Garlic, one of the oldest cultivated plants in existence, is grown in Egypt. Egyptians were said to have been obsessed with the herb, which is native to central Asia, because they believed it strengthened the body and prevented disease.
The Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest identified medical texts, names hundreds of herbal remedies, and 22 of these preparations call for garlic.
The Complete Herbal, written by British physician Nicholas Culpeper, credits garlic with several powers, such as healing bites of mad dogs and venomous creatures, ridding children of worms, and curing ulcers. The book also says it clears up skin imperfections, such as spots, blemishes, and abscesses.
French chemist Louis Pasteur, regarded as one of the founding fathers of microbiology, is the first to describe garlic's antibacterial properties after observing bacteria he exposed to the herb die.
British doctors use garlic as an antiseptic against infections, such as gangrene, during the First World War. The herb's juice was combined with peat moss to serve as bandages for wounded soldiers. Russian physicians later do the same during the Second World War; they also supplement soldiers' diets with garlic and onions to prevent disease. Garlic is consequently nicknamed "Russian penicillin."
Italian chemist C.J. Cavallito and his partner, J.H. Bailey, are the first to identify allicin, the major biologically active component of garlic. The allyl sulphur has been identified as the key ingredient responsible for the herb's anti-bacterial properties. Subsequent research has also credited it with lowering fat, guarding against blood clots and high blood pressure, and preventing cancer.
A rash of clinical research examining the role of garlic in reducing blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke begins. Some studies find the herb can reduce blood pressure, decrease cholesterol, fend off common colds, enhance the immune system, and prevent cancer. Garlic is not, however, recommended for preventing or curing bad breath.