Authored By: Shaheda Yashmin - Ibn Sina GIHM Student
Garlic is considered a non-starchy vegetable and is commonly used as a base ingredient for cooking in many different types of cuisines around the world. It has a pungent and slightly spicy taste. Its botanical name is Allium Sativum (Morrow 2011).
Garlic is a member of the lily family that is cultivated worldwide but most commonly produced commercially in China, South Korea, India, Spain and the United States although it is native to Central Asia. The garlic bulb is the most commonly used portion of the plant. (Murray and Pizzorno, 2007 p. 200)
Historically, according to Murray and Pizzorno (2007 p.200) one of the oldest mentions of garlic used as a remedy was discovered on Egyptian papyrus dating to about 1550BC. Sanskrit records from 5000 thousand years ago and Chinese records from 3000 years ago also mention garlic remedies. In addition, it is mentioned in Sahih Sunan Abu Dawud as cited by Morrow (2011 p.108) that Garlic was used during the time of Prophet Muhammad and the Prophet warned people not to go near mosques after eating it until the odour goes away.
Murray and Pizzorno (2007, p. 200) highlight the nutritional values of garlic:
Garlic is an excellent source of vitamin B6. It is also a very good source of manganese, selenium, and vitamin C. In addition, garlic is a good source of other minerals, including phosphorus, calcium, potassium, iron, and copper. A 100g serving provides 149 calories with 6.4g of protein, 0.5g of fat, and 33.1g of carbohydrate, mostly complex, with 2.1g of fibre.
Today garlic products are sold as health supplements in many health shops. The active ingredient in garlic is allicin and the amount may vary widely in each different supplement. Doses can range from 1mg – 2400mg or higher (WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-300/garlic, no date).
According to Colin- Gonzalez et al. (2012) and Aviello et al. (2009) as cited by Bayan et al. (2014) Garlic has been scientifically investigated and clinical studies have shown that it is a herb that has medicinal benefits and may be in used in modern medicine once more trials have been carried out.
Garlic has attracted particular attention of modern medicine because of widespread belief about its effects in maintaining good health. In some Western countries, the sale of garlic preparations ranks with those of leading prescription drugs. There is appreciable epidemiologic evidence that demonstrates therapeutic and preventive roles for garlic. Several experimental and clinical investigations suggest many favourable effects of garlic and its preparations. These effects have been largely attributed to i) reduction of risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, ii) reduction of cancer risk, iii) antioxidant effect, iv) antimicrobial effect, and v) enhancement of detoxification foreign compound and hepatoprotection.
Pitchford (2002, p.69) says “The anti-viral properties of garlic can often halt a cold or flu if taken soon enough.”
Garlic also is useful for candida infections as it contains an anti -yeast compound called ‘allicin’ (Pitchford 2002, p.75). “Garlic was found to be especially active against C. albicans, being more potent than nystatin, gentian violet, and six other reputed antifungal agents (Murray and Pizzorno, 2007, p. 700).
WebMD website provides information on the dose of garlic tablets used for prostate cancer, high blood pressure, preventing tick bites, high cholesterol, diabetes and hardening of the arteries, fungal skin infections but also claims that more research needs to be carried out in order to obtain more conclusive results. (WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-300/garlic , no date)
Therefore, according to modern medicine, garlic supplements have shown some effective results, but it is not a remedy that will be prescribed by a physician and is not listed in the British National Formulary (BNF). Multun, C. (2019) also stresses that medicinal use of this product has not been approved by the FDA. Garlic certainly should not be used in place of medication prescribed for one by a physician.
Greco-Islamic Herbal Medicine
Garlic is called Thowm in Arabic and it is hot and dry in the 3rd degree. According to the Encyclopaedia of Ibn Nafis cited by Moneeb (2019); It releases bloating, helps tooth pain, good for chronic cough & cold illnesses, pains of the chest, gets rid of worms and gets rid of bacteria from the intestines. It is a Muddir (a healthy remedy). It also releases the umbilical cord, cleans the throat. If mixed with honey it is good for buhaq (vitiligo). It also kills headlice.
In addition, Ibn Qayyim states in his ‘Medicine of the Prophet’ as cited by Johnstone (1998, p.213), that if garlic is pounded and used as a poultice then it helps draw out the poison from serpent bite or scorpion sting.
Garlic is mentioned as having an unpleasant taste but good, in the famous Poem on Medicine (Urjuza fi’l Tibb) by Ibn-Sina as cited in the adapted version by Bakhtiar (2013). He says garlic creates yellow bile, but some become sick from it.
Chishti (1991, p.340), another practitioner of Ibn-Sina’s herbalism, lists many other properties of Garlic and it’s uses:
Properties: Stimulant, anthelmintic, antispasmodic, carminative, condiment, diuretic, expectorant, rubefacient, stomachic, antipyretic, febrifuge, intestinal antiseptic, emmenagogue, aphrodisiac.
Uses: Bronchitis, indigestion, chronic cough, stomach and intestinal catarrh, dysentery, cholera, typhoid, beneficial action on circulation and heart action, urinary stones.
Other Alternative Medicines
Ancient Chinese and Indian medicine recommended garlic to aid respiration and digestion and to treat leprosy and parasitic infestation (Rivlrn, 1998).
Mallika Varma (2018) explored the use of garlic in Ayurveda medicine. She says garlic is also known as mahoushadha. That means, it treats disorders due to Vata imbalance. It is able to have positive effects on many diseases, such as, improving eye vision, acts as a heart and brain tonic, purifies the blood, improves complexion and even aids in healing of fractures! It can be taken as a garlic milk, sauce or a pickle.
Garlic is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Michael (no date) writes, “In traditional Chinese medicine, garlic is called suan. It is described as having a pungent taste, warm nature and acts on the spleen, stomach and lung. Its spicy property is used to promote the circulation of Qi and Blood, remove masses from the abdomen, eliminate toxic substances, destroy parasites (internally and externally) and treat a wide variety of diseases.”
When garlic is used as a food product, it is not likely to produce health benefits or adverse side effects. However, used as a medicinal product, garlic is known to produce both benefits and unwanted effects on the body.
Ibn Qayyim lists some adverse effects of garlic as cited by Johnstone (1998, p.213):
“It causes headaches and harms the brain and eyes, weakens the sight and the sexual powers, causes thirst, arouses the yellow bile, and leaves a strong smell on the breath.”
The WebMD website (https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-300/garlic, no date) has reported that garlic seems to be safe for most people, but raw garlic can cause burning sensation in the mouth and stomach and if applied on the skin, so caution needs to be taken. It also cautions against garlic if someone has a bleeding disorder, is due surgery, has diabetes, has low blood pressure, and if one has stomach or digestive problems.
Pitchford (2002, p.297) also quotes “…and garlic are too much stimulation for regular use by children, … When the mother eats garlic (or any herb) the essential qualities usually come through the milk, so caution is advised while nursing.”
Garlic can also interact with other medications. A total of 314 drugs have been shown to interact with garlic (Multan, 2019), so taking any garlic supplements must be checked by one’s physician if they are on prescription drugs.
Abu Dawud S. (1989) Sahih Sunan Abu Dawud. Riyyad: Maktab al-Tarbiyyah.
Al-Jawziyya, I.Q. Translated by Johnstone, P. (1998) Medicine of the Prophet. Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society.
Aviello, G. Abenavoli, L. Borrelli, F. Capasso, R. Izzo, A.A. Lembo, F. Romano, B. Capasso, F. (2009 4:1785-1796) Garlic: empiricism or science? Nat Prod Commun.
Bakhtiar, L. (2013) Urjuza fi’l Tibb. A Textbook on Traditional Medicine. Available at https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/9e6241_13450bddc9b84b3b9cd29f9502c83976.pdf (Accessed on 13 June 2019)
Bayan, L., Koulivand, P.H., Gorji, A. (2014) ‘Garlic: a review of potential therapeutic effects’. Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine. 4(1): pp1–14. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103721/ (Accessed on 11 May 2019)
Chishti, G.M. (1991) The Traditional Healers Handbook: A Classic Guide to the Medicine of Avicenna. Rochester: Healing Arts Press.
Colín-González, A.L. Santana, R.A. Silva-Islas, C.A. Chánez-Cárdenas, M.E. Santamaría, A. Maldonado, P.D. (2012 2012:907162) The antioxidant mechanisms underlying the aged garlic extract- and S-allylcysteine-induced protection. Oxid Med Cell Longev.
Ibn Al-Nafis, edited by Ahmed, A. (1986) Al-Mujaz fi Al-Tibb. Cairo: Ahram Press
Michael (no date) ‘Garlic: Rude, Crude, Unsung Hero’ East West School of Planetary Herbology Available at: https://planetherbs.com/blogs/michaels-blogs/garlic-rude-crude-unsung-hero/ (no date) (Accessed: 12 May 2018)
Moneeb, M. (2019) Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNEpHVKCzFI (Accessed on 7th April 2019)
Morrow, J. A. (2011) Encyclopedia of Islamic Herbal Medicine. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.
Multun, C. (2019) Garlic Available at https://www.drugs.com/mtm/garlic.html (Accessed: 12 May 2019)
Murray, M., Pizzorno, J., Pizzorno, L. (2007) The Encyclopaedia of Healing foods. London: Time Warner Books.
Pitchford, P. (2002) Healing with whole foods, Asian traditions and Modern Nutrition. 3rd Edn. California: North Atlantic Books.
Rivlrn, RS. (1998 3:6-7) Patient with hyperlipidemia who received garlic supplements Lipid management. Report from the Lipid Education Council.
WebMD: ‘Garlic’. Available at https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-300/garlic (No date) (Accessed: 12 May 2019)
Varma, M. (2018) ‘Garlic Benefits, Uses, Dosage, Side Effects, Precautions + Recipes’ The Ayurveda experience. Available at: https://www.theayurvedaexperience.com/blog/garlic-benefits-uses-dosage-side-effects-precautions-recipes/ (No Date)(Accessed: 12 May 2019)