Garlic, a member of the Allium family and cousin to the onion, scallion, chive and shallot, has had a reputation for being a cure-all for centuries. Egyptian pyramid builders used it for strength; ancient Greeks used it as a laxative; Europeans used it to repel the plague; WWII soldiers used it as an antibiotic for battle wounds. Then, of course, there's its reputed ability to ward off vampires. Despite its distinctive, lingering odor, garlic is still one of herbal medicines most popular healers today.

There are over 100 sulfur compounds in garlic, some of which have therapeutic properties when ingested raw. Allin, allicin and ajoene are some of the chemicals responsible for garlic's curative powers. It has been noted that cultures that eat a lot of garlic, like the Italians and Spanish, tend to have lower rates of heart disease. Studies show that garlic can make platelets less sticky and less prone to clogging the arteries. It is an anticoagulant that can inhibit plaque formation and widen blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure. Recent research has been looking into garlic's potential role in lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. There is even some evidence to suggest that it slows the growth of tumors and may help prevent some forms of cancer.

Garlic is a powerful antioxidant that has anti-infection qualities, something proved by Luis Pasteur back in the 19th century. It strengthens the immune system and quells bacteria, viruses and fungi to prevent ailments like colds, flu, athletes foot, swimmer's ear and other infectious diseases. Some skin conditions such as insect bites and warts may also benefit from a topical application of crushed garlic.

Many people are put off by the pungent odor that eating raw garlic brings to their breath and skin, and even some supplements can cause one to burp malodorously. Look for enteric-coated capsules of garlic powder or deodorized garlic preparations if you want to avoid this unpleasant side effect.

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