No other herb is as closely tied to the human experience as garlic. Sales of one garlic phytomedicine product in Germany top $40 million per year.
Garlic is one of the two best-selling herbal dietary supplement products in the mass market in the United States, and is the second-best-selling herbal dietary supplement in the health food market (second to Echinacea). In 1995, the United States imported more than 5.3 million kilograms of garlic valued at over $2.9 million. In the same year, the U.S. exported nearly 3.6 million kilograms of garlic worth over $8.5 million. Figures are not available for the most recent year on fresh garlic sales.
Garlic has become big business, not only as a well-known food ingredient, but also an herb with well-documented health benefits. There is a good deal of popular literature, including articles and books, which often do more to confuse garlic's real value than to support it.
Sifting through the voluminous scientific literature is a job for a handful of scientists who are intimate with garlic research and the literature. In 1988, H. P. Koch and G. Hahn did just that in their German language work Knoblauch [the German name for garlic]. Now Dr. Larry D. Lawson, one of the more respected garlic experts in the United States, has joined Heinrich P. Koch as editor for an entirely new English edition -- Garlic - The Science and Therapeutic Application of Allium sativum L. and Related Species. While offered as a second edition of Knoblauch, the book is an entirely new compilation, based on the dozens of scientific studies that have been published in the last decade, providing a much clearer understanding of its chemistry, pharmacology, and clinical applications. The only two chapters that essentially remain translations of the first edition are the definitive first chapter on the "History, Folk Medicine, and Legendary Uses of Garlic," and chapter two, "Bota nical Characterization and Cultivation of Garlic."
Chapter three, "The Composition and Chemistry of Garlic Cloves and Processed Garlic," by Larry Lawson, gives detailed information on the complex chemistry of garlic and garlic products, starting with a general overview of sulfur and non-sulfur compounds. Allinase, the enzyme producing allicin upon cutting or crushing garlic; is described as the most abundant protein. The placement of allicin and allinase in cell structure is given. If any single factor is constant in the plant world, it is endless variation. Here, the chemical variation in 69 different strains of garlic is assessed. A subchapter on allicin reveals that the compound is much more stable than is generally known. Another section describes the chemical composition of "garlic breath," and the chemical transformations that take place when garlic is cooked. An extensive discussion is included of the chemical composition of 28 brand products (unnamed), and their variations. A separate section is devoted to the chemistry of aged garlic extracts. Finally, content comparisons of various vitamins and minerals is revealed along with the fact that the selenium and germanium content are insignificant, contrary to reports in popular literature. There is simply more on the chemistry of garlic in this one chapter than you can find in any other source book.
The fourth chapter, by K. Pentz and C. P. Siegers, reviews "Garlic Preparations: Methods for Qualitative and Quantitative Assessment of Their Ingredients."
Chapter five, by H. D. Reuter, H. P. Koch, and L. D. Lawson, is an extensive review of the "Therapeutic Effects and Applications of Garlic and Its Preparations." Among the topics covered in detail are serum cholesterol and triglycerides, blood pressure, antithrombotic effects, antibiotic activity, anticancer research, antioxidant effects, and the effects of garlic on the immune system. In vitro, in vivo and human studies are critically assessed. This chapter is the best single source of information on the legitimate health benefits of garlic.
Chapter six details the "Biopharmaceutics of Garlic's Effective Compounds," covering metabolism and pharmacokinetics, as they are presently understood.
Chapter seven, "Toxicology and Undesirable Effects of Garlic," is more about safety than toxicology. It is reported that fresh garlic can cause abdominal irritation when consumed (in an empty stomach). The author, H. P. Koch, also reports on contact dermatitis related to applying fresh garlic to the skin as well as localized skin allergies.
Finally, chapter eight is a brief discussion on "Non-Medical Applications of Garlic and Curiosities."
The book is not just a review volume. It contains a good deal of new data on comparative chemistry and assessments of health benefits, published for the first time. The authors dispel many myths of garlic as well. This book is the largest, most comprehensive work ever published on the subject. The reference list includes the most valuable papers on the subject in an 84-page bibliography with complete citations to over 2,000 garlic papers. Few books earn the title "definitive work." Garlic: The Science and Therapeutic Application of Allium Sativum L. and Related Species goes beyond a definitive work -- it sets a new standard for a scientific work on a single herb. It is a detailed, definitive book of unparalleled quality, worth having in any herbal library.
Article copyright American Botanical Council.
By Steven Foster