For over 5,000 years, garlic has been used as food, medicine, currency, in magic potions, and as an aphrodisiac. It was believed to keep evil away if hung over the door or around the neck. One of the oldest cultivated plants, it is believed to have originated in Asia, south Asia, or southwestern Siberia. The name garlic comes from garleac, an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “spear leek.”
Garlic is one of the earliest documented plants used by humans in the treatment of disease. Interestingly, cultures around the world who had no contact with each other were aware of the health benefits of garlic. In ancient Egypt, it was eaten daily by laborers because it was presumed to maintain and increase strength and productivity. Well preserved garlic cloves were found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen. Similarly, in ancient Greece, soldiers were fed garlic to maintain their courage and eaten by Olympic athletes to enhance performance. In ancient China and India, it was prescribed for cardiovascular health, digestion, and even depression. Native Americans have long used garlic to treat flu-like symptoms.
Culinarily, garlic was scoffed at by the upper class throughout history, likely because of its pungent and lingering aroma. Members of a specific temple in Greece are said to have passed a “garlic breath” test before entering. It was merely a food for peasants and hard laborers. This mindset followed Europeans to the Americas and American foodies did not embrace garlic until the 1940s. These days it is said that each American eats 2 lbs of garlic per year.
Garlic is known as a prebiotic, along with onions, jicama, leeks, chicory root, etc. Most people know of the health benefits of probiotics, but are often unaware of the importance of prebiotics. A prebiotic does not break down in the stomach and serves as “fuel” for beneficial bacteria in the small intestine. They play a crucial role in maintaining diversity and balance of gut bacteria. Prebiotics help lower cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease, improve gut health and digestion, lower the stress response and improve the immune system. They also help lower the risk of obesity and inflammation.
For more information on the health benefits of garlic, visit this site.