In Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, garlic was fed to workers as it enhanced strength and stamina. Soldiers, too, would eat garlic before the battle.
There are references to Jewish enslaved people being fed garlic and onions in the Bible. It was a popular spice in the region, with the Jews particularly fond of garlic.
There are extensive references to its medicinal properties in the Charaka Samhita and the Sushruta Samhita, ancient Indian medical texts. Both Indians and Chinese regard it as an aphrodisiac. It aids digestion, improves respiration, and is used to get rid of intestinal worm infestation (Woodward, 1996). It helps in enhancing qi—life energy. Charaka Samhita recommends its use to treat heart disease and arthritis too. Garlic’s effect is also said to be a diuretic.
The Ebers Papyrus (c. 1550 BC) prescribes the use of spice in cases of high blood pressure and clogged arteries. It was also named to alleviate general malaise and combat infestations of insects, worms, and parasites.
Hippocrates recommended using garlic for respiratory ailments, as a cleansing agent, and to treat abdominal growths. Dioscorides recommended the use of garlic to keep arteries clean. Pliny’s Historica Naturalis mentions the use of garlic to improve digestion and treat insect bites, arthritis, and convulsions.
Before the discovery of antibiotics, garlic was consumed in large quantities, especially during disease epidemics. Its anti-microbial properties were thought to provide protection. In 2002-2003, the SARS epidemic in China killed hundreds of people; garlic was consumed widely, hoping for protection against the virus.
It is a widely-researched species and is a popular herbal supplement cleared for use in the US, Europe, and across the globe. The plant effectively reduces high blood pressure, showing promise in reducing cardiovascular risk (Ackermann et al., 2001).
The spice is useful in alleviating atherosclerosis (Berthold et al., 1998). It also tested positive for efficacy against Type 2 diabetes (Ashraf et al., 2005).
And there is much more to garlic… For more, read the section on the spice here.