As October approaches, we think of pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns, the traditional symbols of Fall and Halloween. But, as vampires such as Dracula are also associated with the evening of masquerading and trick-or-treating, now is the perfect time to think about garlic. Often referred to as “the stinking rose,” garlic as a defense against vampires was made famous in Bram Stoker’s ”Dracula,” published in 1897. Garlic held incredible healing powers, including as a repellent against mosquitoes, real-life bloodsuckers. Eventually, as garlic spread into southern Slavic regions, people used it to protect themselves from vampires and other demonic forces.

Garlic, dating back over 6000 years, is native to Central Asia, was a staple in the Mediterranean region, and was a frequent seasoning in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Throughout ancient history, the primary use of garlic was for its medicinal properties. Many significant civilizations, including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese, documented its usefulness. The Canon of Medicine, published in 1025, recommended garlic to treat arthritis, chronic cough, and snake and insect bites. Medical books from the 1660s described it as an excellent cure for plague and smallpox.

In 1858, the French chemist Louis Pasteur placed garlic cloves in a petri dish full of bacteria. Several days later, he discovered a bacteria-free area surrounded each clove. During World War II, the British and Soviet armies experienced a shortage of penicillin, so they used diluted garlic solutions to disinfect open wounds.

Today, scientific research has proved that garlic offers many health benefits as it is a powerhouse superfood, nutritionally speaking. This superstar, packed with vitamins B and C, manganese, selenium, iron, copper, and potassium, is tiny, but its benefits are mighty. According to scientists, sulfur compounds formed when a garlic clove is chopped or crushed provide health benefits. This small veggie gives us more than bad breath as it provides our body with the oily chemical compound allicin, which has been shown to reduce inflammation and provide antioxidant benefits. Garlic’s sulfur compounds enter the body from the digestive tract and travel to various parts of the body to exert their potent effects.

Cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes are leading causes of death. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the major factors of these diseases. Garlic exerts cholesterol and triglyceride-lowering actions to protect our hearts by lowering blood pressure. Research indicates that allicin has a positive impact by expanding the blood vessels, making it easier to regulate blood pressure.

Garlic boosts immunity and is an anti-inflammatory agent for sore and inflamed joints or muscles. The Arthritis Foundation even recommends garlic to prevent cartilage damage from arthritis.

This small veggie has significant antibacterial properties that help protect against certain infections. Scientists also believe that garlic has antiviral properties that block the entry of viruses into cells, thereby strengthening the immune response to effectively fight off potential viruses and bacteria. Although research is limited, some studies show individuals were less likely to get a cold after taking garlic. But if you’re thinking you can use it to avoid a COVID-19 infection, there’s no evidence that it will work, according to the World Health Organization and the Mayo Clinic.

Besides offering significant health benefits, garlic is a popular ingredient in cooking due to its strong smell and delicious taste. Garlic is one of the oldest known food flavorings to infuse itself into the culinary tradition of many civilizations across the world.

With its sharp taste and pungent smell, garlic provides a distinct flavor to our cooking. This seasoning was not embraced by Americans until the 1940s when it was recognized as a major ingredient. Today, Americans alone consume more than 250 million pounds of garlic annually. 

Garlic brings great flavor to foods, so it helps us eat more of the foods we should eat, like vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and beans. Adding flavor through garlic can also potentially help us reduce sodium intake.

Garlic is a delicious and easy way to include it into our current diet. It complements most savory dishes, particularly soups, dressings, and sauces. The strong taste of garlic can boost bland recipes. Add garlic to a bolognaise or lasagna to instantly make it tastier or enjoy it in hummus.

A delicious way to use garlic is to press a few cloves of fresh garlic with a garlic press and then mix it with extra-virgin olive oil and salt for a healthy, satisfying dressing for salads and veggies. 

Today, the average person eats about 300 cloves a year, and despite potential bad breath, this is good news. Tasty and versatile, garlic is loaded with numerous vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. When crushed or chopped, garlic produces a compound called allicin, reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure.

So, this October, don’t forget the garlic. You might not need it to combat Count Dracula, but there are lots of reasons to keep a few cloves close at hand!

Nancy J. Schaaf is a retired English literature educator and also a retired registered nurse.

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