Ah, the Stinking Rose! Sources differ on the exact origins of this common name for garlic (Allium sativum), a member of the onion (Alliaceae) family. Perhaps it was the pretty allium flower that provided the moniker. Or maybe it was the French physician and author, Henri Leclerc, who, around 1918, translated the Greek name, scorodon, to skaion rodon, then to rose puate (stinking rose). Either way, the endearing name for the pungent garlic bulb lingers, much like its aroma.

Garlic has been used throughout the world as food, medicine, in ritual, and at one time, in commerce.  It is noted as far back as King Tut’s era, that 15 pounds of it would (most unfortunately) purchase a slave. Hippocrates prescribed it for lung disorders, poor digestion, fatigue, and parasites. In medieval times, it was thought to ward off the plague. In India and China, it was indicated for inflammation, toothache, respiratory problems, constipation, parasites, bites, infections and gynecological diseases; it was even eaten as an aphrodisiac. The Middle East and Asia employed garlic in the treatment of bronchitis, hypertension, tuberculosis, digestive problems, parasites, inflammation, diabetes, fevers and a multitude of infections. Many cultures still consider it a preventive food/herb to ward off everything from seasonal illness to cancer and other common diseases. Among the modern herbal uses of the infused oil of garlic is for the treatment of earaches.

Is garlic a food, a drug, or a dietary supplement?  Depending on the claims one makes about it, it could fit all three categories. In the herb industry, it is among the most studied of any plant medicine. PubMed research (there are over 9,000 articles on garlic) lists substantiation for the following effects: antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral, antiparasitic, antihypertensive, antiatheroscerotic, antithrombotic, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and anticancer; interestingly, this supports many of the traditional uses. The rich antioxidants found in garlic help reduce free radical damage that harms healthy cells and promotes disease. Research also shows substantiation for regulating heart disease, cholesterol, and blood sugar, to name a few.  Cardiovascular patients show positive results with eating only one clove of garlic per day.  The most abundant and therapeutic constituent of garlic is allicin. Garlic also contains multiple sulfur compounds which reportedly retard tumor proliferation. Among these is alliin (which increases during storage of garlic bulbs), a well-studied sulfur constituent that affects angiogenesis – the formation of blood vessels that promote cancer tumors. Suppression of nitrosamine formation occurs with garlic consumption; this appears to be among the likely mechanisms by which garlic mediates cancer.

Today, hundreds of varieties of garlic are in cultivation world-wide, and bred for various climates. Garlic is closely related to onions, leeks and shallots, which all share similar, though less potent, health benefits.

Worried about bad breath after a delicious garlic-laden meal? Just make sure everyone partakes and it will be less detectable to all. Woe to those don’t; it takes several days to clear the body.  In the meantime, eating parsley or peppermint may be helpful.

Writer Mindy Green is a founding and professional member of the American Herbalists Guild and an advisory board member to the American Botanical Council, publisher of Herbal Gram Magazine. Ms. Green served on the faculty of the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies (1995-2003). The California School of Herbal Studies is among Mindy’s business ventures as co-owner and a faculty member (1985-1995). She is a nationally certified Registered Aromatherapist and has served on the education committees of the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists and the Aromatherapy Registration Council. She now runs her own consulting company, Green Scentsations, LLC.

 A prolific writer and lecturer, Ms. Green has authored over 60 published articles on herbs, aromatherapy, skin care, holistic health and integrative care.  She is co-author of Aromatherapy, A Complete Guide to the Healing Art; author of Calendula and Natural Perfumes, and has contributed to numerous books on herbs and healing.  As a botanical-therapies expert, she has been interviewed more than 400 times by leading magazines and newspapers.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or to sell any product.