GARLIC: A HEALTH BOOSTER

DR.S.M.ALAM
Jan 19 - 25, 2009

Garlic (Allium sativum, Linn.) a perennial herb belonging to the family Liliaceae is related to onion (Allium cepa, Linn) which is another bulbous condiment and both are widely used in various dishes.

Those who refuse to take it raw because of its strong smell and pungency take it in the deodorized form in gelatinous capsules. Garlic grows better in warm areas in sandy-loamy soils with fertility and good drainage. Individual cloves are separated and hand planted one inch deep and four inches apart on ridges and flat seedbeds, although hand-planting is a preferred method, as in machine-planting cloves are not evenly distributed. Bulbs are ready for harvest when plants start showing signs of turning yellow and drying. Plants are pulled by hands and are left in the field for a week or so to dry. Bulbs are also braided by some growers with stalks and hung in a dry and airy place.

Garlic, as said before, is a warm season plant. Although it is a small crop in Pakistan, it is cultivated throughout the country. The October-sown crop in Punjab is harvested in April. The October - November sowing in Sindh is ready for harvest in March. November-December crop in the NWFP is ready between April to June. In Balochistan, the October-November sowing is between April and May.

Varieties: Indigenous varieties are usually small-bulbs. Their cloves are not easily peeled and are hurt in the process. Kerosene oil is often used for peeling the membrane but it leaves smell on product.

Bulbs of the exotic varieties are easy to strip of their membrane without any loss to the cloves. Mention may be made of Chinese garlic that is being sold in the local markets and has an edge over our varieties. The breeding work of garlic at home needs to be geared up to evolve comparable varieties to satisfy the increasing demand for better varieties. The province-wise production figures of garlic for the last five-years are as follows:

On five-year average basis, NWFP has contributed 40% of the total production, Punjab 39% and Sindh 16%. Balochistan's share, however, is not more than 5% of the country's total production.

The production in Sindh has shown a decline though Sindh and Balochistan despite having a potential for further increase in production.

In addition to carbohydrates and calcium, garlic also supplies iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacine and Vitamin-C. Garlic also contains a volatile oil 'glucokinis' and several other minerals including germanium and selenium.

Garlic has disinfecting properties and was used in World War I to dress up the soldiers' wounds. It helps reduce the risk of heart diseases and keeps cholesterol at permissible levels. It is diuretic and is given in hysteria, flatulence and sciatica. It removes hoarseness of throat and disorders of chest and lungs. Its juice is anthelmintic and is given in dose of 10-30 drops. Externally, it is used as a rublacient and vesicant.

Raw garlic juice cures common cold, cough and pulmonary tuberculosis. As an anti-oxidant, garlic keeps blood thin thereby reducing the risk of blood clots and stroke. Theurapetic findings indicate that use of garlic reduces risks of stomach and colon cancer. It is also applied on ringworms. It boosts immunity with hordes of other health benefits.

Other uses: Garlic is used by rich and the poor alike to flavor pulse, meat and vegetable dishes. In Indo-Pakistan, it is an important ingredient of 'mixed pickles', 'achars' and 'chutnies'. It is universally used for making 'garlic bread'. Its repulsive smell is due to the presence of a compound 'allyl - propyl - disulphide (C6-H12-S2).

Some housewives keep the garlic cloves immersed in water overnight and water takes away its smell. According to some cookery books, garlic odor on the breath can also be largely removed by subsequently chewing a few springs of parsley or mint.

It is the cheapest source to prevent life-threatening diseases like heart diseases, cancer, tuberculosis, hypertension etc. Its excessive use is, however, not advisable. The authorities consider 2-3 cloves a day is all right, which is not difficult for anyone to eat, if it can keep the doctor away. One to three cloves of raw garlic can be chopped into small pieces and mixed with carrots, onion, tomatoes, celery etc to make a good bowl of 'salad', which makes it easy to take with meals. If we can boost the cultivation of garlic, the country can also export it with other condiments and spices.

The plant prefers light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soil. It cannot grow in the shade. It requires dry or moist soil.

Bulb - raw or cooked is widely used especially in southern Europe, as a flavoring in a wide range of foods. Garlic is a wonderfully nutritious and health giving addition to the diet, but it has a very strong flavor and so is mainly used in very small quantities as a flavoring in salads and cooked foods. A nutritional analysis is available. The bulbs can be up to 6cm in diameter.

Leaves - raw or cooked: Chopped and used in salads they are rather milder than the bulbs. The Chinese often cultivate garlic especially for the leaves. These can be produced in the middle of winter in mild winters.

Garlic has a very long folk history of use in a wide range of ailments, particularly ailments such as ringworm, candida and vaginitis where fungicidal, antiseptic, tonic and parasiticidal properties have proved beneficial. The plant produces inhibitory effects on gram-negative germs of the typhoid-paratyphoid-enteritis group indeed it possesses outstanding germicidal properties and can keep amoebic dysentery. It is also said to have anticancer activity. It has also been shown that garlic aids detoxification of chronic lead poisoning. Daily use of garlic in the diet has been shown to have a very beneficial effect on the body, especially the blood system and the heart. For example, demographic studies suggest that garlic is responsible for the low incidence of arteriosclerosis in areas of Italy and Spain where consumption of the bulb is heavy. Recent research has also indicated that garlic reduces glucose metabolism in diabetics, slows the development of arteriosclerosis and lowers the risk of further heart attacks in myocardial infarct patients. Externally, the expressed juice is an excellent antiseptic for treating wounds.

The fresh bulb is much more effective medicinally than stored bulbs. Extended storage greatly reduces the anti-bacterial action.

The bulb is said to be anthelmintic, antiasthmatic, anticholesterolemic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, cholagogue, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, febrifuge, stimulant, stings, stomachic, tonic, and vasodilator.

The juice from the bulb is used as an insect repellent. It has a very strong smell and some people would prefer to be bitten. 3 - 4 tablespoons of chopped garlic and 2 tablespoons of grated soap can be infused in 1 litre of boiling water to make insecticide.

An extract of the plant can be used as a fungicide. It is used in the treatment of blight and mould or fungal diseases of tomatoes and potatoes. If a few cloves of garlic are spread amongst stored fruit, they will act to delay the fruit from rotting.

Garlic has a very long history of use as a food and a medicine. It was given to the Egyptian laborers when building the pyramids because it was believed to confer strength and protect from disease, it was also widely used by the Romans. It is widely cultivated in most parts of the world for its edible bulb, which is used mainly as a flavoring in foods. There are a number of named varieties. Bulb formation occurs in response to increasing day length and temperature. It is also influenced by the temperature at which the cloves were stored prior to planting. Cool storage at temperatures between 0 and 10∞c will hasten subsequent bulb formation. Storage at above 25∞c will delay or prevent bulb formation.