NO other herb has such a rich history of use in every single culture on this planet than garlic. The ancient civilisations of Rome, Greece, China and Egypt devised stellar stories about its origin. Ayurveda, the oldest medical system of the world, relates its own: garlic grew as an offshoot of drops of amrita which fell on the earth during the epic battle between gods and demons. Surrounded by an aura of magical and medicinal mysteries, the charm of garlic has remained undiminished over the centuries of its use.
Garlic’s Sanskrit name rasona literally means lacking one taste; it contains all the six tastes except sour. Ayurveda has described it as hot in potency and pungent in post-digestive effect. It is unctuous, sharp and heavy. It pacifies kapha and vata but aggravates pitta. Modern analyses of garlic show that it contains water, protein, carbohydrates and other substances like calcium, phosphorus, iron and vitamin B complex, besides traces of iodine. It also contains volatile oils and sulphur compounds of which some are responsible for its sharp odour.
Though in recent times garlic has acquired a reputation as an effective immunostimulant, anti-viral, anti-cholesterol, cardio-vascular tonic (and also as a tumour inhibiting medicine), ancient ayurvedic texts have eulogised it for its extraordinary healing properties and called it maha aushadhi (great medicine).
Garlic has been described as a stimulant, carminative, digestive, metabolic corrector and killer of intestinal worms. It also has laxative, diuretic, expectorant, anti-inflammatory, aphrodisiac and rejuvenative properties. Given in low doses, it helps in hypertension, raises the body’s immunity, fights viral and bacterial afflictions, keeps cholesterol and tryglycerides level under control and acts as an anti-oxidant substance.
As a home remedy, it is used both externally and internally to combat many diseases. A few cloves of garlic are added to hot oil used for body massage and oleation. Frying five to six cloves of garlic in desi ghee and taking it before lunch provides an adjuvant effect for controlling the flare-up phase of rheumatoid arthritis. The medicated milk of garlic (kshirapaka) works well in many vata diseases like sciatica, lumbago and paralysis whereas the consumption of garlic in one’s daily diet reduces body toxins besides controlling the lipid profile.
However, one fails to understand why such a useful herb didn’t get religious sanction despite its “divine” origin and is rather feared as being tamasika Ayurvedic texts describe a method to lessen its strong ordour. Put a few peeled off cloves of garlic in buttermilk or diluted curd overnight. If used next day, the garlic will lose much of its sharpness and offensive odour. Those who want to use raw garlic, and also to whom its suitability is in doubt, can try this method. Cooking it in ghee too reduces its pungency.
There are many ayurvedic classic medicines containing garlic — Rason Vati, Lashunadya ghrit and Rason Ghrit. Kashyap Samhita, while describing the famous Rason Kalpa, is more explicit in telling that garlic should be used sparingly by persons of pitta prakriti. In kapha and vata diseases it should be used with honey and ghee respectively. The maximum dose of raw garlic cloves is up to six pieces and to counter its unsavoury effect the powder of coriander seeds should be used.