The worldwide pandemic seem to be turning our world both upside-down and inside out. Everything: livelihood, the economy, normal life, health and much else has gone topsy-turvy. Living in lockdown has become the new normal.
The Covid-19's unforgiving onslaught and mounting death tolls of some unfortunate victims, especially those with impaired immunity and existing health issues, should wake us up and sensitize us to action: eat healthy to stay strong physically and mentally.
Eating healthy means eating the right foods that should necessarily include immunity-building ingredients.
Fortunately, there are many such foods out there that we can sensibly include in small quantities. We have power foods like garlic, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, and quite a few more.
This time we'll evaluate garlic, undoubtedly one very potent immunity and strength builder, a food we can’t do without.
We all know garlic is a common spice that's ubiquitous across food cultures. No kitchen can do without this intensely aromatic bulb and it's every chef's favourite taste and aroma enhancer, spicing up soups, broths, curries and bread and whatnot. Food somehow doesn’t quite have that "zing" without garlic, you'll agree, although there are people who don't miss it at all such as, for instance, those who don't eat it because of religious or cultural reasons.
And did you know garlic has amazing— even indispensably amazing—medicinal properties?
And did you know that it has been used as a cure throughout the ages into modern times to prevent and treat a wide range of illnesses?
Let's do a little study!
Garlic's as Old as Civilizations
Garlic's believed to have been cultivated and used as medicine for 5000 years or more:
- The Zoroastrians mentioned it in their holy book, the Zend Avesta.
- The ancient Egyptians and Sumerians used it to treat diarrhoea and its healing power was inscribed on the walls of their temples and on papyrus scrolls that dated back at least to 1500 BC.
- The ancient Greeks fed their Olympic athletes with garlic to enhance their strength and stamina. Ancient Greek physicians, Hippocrates and Galen used garlic to treat intestinal and extra-intestinal diseases.
- Ancient systems of medicine like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine use garlic to help in health problems such as headache, cough, sore throat, fever and gynaecological diseases. Besides, they use it as a remedy for indigestion and constipation, amoebic dysentery and snakebite.
- In Nigeria, they use it to treat stomach, ear and respiratory problems.
- In Europe they often use it to treat colds, breathing trouble, asthma and sneezing fits.
- The indigenous Khasis of Meghalaya have been using it to bring down high fevers, relieve coughs and colds.
And throughout history, indigenous societies have been using garlic as a potent prophylactic and therapeutic remedy. That means using it both to prevent as well as treat diseases. Indeed, garlic has been known as a cure-all.
Many recent studies have given credence to the view that garlic contains compounds that have wide-ranging health benefits some of which are:
- Anti-tumour- has properties that prevent growth and spread of tumours
- Anti-inflammatory – helps fight inflammation
- Antioxidant – protects cells against damage by free radicals that cause diseases
- Anti-microbial – kills many types of bacteria, fungi and viruses
- Anti-parasitic – kills intestinal worms that harm health
- Heart-protective – lowers blood pressure and blood cholesterol; prevents strokes and blood clots
- Liver-protective- prevents liver damage
- Anti-diabetic – lowers blood sugar and helps reduce the risk of diabetes
- Anti-cancer – prevents certain types of cancer such as colon and stomach cancer
- Immune system boosting – helps strengthen the immune response so the body can fight diseases
- Lymphatic system stimulating – helps expedite waste products from the body
- Treats skin problems – helps fight fungi and bacteria that cause certain skin rashes
Soft-necks and Hard-necks
Garlic, in general, is a bulbous plant that belongs to the genus Allium, closely related to the onion, and grows well in warm to cool climates. It is, in fact, easy to grow in backyard gardens and pots where you can harvest them fresh. Moreover, you’ll get to eat their leaves, flowers and stalks from time to time. However, if you buy garlic bulbs from stores you’ll mostly get trimmed heads without the stalks (unless you buy rynsun khasi). Each head carries on an average 5 to 15 creamy-white cloves with the papery tuft still intact above the bulb.
There are many subspecies of garlic but broadly we can classify them into two types: Soft-neck and Hard-neck.
- Soft-neck garlic (Allium sativum ssp. sativum) – They have soft stalks or “scapes” that are easy to cut and braid. Their cloves are mild in flavour and they store well and long. Since the stalks are soft, you can splice them nice and long and braid them together.
- Hard-neck garlic (Allium sativum ssp. ophioscorodon) – They have stiff and hard stalks that aren’t easy to cut and can’t be braided. The cloves are, however, easier to peel. The flavours are complex and they don’t store for long, 6 to 10 months at the most.
Rynsun Khasi or Rocambole Garlic: Garlic from Meghalaya
'Rynsun' is the local Khasi name for garlic. In Meghalaya, indigenous farmers grow an indigenous species call Rynsun Khasi or Khasi Garlic, also called rocambole garlic.
'Rynsun khasi' is a typical hard-neck (Allium sativum ssp. ophioscorodon rocambole) rocambole garlic which thrives very well in cooler climates like that of Meghalaya’s although they might be smaller in size when compared with other hard-necks. From planting in September to the harvesting in August the cycle takes one full year because they require longer vernalization, i.e. the cooling of the seed during germination in order to accelerate flowering when it is planted. That’s why they have a distinct flavour and a deep purplish tint on their skins.
When harvest season comes, farmers loosen the earth with hoes and gently pull the heads and scapes off the ground, dust the earth and then spread the bulbs to dry in the open for a couple of days. At this stage, the farmers don’t cut the roots and shoots which is very crucial so that the cloves don’t lose the essential oils and moisture while their outermost skins dry off. Once the skins dry the farmers tie the stalk heads together in bundles of 8 to 10 each and hang them, usually on horizontally suspended thin bamboo poles, to “cure” under some shade.
In many Khasi villages, the family kitchen ceiling doubles as excellent curing shed because it’s high and dry. The smoke from the kitchen fire also permeates and lends a “smoky” flavour to the cloves. Two to three months later the skins take on a brownish coat and the garlic stalk heads are now ready for the market. The farmers then snip off the tops and roots and send them off for sale.
Shelf Life is low but...
Rynsun khasi doesn’t have a long shelf life. Just about 5-6 months. Even as the garlic cures, the households use the cloves whenever required. Fresh garlic has an intense, pungent smell and spices up the cooking pretty well but as it ages it gradually loses its pungency, turning almost odourless.
- Scapes and leaves too are edible when still tender. They are often cut off for eating along with the leaves. Their delicate garlic flavour makes for great seasoning of meals and salads such as jhurkhleh (vegetable salad) or dohkhleh (meat salad). Instead of chives, try sprinkling them on fried rice and noodles or seasoning dumpling stuffing and you’ll notice a zest that’s quite apart.
- Flowers are also delicious to eat. Of course, you get them only in season for a short while and the subtle garlic flavour they add to your veggies and meats is something to experience.
- Garlic seeds too are reservoirs of essential oils, excellent for tempering.
- Since rynsun khasi doesn't have a long shelf life, another way to preserve it is by dehydrating and converting to garlic powder. It will retain the goodness of garlic along with longer shelf life and ease of use.
- Pickling is another flavoursome way to add years with the unique flavour intact. Khasi rynsun pickles have a sharper pungency.
Why is Rynsun Khasi a Favourite
For one, it's a rocambole hard-neck with the typical thinner skin that peels easily unlike the stickier soft-necks. Its flavour is more pungent and garlicky which makes it a better choice for
- seasoning your curries, soups and stews
- making great garlic pickles
- munching raw for strength and staying power
- adding punch and aroma to your bread toasts and mashed potatoes
- lending pungency to your favourite chutneys
The list doesn't end here.
That's some of the culinary usefulness. Let's look into garlic's remarkable medicinal benefits.
Why Garlic Makes Great Medicine
All parts of the plant – stalk, leaves, flowers and bulb – have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. But it is only in recent times that modern scientific research was able to find out why the plant is such a powerful remedy and have singled out the compounds responsible for garlic’s amazing and widespread pharmacological properties. One important area of interest researchers have in garlic's medicinal value is its broad-spectrum healing capability and low toxicity.
Bioactive substances are the reason plants produce definite healing action on the human body. Garlic is no exception and studies have shown that high concentrations of sulphur compounds or what are called organosulphur compounds–which is more than other Allium species–are the reason for its impressive medicinal effectiveness. It also has non-sulphur compounds like tannins, saponins, cardiac glycosides, alkaloids and flavonoids that have an incredibly beneficial effect on human health such as:
- Protection of intestines from damage
- Healing of wounds and haemorrhoids
- Resistance against diseases and stress
- Treatment of colds, fevers and toothaches
- Reduction of bad cholesterol
- Lowering of risk of cancer
How Bioactive Action Takes Place
When we chop, bruise or crush garlic we disturb the Allin, an odourless, sulphur-containing compound. Allin gets exposed to the enzyme Allinase and reacts with it to form Allicin which further gets converted to another sulphur compound, diallyl disulphide, which is the reason for the peculiar pungent aroma of garlic.
Allicin is the most potent and biologically active compound in garlic while its most abundant sulphur compound is Allin or S-allyl cysteine sulfoxide.
Besides sulphur compounds, garlic has vitamins A, B1, B6 and C, fibre and water and several enzymes (of which Allinase is one) and minerals such as
Garlic also has 17 of the 20 amino acids, including all the nine essential ones.
How Garlic Helps in Major Health Problems
Researchers have discovered that garlic is helpful for heart health mainly because of the sulphur compounds, including diallyl disulphide and Ajoene, which prevent blood platelets from clumping together and clotting and as a result help smooth blood flow. Garlic also lowers cholesterol levels and triglycerides in the bloodstream. It assists in the reduction of the build-up of arterial plaque which in turn helps reduce blood pressure. Because of its antioxidant properties, garlic may help lower risk of overall heart disease.
Building upon immunity is more significant now in these days of the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s one way to avoid falling sick and so not to fall prey to the dreaded virus. Traditional medicine has always known garlic gives strength and now modern research has corroborated its immunoregulatory properties. Eating garlic helps prevent a host of debilitating diseases such as blood sugar, respiratory problems, intestinal worms and cell breakdown.
It was Louis Pasteur who provided the first scientific evidence that garlic has antifungal, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties against microorganisms such as E. Coli, Salmonella, Candida and many others. Again, the latest research confirms this.
In cancer, garlic appears to have many preventive effects. Studies have shown that regular consumption of garlic results in fewer instances of stomach and colon cancer. Similarly, the risk of other cancers such as skin, liver, lung or breast may reduce dramatically. Here again, it’s the sulphur compounds such as diallyl disulphide (DADS) and diallyl trisulphide (DATS) that appear to be the agents that help stop the tumour in its tracks, preventing cancer cells from dividing and multiplying.
Should We Resort to Garlic When Sick?
Of course, we are not suggesting that you, on your own, use garlic as a remedy when sick. What we mean is: include garlic in your daily diets to help your body build up a more effective immune response that will definitely help reduce the risk of falling sick. While garlic may help reduce symptoms, it is always wiser to consult your physician when confronted with any health issue.
What About Side Effects?
More than other Allium species, garlic gives out some off-putting mouth odour. Eating too much may sometimes induce nausea and vomiting. It is also a natural blood thinner and so it’s consumption may not suitable for people who are undergoing anticoagulant therapy.
Bad body odour is another undesirable side effect (which you can camouflage with deodorant if it’s too much). That’s because the sulphur compounds get metabolized into allyl methyl sulphide which doesn’t digest but passes into the bloodstream and escapes through sweat glands.
Garlic is generally a safe food but, as they say, too much of anything is bad. If you feel any discomfort it is always better to consult your physician.
How to Get the Best of Garlic
Cuisines all over the world swear by garlic. There’s nothing like fresh cloves to spice up your dishes but sometimes we don’t get fresh ones of our choice. Take the rocambole Rynsun Khasi for instance. Being the typical hard-neck with loose skin it tends to go bad quickly and so isn’t available in the market for long. So storing it right is important if you want to enjoy its flavour for a longer period.
A container that allows good air circulation (such as a bamboo basket, but not the refrigerator) in a cool and dry place away from direct light is ideal storage. Keep the humidity minimal, around 60%, so that fungus will not form and the rocambole will not lose moisture. More moisture may cause it to sprout.
Cooking mellows down the sulphur and turns the taste rather sweetish. Too much cooking will actually rob garlic of its properties so it’s best to drop it in last of all.
But if you want a more forceful flavour the best way is to crush, grind, mince or make a rough paste. That’ll release the real flavour of the garlic and give your cooking that desired hard-hitting, pungent sulphuric punch. That’s the way volatile oils will spread and give you the best of garlic’s healthful and flavourful goodness.
Some Quick Garlic Recipes
Try these recipes below. They are simple, quick and hassle-free, especially when you’re short on time.
Quick Garlic Toast
- Soften 1 tablespoon of butter and add to it 1/2 tablespoon of finely minced or crushed garlic. Mix thoroughly with a spoon or fork.
- Take two slices of bread and toast on both sides till golden brown
- Apply the garlic-butter mix on one side and flip it face down on the pan. Let it sizzle for a few seconds before removing, taking care not to leave it too long or the garlic will burn. Apply on both sides if you so desire.
- Enjoy with your tea or coffee
Quick Mint & Garlic Chutney
- Take two cups of mint leaves, wash and pat dry
- Slice one small onion, chop two green chillies, half a teaspoon of salt and six cloves of garlic and put all the ingredients in a grinder
- Grind to a paste and squeeze in about two teaspoons of lemon juice.
- Give one more pulse of grinding and then pour the contents into a glass bowl
- Check the salt and enjoy with your lunch or dinner.
Now that you know what garlic can do don’t you think you should start eating this miraculous bulb more often, especially if it helps so much in building your immunity?
We think we all should!
Especially when it’s low on toxicity it’s too much of a good thing to let pass.
So, start on garlic right away. Any garlic will do for that matter but if you can lay hands on rynsun khasi or any other rocambole grab it even though it will cost more.
And if you like this story or have something to say we at Zizira always love to hear from you.
Stay safe and stay healthy!