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Herbal Remedies: The Restorative Properties of Garlic, Slippery Elm and Alfalfa

Slippery elm, garlic and alfalfa have been used for centuries to treat common medical conditions such as sore throat, infections and diabetes.

| February/March 1995

  • garlic
    Garlic is good for much more than simply seasoning your food.

  • garlic


If one herb crossed the boundaries between food and medicine it is garlic (Allium sativum). Garlic has been used for as long as humans have recorded historical events. It may even have been the secret to building the Egyptian pyramids. Herodotus (484-425 B.C.), the Greek historian, known as the 'Father of History;' wrote of an inscription on a pyramid that records the quantities of radishes, onions, and garlic consumed by the laborers who constructed it. Garlic cloves were even found in the tomb of the ancient King Tut.

Some are surprised to learn that garlic is not known from the wild. Horticulturists term it a “cultigen” a plant that has actually evolved under cultivation, rather than in Mother Nature itself. Its nearest wild relatives occur in the Asian steppes, and it was known under cultivation in the Middle East at least 5,000 years ago. The word garlic is derived from the Anglo-Saxon “garleac” meaning “spear plant.” Garlic is a member of the genus Allium in the lily family (Liliaceae). There are more than 700 species of Allium, which includes onion, too. Allium is the ancient Latin name of garlic, meaning “hot” or “burning.” The first century physician, Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.), wrote, “Garlic has powerful properties, and is of great benefit against changes of water and of residence,” suggesting it is good for warding off intestinal problems while traveling in the ancient world. The ancient Chinese first recorded its medicinal use around 510 A.D. Then as today in China, its primary use was to treat dysentery and diarrhea, and in many countries garlic is still used for the treatment of intestinal diseases caused by microorganisms. In various world cultures it is also used for colds, fever, symptoms of flu, coughs, earache, bronchitis, headache, sinus congestion, high blood pressure, stomachache, hypertension, and many other health conditions.

Garlic has been the subject of numerous scientific studies. In 1858, Louis Pasteur, of “pasteurization fame, was the first to document garlic’s well-known broad-spectrum antibacterial activity. Indian researchers published a 1984 study that showed garlic was a promising antibacterial agent in eight out of nine strains of clinical bacteria that were highly resistant to antibiotics. Physicians are still unlikely to prescribe garlic over penicillin; however, that trend could change.

Over 1,000 papers on various aspects of the chemistry, pharmacology, and clinical applications of garlic have been published in the past 20 years. Research has focused on the potential and use of garlic for the treatment of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, as well as blood thinning activity comparable to aspirin. An analysis of 28 human studies measuring the effect of garlic on human cholesterol was recently prepared by physicians at the New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York. They concluded that one- half to one clove of garlic per day (or its equivalent in a dietary supplement product) decreased the total serum cholesterol levels by 9 to 12 percent, depending upon study design, types of preparations, dosage, and target populations.

While the FDA treats garlic as a food in the United States, German health authorities allow garlic preparations to be sold as over-the-the counter drugs. In Germany, sales of garlic preparations top $250 million per year and the minced bulb and other preparations, calculated to an average daily dose of 4g (fresh garlic), are used for supportive dietary measures to reduce blood lipids and as a preventative for age-dependent vascular changes, primarily atherosclerosis.

Slippery Elm

When the coming of spring is still a hopeful thought, and the outcome of the groundhog's appearance awaits indication, the russet downy buds of Slippery Elm unfold inconspicuous petal-less blooms, then set mature seeds, before most trees leaf out. The slippery or red elm is the only one of the five or six North American elm species with rough hairy twigs and fuzzy red buds, making it easy to identify. Slippery elm occurs in a variety of habitats but generally prefers moist limey stream banks. It ranges from Maine through the St. Lawrence Valley to the Dakotas, south to Texas, and east to Florida.

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