This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Allium sativum, or garlic, a bulb of strong oniony odour, and pungent taste, consists in fact of numerous bulblets known technically as " cloves," and grouped together within one whitish integument, or capsule, which holds them as it were in a sac. An essential oil of garlic, as obtained by distillation with water, is a sulphide of the radical allyl, to which most of the special properties of garlic are due. This oil contains much sulphur, but no oxygen; all the volatile oils of the onion and cabbage tribe are sulphurised. Dumas has described the very air of Southern France, particularly of Provence, as perfumed with the refined essence of this mystically attractive bulb ; but on the other hand Dr. King Chambers writes, " Another article of cuisine that offends the bowels of unused Britons when abroad (in France, Italy, Spain, and Germany) is garlic ; so that not uncommonly in Southern climes an egg with the shell on is the only procurable animal food without garlic in it. Flatulence and looseness are the frequent results.
Bouilli, with its accompaniments of mustard sauce, and water melon, is the safest resource, and not an unpleasant one after a little education." Sydney Smith, writing to Lady Holland, his daughter, January, 1836, said, " Mrs. Sydney and I have been reading Beauvilliers' book on cookery, from which I find, as I suspected, that garlic is power." In November, 1810, he had said to Lady Grey, "I am performing miracles in my parish with garlic for whooping cough." Likewise from York, in 1818, "We conquered here the whooping cough with a pennyworth of salt of tartar; after having filled the sufferers in vain with Dr. Alford's expensive poisons. What an odd thing that such a simple specific should not be more known!" Again, writing from Heslington, 1813, he tells his friend Jeffreys, "I have been spending some weeks of dissipation in London, and was transformed by Circe's cup, not into a brute, but a beau. I am now eating the herb moly in the country." Wild garlic, allium moly, represents the fabled moly of Homer as given by Hermes to Odysseus for counteracting the spells of Circe.
It is to the intensely-smelling sulphuret of allyl that garlic and the onion owe their peculiar odour; and the rank aroma of the breath after eating these plants is caused by the constant presence of such oil in minute quantities exhaled from the lungs into the air; it exudes likewise through the pores of the garlic-eater's skin, and characterises the perspiration. The odour is so diffusible that it is given off from the lungs even when garlic is applied to the soles of the feet only. If sniffed into the nostrils it will revive an hysterical sufferer. The smell thereof is the most acrimonious of all the onion tribe. Many marvellous effects, and healing powers have been ascribed to garlic, the leek, and onions, their juices and preparations. Amongst physiological results it is reported that garlic makes the eye retina more sensitive, and less able to bear strong light. Dr. Pearse, of Plymouth, 1902, has reported concerning the remarkable longings of the Irish peasantry for garlic, and their faith in its value for curing coughs.
During twenty-five years his experience has met with the same craving in consumptively inclined patients at Plymouth; he concludes that there must be some state of molecular energy in the leek, and onions, which serves to furnish the body of a consumptive person with the true correlative for maintaining healthy growth. "Such," 'he adds, "is the craving for onions by consumptive patients, and such the agreement of these odorous bulbs therewith, that I do not doubt that this is an instance parallel with that of the Swiss, who by some instinct, or evolved experience, have learnt to eat burnt sponge for the dispersion of their throat goitre, or with the passion of the poorly fed Hindu for tamarinds, and lime-juice.
For chronic bronchitis garlic is of particular virtue; therefore such garlic is largely used by country people throughout Ireland, enjoying among them a reputation for curing coughs when it is made into a tea, or mixed with whisky. It is also pounded and employed as a poultice for scrofulous sores; and further, it is said to prevent anthrax, or "blackleg" in cattle, being used largely for such a purpose. The old-fashioned syrup of garlic is made by first pouring a quart of boiling water upon a pound of the fresh bulbs cut in slices, putting the same in a close earthen vessel to stand for twelve hours, then the syrup is made of this infusion slowly cooked with the proper quantity of sugar. But indeed garlic ought never to be actually boiled, because by this treatment the essential oil on which the whole virtue of the garlic depends becomes exhaled, and dissipated. To be taken as a medicine garlic is stimulating, and agrees capitally with persons of a cold, passive temperament, but it offends and upsets others who are of a hot feverish disposition, and apt to become dyspeptic.
Dr. Minchin, medical officer at Kells, published (1902) articles on the successful treatment of tubercular consumption, and of lupus (an erosive skin disease) by garlic. He finds that the allium sativum exercises a specifically destructive action on the bacillus of tubercle, at all events in the human subject. Cases of very encouraging cure in confirmed consumption are given by him in detail. The freshly expressed juice from the garlic, without removing the chlorophyl, is used by him, being most reliably prepared at home. When diluted with an equal quantity of water (or dilute spirit of wine), this is inhaled anti-septically on a small extemporised inhaler made of pliable perforated zinc plate, (as introduced by Dr. Yeo); some of the liquid being put afresh on the sponge of this inhaler three times during the day, and the inhaler being worn constantly (except at mealtimes) over the mouth and nose. Respecting this mode of treatment, Dr. Berdoe writes, "the only objection thereto is the offensive smell of the remedy as due to the sulphides, and oxides of allyl.
No doubt this has militated against the employment of the onion tribe in regular medicine, since its virtues in bronchial troubles, and as affording topical remedies for abscesses, sores, etc. have always been recognized by country folk. I look upon it as a perfectly safe treatment, efficient in most cases of incipient tubercular disease of the lungs, in nearly-all cases moderately advanced, and in many very advanced cases. Its action is fairly rapid, and the treatment is scarcely open to any objection, it being readily applicable to all cases of consumption, whether in the well-to-do, or the poorer classes, either at home, or in the general wards of a hospital. I have had so much success with it that I have come to look upon few cases of consumption as hopeless." If intestinal troubles are further present, Dr. Minchin gives the garlic juice also by the mouth, in doses of twenty drops diluted with water, and repeated several times a day. Garlic in syrup promotes expectoration, and is therefore beneficial in the chronic bronchial affections of aged, weakly subjects.
It has been related in Kitchen Physic how Cavazanni at Venice throughout more than two years used garlic with remarkable success for tubercular consumption, having treated more than two hundred cases, all of which were shown by a bacteriological inspection of the sputa to be undoubtedly consumptive.
For imparting a mild flavour of garlic to a salad of endive, or chicory, a crust of stale bread which has been rubbed with garlic is sometimes placed at the bottom inside the bowl, this being called in France a capon (chapon). It was originated by the Gascons, who were poor, but vain, so that it occurred to one of them to name this flavoured crust a capon, in order that he might truthfully tell his friends he had dined superbly on a capon, and salad. A clove of garlic inserted in the knuckle of a shoulder, or leg of mutton will impart a slight, but distinct flavour to the whole joint; and a rump steak is improved in taste if served on a plate first rubbed over with a clove of garlic cut in two. For an adult taking garlic remedially on account of bronchial trouble, one or more cloves may be eaten at a time. Raw garlic applied to the skin reddens it; when bruised and mixed with lard, it makes a very useful counter-irritant opodeldoc. If employed thus over the chest in front, and between the shoulder blades behind, of a child with whooping cough, it proves eminently helpful.
Old Fuller says, "indeed a large book has been written de esu allii, about the culinary virtues of garlic, which book, if it hold proportion with truth, one would wonder that any man should be sick and dye who hath Garlic growing in his garden. Sure I am our palate-people are much pleased therewith as giving a delicious haut gout to most meats they eat, as tasted, and smelt in their sauce, though not seen therein." The old Greeks, in their fastidious refinement detested garlic. It is true the Attic husbandmen ate it from remote times, probably in part to drive away by its odour venomous creatures from assailing them; but persons who partook of it were not allowed to enter the temples of Cybele. Horace, among the Romans, was made ill by eating garlic at the table of Mcecenas, and he afterwards (Epode the third) reviled the plant as "Cicutis allium nocentius," garlic more poisonous than hemlock.
"If his old father's throat any impious sinner Has cut with unnatural hand to the bone, Give him garlic - more noxious than hemlock - at dinner. Ye Gods! what strong stomachs the reapers must own".
Translation by Sir Theodore Martin.
When leprosy formerly prevailed in this country, garlic (most acrimonious of odour) was a prime specific for its relief, and as the victims had to "pil" (or peel) their own garlic, they got the nickname of Pilgarlics; hence too it came about that any one shunned like a leper had this epithet applied to him, or her. Durand, the gallstone specialist, advised the free use of garlic to his patients. A garlic clove, when introduced into the lower bowel, will destroy thread worms, and. if eaten, will abolish round worms.