Antibiotic Herbs: Garlic

This is one of a series of guest blog posts on antibiotic herbs.

There are all kinds of advantages to having a professor for a best friend, one of which is hearing about the interesting experiments she does with her students. Not one to balk at the reputed validity of natural remedies, my professor friend did an experiment that tested garlic’s antibacterial power against that of commercial, synthetic antibiotics. While the test was not within the body (they used Petri dishes), the outcome was worth noting: garlic out-performed the synthetic antibiotics by leaps and bounds. The results were unquestionable – the bacterial cultures were obliterated by the application of garlic, whereas the bacteria were only partially destroyed by the commercial antibiotics.

It would seem that garlic deserves a closer look.

The bulbs and cloves of garlic (Allium sativum) have taken root over much of the world, although garlic is probably indigenous to west central Asia. It is mostly known as a culinary herb or flavoring agent in modern America, but it was cultivated as a medicine in ancient times. Its medicinal reputation is once again gaining momentum. Herbal writer and natural health advocate Stephen Harrod Buhner says that “No other herb comes close to the multiple system actions of garlic, its antibiotic activity, and its immune-potentiating power.” So confident is Buhner in garlic’s disease-fighting capabilities that he declares it the herb of choice should an epidemic of antibiotic-resistant bacterial disease beset us.

Garlic’s antibiotic and antiviral properties are apparently active whether the herb is cooked, raw, juiced, or in capsule form. Some herbalists and natural health practitioners, however, believe that garlic is most effective when taken fresh and raw, usually in the form of juice. Be aware, however, that raw garlic juice is a powerful emetic (emetics are herbs that induce vomiting), and too much can cause unpleasant nausea as well as vomiting. “You won’t die if you take too much [raw garlic juice],” says Buhner, “but you will want to.” If large quantities are needed to fight off an acute infection, taking tiny amounts of garlic juice throughout the day, diluted in vegetable juice, is said to be most effective and tolerable.

Garlic works topically, too. It is even antifungal, and can be used as a topical treatment for athlete’s foot and yeast infections. Tuberculosis, once an all-but-forgotten disease of antiquity, has returned in various parts of the modern world, and tends to be resistant to antibiotics. Garlic is said to be quite effective against tuberculosis – this may be due at least in part to garlic’s natural tendency to permeate the lungs. The body actually excretes garlic from the body via the lungs, which is why “garlic breath” can linger long after eating the herb.

My favorite way to use garlic medicinally is as a broth. I have also found that garlic helps ease allergy symptoms significantly, which may be due to its high levels of quercetin, a natural antihistamine.

For a flavorful, healing, antibacterial and antiviral broth, bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Add one clove of peeled, minced garlic and 1 chopped scallion to the water. Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let the broth cool for about 5 minutes. Then stir in 2 teaspoons of miso paste.

Who knew that such powerful healing was quietly sitting on grocery store shelves?


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