Although nowadays a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine, did you know that garlic (Allium sativum) arrived in North America with the Spanish conquerors along with onions, pigs, cows, chickens, cheese, and rice? Garlic was quickly adopted both as a spice and medicinal herb. Even today, traditional curanderos use a garlic clove inserted into the ear as a treatment for earaches, with olive oil for burns, in brandy and brown sugar for asthma, and with honey for a cough. Garlic is also believed to provide protection from negativity and evil spirits.
Apparently, no one told the author of my little book Antigua Recetario Medicinal Azteca that garlic wasn’t used by the Aztecs because there is quite a section about the medicinal use of garlic reportedly used by said people.
Here are some of the recipes I found:
To stimulate appetite and help with digestion: Eat 3 cloves of garlic raw with a bit of water before a meal or cook an entire garlic head in a liter of water, adding lemon juice and sugar to taste.
To help with anemia: Eat a salad prepared with radish, lettuce, tomato and raw garlic with a bit of oil and salt.
To reduce blood pressure: Mince a garlic clove and drink it in a glass of water.
For asthma or a cough: Boil 8 peeled and pressed cloves in a liter of water. Add a little oregano. Strain. Add 2 tablespoons of honey. Take a tablespoon every hour until better. OR Boil ½ head of garlic in a liter of milk with 2 carrots. Sweeten with honey. Drink warm before bed.
To rid the body of parasites: Mince a head of garlic and warm in ¼ liter of milk without boiling. Allow to steep 3 or 4 hours. Strain. Drink before breakfast for 9 or 10 days.
For scorpion stings: Mash a garlic clove and use it as a plaster over the affected area.
For rabies: Soak 100 grams of garlic minced into little bits in a liter of water overnight. Strain and sweeten to taste. Take several cups a day.
For light burns: 3 or 4 garlic cloves mashed and mixed with oil as a plaster over the affected area.
For athlete’s foot: Use garlic powder on the feet and change the socks every day. (The Aztecs wore socks?)
For rheumatism relief: Rub 2 halved garlic cloves on the painful area whenever you need to. Do not get the treated area wet. The recipe wasn’t precise as to the time you should not get wet. Two hours? Two weeks? Who knows?
Not to be outdone my little book Antiguo Formulario Azteca de Yerbas Medicinales. Manual imprescindible de los secretos indigenas also had a section on garlic. In order to give these garlic claims more credence, the author cited an incident a few days before publication concerning a man in Barcelona who had been bitten by a rabid dog and ate garlic and onions for 8 days thereby effecting a cure. While I wasn’t able to find any scientific evidence to back up this rabies claim, using garlic as a wound poultice does aid in healing. This book also added the following to the scorpion sting treatment: To be extra sure, use a sterilized knife to cut the wound open in the form of a cross before applying the garlic plaster.
Both books also highlighted the medicinal use of garlic essential oil and referred to Dr. Helle de Berlin. While I was trying to look up Dr. Helle in the cyber world, I came across a plagiarized copy of Antigua Recetario Medicinal Azteca online published under the name Herbolarios Anonimos. While several other sites refer to Dr. Helle’s pamphlet on garlic essential oil, I was unable to find the original. (Budda de la Medicina, La Belleza de la salud con el ajo, el cebolla y el limon, Tintura de ajo como medicamento, Las curas con ALOE–AJO CEBOLLA–LIMON, Tintura de ajo como medicamento)
In a nutshell, the esteemed Dr. Helle assured everyone in his famous pamphlet that twenty drops of garlic essential oil diluted in water is good for the heart, helps the liver function better, improves digestion, cures hemorrhages, helps reduce fatigue, headache, and melancholy, and aids in insomnia. I’d feel more confident in the curative effects of those 20 drops if I could find some information on Dr. Helle. Wouldn’t you?
However, don’t be so quick to poo-poo these herbal remedies despite the more outlandish claims. Scientific research has proven garlic to be a near miracle plant. Quite a number of the aforementioned cures are medically sound. (Health Benefits of Garlic: The Medicinal Use of Garlic)
Look at what garlic can do for you:
Garlic is good for your heart. It fights cancer. Garlic is good for your liver and fights bacterial infections including Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli. Garlic is good for the digestive system. It aids the process of expelling parasites, including giardiasis and Candida albicans.
Garlic is especially good for women as it both increases milk flow for nursing mothers, possibly by making the breast milk taste better which encourages the baby to nurse longer, and reduces the severity and occurrence of yeast infections.
Garlic helps with the common cold and reduces cough. Garlic helps treat depression. It aids in injury recovery. Garlic is an important component in the treatment of heavy metal poisoning, a primary cause of Alzheimer’s.
Garlic is useful in the garden as well. Planted around other crops reduces disease, deters pests and increases the nutritional value of the soil and nearby plants.
Believe it or not, the whole plant is edible, not just the bulb. I have a pot of garlic sprouting in my back room. As the tops grow, called scapes, I can clip a few bits and add them as flavoring just like you would with the clove. The scapes or flowers aren’t quite as strongly flavored as the clove but are tasty nonetheless.
I have big plans of making a little garlic patch out back. My hope is I’ll have enough in a few years to make my own garlic powder or essential oil. Of course, my efforts at gardening have been repeatedly thwarted. (See Failing at Container gardening)
Continuing with my herbal tea series, I decided to try some Garlic Cold Buster Tea. We are in the rainy season, after all, and it’s likely somebody in my house will catch a cold before things dry out again.
It was pretty straight forward. Boil 3-6 peeled and halved cloves in 3 cups of water. Add 1/2 cup of lemon juice. That was about 7 smallish lemons from our tree out back. Add honey to taste and serve.
The tea was a lemonade color, probably because I didn’t skimp on the lemon juice and wasn’t half bad. I don’t think that I will replace my morning tea with this concoction but in times of illness, it would be no bother.
There are some things to keep in mind when using garlic. Some people have a sensitivity to garlic and will find it irritates their stomachs. You should not ingest large quantities of garlic when taking blood thinners. Garlic will give you bad breath and body odor. (Duh) And finally, applying raw garlic to your skin may irritate the skin.