Scientific Name: Allium sativum

Part used: Clove

Native to: West-central Asia (long ago)

Traditional Uses: antimicrobial; poisons and poisonous bites; dysentery; digestion; asthma; parasites; killing pain; aphrodisiac; colds, flu, and fever; high blood pressure; gout; rheumatism; ulcer; diarrhea; whooping cough; sinus congestion; and more

Current Medicinal Uses and Purposes: Atherosclerosis; anti-platelet aggregation; antibiotic; blood-sugar regulation; cardiovascular disease 

Side Effects and Contraindications: Skin exudes odor after eating.  Garlic's blood-thinning activity contraindicates high doses in pregnant and lactating women and people on aspirin and other blood-thinning medications.

Areas of Further Research: High blood-pressure; hypoglycemia; colds and flu; dysentery; epilepsy; antitoxic effects in cases of poisoning; leprosy; diarrhea


Listen to two Plant Detective radio shows about Garlic: Part I and Part II


Garlic and humans have an age-old relationship. People have used it as food, medicine, and even as an aid in the spiritual realm. Medicinally, garlic, even when diluted, effectively kills infectious microorganisms, even some that have grown resistant to drugs. If drug-resistance grows, garlic may become increasingly useful. Garlic effectively fights candida, the cause of thrush, a fungus that often afflicts people with AIDS and other illnesses that involve a lowered immune response.

'Dixon strain' soft-neck garlic growing at Wild Plum Farm in Dixon, Montana.  Photo by Doug Baty

The word “garlic” comes from the Anglo-Saxon “gar-leac,” or “spear-plant”–a reference to the shape of its leaves. A notorious nickname for the plant is “the stinking rose.”

Garlicky minds around the world think alike. Several cities host all-garlic restaurants, including San Francisco, Stockholm, and Helsinki.

Louis Pasteur was the first to recognize garlic’s potent antibacterial powers in 1858.

Garlic helped build the tombs of Egyptian pharoahs, including that of Tutankhamen. Supervisors kept the hundreds of workers who toiled on the monuments well fed with radishes, onions, and garlic in the belief that it would keep them strong and healthy.

It’s rumored that the British royal family never eats garlic, to avoid offending with their breath.

Garlic is one of the top-selling herbs in the United States. In 2000, it ranked fourth in total herb sales. A 1996 estimate put the number of pounds of fresh garlic consumed in the United States per year at 80 million pounds.

Garlic curing at Wild Plum Farm in Dixon, Montana.  Photo by Ari LeVaux



Garlic as Medicine

As medicine, garlic has been called upon for a plethora of conditions through the centuries, but some of its main uses today are in cardiovascular health. There’s evidence that garlic reduces arterial plaque, the build-up in arteries that interferes with effective circulation and can lead to raised blood pressure and stroke. Compounds in garlic seem to keep blood platelets from clumping together. Garlic may also help regulate blood sugar. Until recently, it was also thought that garlic lowers cholesterol, but a recent Stanford University study casts that claim into doubt.

Many people have conducted research on garlic’s medicinal uses over the years. In the past 20 years alone, approximately 2,000 scientific publications on various aspects of garlic have been published. In addition to the research on garlic’s ability to fight microbes and cardiovascular disease, scientists have been investigating garlic’s effect on high blood pressure, dysentery, epilepsy, allergies, tuberculosis, inflammation, poisoning, leprosy, tumors, intestinal disorders, and AIDS.

The main active medicinal chemicals in garlic are sulphur compounds in the plant’s oil. Some of these are created only when garlic is crushed and various compounds mix, transforming in the process. One of these by-products of crushing is allicin, the main chemical behind garlic’s notorious smell, which is both loved and feared throughout the world. Allicin is also thought to be garlic’s main antibacterial compound. Another compund, ajoene, is particularly important for cardiovascular health.

Scientists believe garlic originated in the high steppes of west-central Asia. Nomadic tribes probably took it along with them, beginning its spread around the world. Garlic’s mentioned in medical writings from ancient China and Greece. The plant no longer grows wild, but only when it’s cultivated. Garlic is a relative of onion, leek, shallot, chive, and other members of the Allium, or Lily, family. Garlic’s odiferous relatives contain some of the same sulphur compounds it has, but garlic has more of them. 


Garlic References for The Plant Detective Radio Show

American Botanical Council. “Organization Says Science Supports Benefits of Garlic.” 

American Botanical Council. "Stanford University Garlic Trial Published in Archives of Internal Medicine Finds No Cholesterol-Lowering Effect."

Foster, Steven. “Allium Sativum.” American Botanical Council, 1990, revised 1996.

Newall, CA, LA Anderson, JD Phillipson. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health_care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 129-33.

Simpson, BB, and MC Ogorzaly. Economic Botany: Plants in Our World, 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995, 258-59.

Warner, Justin. “Science: Garlic Wards Off Undead Bacteria.” New Scientist, May 14, 1994.