Garlic medicinal plant and spice has an ancient history. Garlic in Chinese is called “suan.” It, along with ginger, is one of the two integral spices of Chinese cooking. Sheng Nung’s (c. 2700 BC) treatise is the earliest documented evidence on the use of garlic in China.

There is a lot of debate on the origin of garlic. Some scholars claim that it came to Asia from Sumeria with traders (c. 2600-2100 BC). According to the plant origins lie in Central Asia. I think, like many other plant species, garlic’s original geographic distribution was not restricted to one or two locations.

Allium sativum is the cultivated species of garlic. Some scholars claim that the species may have descended from Allium longicuspis. This species is observed growing in the wild in the Central Asian and neighboring Southwest Asian region. There are, though, many other wild garlic species found in other parts of the world.

Allium vineale found in North America is the wild garlic used by North American Indians. Allium canadense is another wild garlic species found growing in fields of North America. Allium ursinum is wild garlic found in the UK.

It is observed across a wide geographic range from Central Asia, northern parts of South Asia across to the Sumerian region (modern day Iraq). There are multiple references to garlic in the Bible, Ancient Egyptian, and Greek writings supporting the wide geographic distribution theory.

Garlic was locally produced and consumed. Unlike for pepper, cinnamon, and other spices that were imported into the Mediterranean region, I did not come across any ancient references to the import of garlic to any of major centers of ancient civilizations of Asia and the Mediterranean region.

My research on garlic medicinal plant shows that the spice has multiple uses in medicine. Fresh garlic is said to be effective against bacteria like Escherichia coliSalmonella enteritidis, and Staphylococcus aureus. It is topically used to treat fungal infections like ringworm, jock itch, athlete’s foot, etc.

The plant is effective in reducing high blood pressure, showing promise in reducing cardiovascular risk (Ackermann et al., 2001). Garlic is useful in alleviating atherosclerosis (Berthold et al., 1998). Borelli et al. (2007) performed a study that reveals adverse interactions of garlic with certain drugs. Isoniazid is used to treat tuberculosis and in birth control pills. The cyclosporine is given after an organ transplant. Blood-thinning medications could all be made less effective when patients take garlic supplements.

Dried garlic preparations (in doses as low as 600 mg per day) or as fresh, high allicin-yielding garlic (10–20 g per day) appear significantly to reduce total serum cholesterol over 1–3 months. (Silagy, C.,’ et al., 1994) The scientists further note that the reduction of HDL, though, was very slight.

Garlic medicinal plant is extensively used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is now extensively used as an OTC (over the counter) supplement in many parts of the world.

Additional reading:

Asian herbs and their wondrous health-giving properties

Holy Herbs: Modern Connections to Ancient Plants

Natural Solutions for Obesity, Cancer, and Diabetes – a tri-series.

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