If I told you that garlic, a humble kitchen herb, has the potential to save the world from the threat of antibiotic resistant infections, you probably wouldn’t believe me.
Luckily, you don’t have to take my word for it – Nottingham University carried out “ground-breaking” research in 2015 that explains it all scientifically.
In this unique study, researchers from the Microbiology and Medieval History departments re-created a remedy for a Staphylococcus aureus eye infection from a 10th century Anglo-Saxon ‘leechbook’ – using garlic, onion and oxgall or cow’s bile.
These simple ingredients, steeped in wine for 9 days and strained through a cloth, not only killed all the bacterial cells in a synthetic model of Staph. aureus infection, as well as its modern-day superbug equivalent, MRSA – they also appeared to do this better than conventional antibiotics.
From a modern herbalist’s perspective, the outcome of the study is not surprising. We have known and appreciated the antimicrobial effects of onion and garlic for centuries, and the phenomenon of ‘pharmacological synergy’ – when the effect of a herb is potentiated by combination with another herb – is also well known to us.
Fight infection with garlic
What you probably want to know now is how you can best use garlic – the most potent antibiotic substance in the known plant world – to boost immunity and generally support you and your family’s health this winter.
There are a few things to bear in mind in order to get the maximum potential out of your garlic.
Only use fresh
Only fresh garlic is effective as an anti-infectious remedy. Cooked garlic has blood-pressure and cholesterol-lowering effects and small amounts of prebiotic fibre, which helps to regulate intestinal flora and generally help with digestion.
Crush for maximum effect
Garlic needs to be crushed (either with a garlic crusher or the side of a knife) before being chopped into smaller pieces – this releases the enzyme alliinase, which converts the sulphurous compound aliin into its active form, allicin.
Leave the crushed, chopped garlic open to the air for a couple of minutes to allow this conversion to happen, then add to food (hummus, aubergine babaganoush, avocado guacamole) or simply mix with some olive oil or butter and swallow.
When and how much to take?
Take half a clove of garlic a couple times a day for a few days in a row whenever you feel run down. This is when it is most effective – as a preventative medicine.
In full-blown infections, take up to 3 cloves a day and continue for a couple of days after all symptoms have abated.
Garlic can be used for almost any type of bacterial, viral or fungal infection – colds, flu, bronchitis, tonsillitis, gastroenteritis or ‘stomach flu’, intestinal Candidiasis, cystitis or pelvic infections.
Other ways to use garlic
For ear infections in adults & children, crush a clove of garlic and warm gently in a small amount of olive oil for a few minutes. Pour one teaspoon in the ear and hold in place with a piece of cotton wool. Change every few hours until symptoms abate.
For small children and babies, simply cut a clove in half and rub on the sole of the feet for absorption through the skin. A whole clove can also be used as a homemade suppository for intestinal worms in children to good effect.
In my practice I mainly use garlic, along with other plant-based antimicrobials, as part of a 4-6 week regimen for patients with chronic gut flora disturbances and digestive problems.
Alternating this intensive antimicrobial treatment with other supportive gut remedies like slippery elm, green tea and probiotics helps to restore the natural balance of the gut over time, thereby greatly improving general health.
Taking garlic responsibly
However, if taken in too high a dose or for too long, garlic also has the potential to wreak havoc on our intestinal flora.
Do not take garlic in high doses for more than a week without a break and, after the treatment, make sure you eat well, get proper sleep, and supplement with a course of probiotics (BioKult or Optibac) and homemade fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and kefir.
Onion & garlic syrup
This is an all-time favourite – so simple and really, really effective for stubborn coughs in children as well as colds and flu.
To make the syrup, add the crushed and minced garlic in layers with chopped onion and sugar to a jar. Layer the onion, garlic and sugar until the jar is filled and leave for a few hours. The sugar will draw water from the onion and garlic and create a potent medicine that is ready to use within hours.
Top up the mixture as needed with more onion or sugar, then strain, bottle and refrigerate after 24 hours. The mixture will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.