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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Garlic’s Medicinal Benefits Outweigh Taboos on Halitosis

The bad cultural rap against garlic, a worthy flavoring food steeped in history, pungent odor and medicinal qualities, is beginning to diminish. It is about time!

When you think about garlic, you think about bad breath — at least most people do. Anthony Burgess, a garlic fan, writes that “it is essentially a flavoring suitable for civilizations that have no inhibitions about strong smells. It seems to me that one of the aims of the Anglo-American culture has been the elimination of the sense of smell.” Aha, how different has been garlic’s reception in Italy, Greece, the Levant and the Orient. Koreans are said to eat 25 times more garlic than do Americans who manage, on the average, to consume merely one pound a year per person.
Just thinking about Koreans and garlic: makes people in Gilroy, California dream dreams of what the potential for growth could be in the U.S.A. Gilroy is the garlic capital of North America. Four out of every five tons of garlic grown in the U.S. comes from the fields of Gilroy. In 1965, 12,000 acres and a production of .about 90,000 tons of this bulbous plant supplies most of the marketplace’s needs. (There are some imports).

When it comes to garlic expansion, Gilroy is going for it. Every July, the Gilroy Garlic Festival gets larger. Only in its seventh year, attendance is expected to soar about 125,000 for the three day festival complete with virtually every garlic-using recipe under the Californian sun, including garlic ice cream and cookies. The sense is that the cultural nose revulsion is giving way to the emerging supremacy of the taste buds and the tongue. Consumption is growing.

Aiding the awakening of taste against intimations of halitosis is the awareness that chewing on parsley or green cardamom pods will diminish the reek of the breath for those still inclined toward sensitivity on this score. But a far larger positive for garlic is mounting evidence that the ancient and medieval champions of the plant as a remedy for many ailments were not always engaged in myth-making.

According to Eric Block, a professor at the State University of New York at Albany, garlic has antibiotic: and antifungal properties. It also helps to inhibit blood clotting. Fresh raw garlic is the best source of allicin” he says, which inhibits a broad range of bacteria, fungi and yeast. Allicin turns into “ajoene”, the ingredient that appears to reduce the risk of blood clotting at least as effectively as does aspirin.

Ancient Greek and Roman physicians prescribed garlic as a diuretic, a vermifuge (to expel tapeworms), an antidote to poisons, a treatment for toothaches, asthma, and skin eruptions. More research is being conducted here and abroad, but the modern medical literature leads Block to assert that “the folklore concerning garlic and onions seems to be gaining some credence.” Dr. Martyn Bailey of George Washington University in Washington, DC, wants to test the degree to which garlic can retard clotting and thereby reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. He says there are no funds available for this type of testing on humans.

In his intriguing new book, The Other Medicines (Doubleday, New York), Richard Grossman of the Montefiore Medical Center cites the use of garlic in helping to relieve some respiratory infections and boils.

While we are awaiting more scientific findings on garlic’s curative or preventive effects on illnesses, the proliferation of delicious garlic-using recipes has reached unprecedented and culinary heights. There are six recent books published on garlic cookery. Plenty of recipes for the mildly adventurous eaters abound in their pages. A free handy seven page pamphlet on garlic. put out by the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association (Alexandria, Virginia) describes garlic as a flavor component in or on “meats, vegetables, stews, soups, salads, dressings, tomato dishes, spaghetti, sauces, pickles and sausages. Bread flavored with garlic and butter is much enjoyed.”

A few caveats. Beware of some pseudo-garlic preparations sold in health-food shops. Dehydrated garlic: powder or other processed garlic pills or extracts cannot compare with fresh garlic’s properties.

In many ways, adopting garlic for a more delicious and nutritious diet represents the triumph of your mind for the benefit of your body at the expense of a very overblown garlic breath taboo. Certainly the farmers in Gilroy would offer a garlic-saturated toast to that declaration. You know what? They are entitled.