irritation to migraines or other potentially life-threatening issues, so be sure to consult a health professional if you experience any negative side effects.
Asma Jarad is a Chicago-based freelance writer and editor published across multiple forums. In her free time, she promotes literacy for children of all backgrounds through her YouTube channel, Sami & Amro Reading Time.