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Garlic (Allium sativum L.)

Image of Allium sativum

Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Asparagales
Family: Alliaceae

Common name: Rashun(Beng.); Garlic(Eng.).
Edible Parts: Plant, Seed
Native Range: Native to Southwestern Asia, Britain, North America
Habitat: Garlic is easy to grow and can be grown year-round in mild climates. In cold climates, cloves can be planted in the ground about six weeks before the soil freezes and harvested in late spring.

Allium sativum L., commonly known as garlic, is a species in the onion family Alliaceae. Allium sativum is close relatives of the onion, shallot, leek, and chive. It has been used throughout recorded history for both culinary and medicinal purposes.

Garlic has a characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows and sweetens considerably with cooking. A bulb of garlic, the most commonly used part of the plant, is divided into numerous fleshy sections called cloves. The cloves are used as seed, for consumption (raw or cooked), and for medicinal purposes.

The leaves, stems (scape), and flowers (bulbils) on the head (spathe) are also edible and are most often consumed while immature and still tender. The papery, protective layers of "skin" over various parts of the plant and the roots attached to the bulb are the only parts not considered palatable.

Garlic is believed to stem from Central Asia, although no wild form is known. Of the about 700 species of genus Allium, many are native to Central Asia, the center of diversity ranging from the Himalayas to Turkestan.

Properties

The main active ingredient in garlic is Alliin. Allicin is the active compound that gives garlic its characteristic odor and many of its healing benefits. Other sulphur compounds are thiosulfinates, gamma glutamylcysteine peptides and various Cu-peptides, 2 mercapto-L-cysteins, anthocyanins, glycosides of kaempferol and quercetin, polysaccharides, allinase, sterols, hydrocarbons, sativin I & II, scordinines A & B.

When crushed, Allium sativum yields allicin, a powerful antibiotic and antifungal compound (phytoncide). However, due to poor bioavailability, it is of limited use for oral consumption. It also contains alliin, ajoene, enzymes, vitamin B, minerals, and flavonoids.

The composition of the bulbs is approximately 84.09% water, 13.38% organic matter, and 1.53% inorganic matter, while the leaves are 87.14% water, 11.27% organic matter, and 1.59% inorganic matter.

The phytochemicals responsible for the sharp flavor of garlic are produced when the plant's cells are damaged. When a cell is broken by chopping, chewing, or crushing, enzymes stored in cell vacuoles trigger the breakdown of several sulfur-containing compounds stored in the cell fluids. The resultant compounds are responsible for the sharp or hot taste and strong smell of garlic. Some of the compounds are unstable and continue to evolve over time. Among the members of the onion family, garlic has by far the highest concentrations of initial reaction products, making garlic much more potent than onions, shallots, or leeks.

Actions

Antibacterial, Antifungal, Anti-inflammatory, Anthelmintic, Antiseptic, Antiviral, Hypotensive-vasodilator, Cholagogue, Antispasmodic, Decreases blood cholesterol, Increases HDL, Hypoglycemic, Expectorant, Diaphoretic, Antioxidant, Antineoplastic, Carminative.

Medicinal use of Garlic

Garlic has a very long folk history of use in a wide range of ailments, particularly ailments such as ringworm, Candida and vaginitis where its fungicidal, antiseptic, tonic and parasiticidal properties have proved of benefit. 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 at bay. It is also said to have anticancer activity. It has also been shown that garlic aids detoxification of chronic lead poisoning. Garlic is claimed to help prevent heart disease (including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis ) and cancer.

Garlic is also alleged to help regulate blood sugar levels. Garlic can 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, vasodilator.

Supplementation with garlic extract inhibited vascular calcification in human patients with high blood cholesterol. The known vasodilative effect of garlic is possibly caused by catabolism of garlic-derived polysulfides to hydrogen sulfide in red blood cells, a reaction that is dependent on reduced thiols in or on the RBC membrane. Hydrogen sulfide is an endogenous cardioprotective vascular cell-signaling molecule.