Pungent when raw and almost sweet when cooked, garlic is almost always a crowd favorite. While it is botanically considered a vegetable, we tend to use it more like an herb or spice in the kitchen - adding the most delicious layers of flavors and aromas to any meal. Additionally, garlic has garnered attention by acting as a medicinal herb with powerful antioxidant components as it has been used for over 5,000 years as food, medicine, and spiritual protection.
Garlic contains chemical compounds that combine to make an extremely potent antioxidant known as allicin. Allicin has been found to be a powerful antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anticancer agent. Garlic contains a certain sulfur compound called alliin, which is converted to the antioxidant allicin by way of enzyme reactions. Alliin and the enzymes needed to create allicin are stored in different parts of the plant, only meeting at the time of processing, chopping, or chewing. These enzyme reactions are much more potent when fresh and therefore are just another wonderful reason you should always eat from fresh, single-sourced ingredients and forego overly processed food items. The enzymatic reaction to create the antioxidant allicin takes a few minutes, so it’s best to crush and/or chop your garlic up first and let it rest while you’re preparing the rest of your meal.
Garlic is well known for its respiratory benefits. It’s been seen to be an effective vasodilator, bronchodilator and decongestant. Vinegar infused with garlic, local honey, and fennel seed has been long used as a folk medicine approach against chest congestion and seasonal allergies. Garlic has also been shown to produce tonifying benefits within the cardiovascular system. It is effective at thinning the blood, which then lowers blood pressure and helps prevent blood clots, while also supporting the integrity of the blood vessels. Garlic has also been proven to help lower bad cholesterol and improve the body’s utilization of cholesterol to make important hormones. Garlic contains many sulfur compounds that work as immune stimulants while its antimicrobial compounds can help dispel excess mucus.
Garlic is pretty much a catch-all important culinary gift. Beyond everything that was listed above, it has also been known to fight parasites, coughs, colds, and flu, act as a blood purifier, improve and protect joint mobility, cure mild skin irritations and sprains, and so much more.
If you’re one of the unlucky few who can’t digest garlic very well, don’t worry, you’re far from alone. Fortunately, garlic-infused oils tend to retain much of the delicious garlic flavor as well as the medicinal benefits. While cooked garlic is especially tasty (and still beneficial), raw garlic is better able to retain more of the medicinal constituents. So go ahead and add garlic liberally to your diet! It may just be the tastiest medicine.
A farmer’s note: you may have seen garlic at the farm stands labeled as “green garlic” in the past. This means that the garlic is essentially young, uncured garlic. Green garlic is a bit less pungent and spicy than cured garlic and therefore may be more easily enjoyed raw. You may be more used to seeing cured garlic, complete with its papery flesh with a bit more spice to it. After several weeks of curing, garlic is ready to be used and stored for up to several months.