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Allium sativum (garlic)

Garlic is a strongly aromatic bulb that has long been used in cooking and medicine.
Allium sativum (garlic) bulb

Allium sativum (garlic)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Allium sativum L.

Common name: 

garlic (English); ajo (Spanish); ail (French); arishtha, lashuna (Sanskrit); lasan (Hindu and Gujarat); vellaipundu (Tamil).

Conservation status: 

Not considered to be threatened.


Rocky valleys, riverbeds, streambeds and gullies.

Key Uses: 

Food and drink, medicine, pest control.

Known hazards: 

Adverse effects including a burning sensation in the mouth and intestine, sickness, and odour from the breath and the body. Skin reactions have also been reported. Garlic may interfere with some prescribed medicines.


Genus: Allium

About this species

Garlic is a strongly aromatic bulb crop that has been cultivated for thousands of years. It is renowned throughout the world for its distinctive flavour as well as its health-giving properties.

Garlic was domesticated long ago and is mentioned in ancient Egyptian, Greek, Indian, and Chinese writings. Garlic bulbs from about 1,500 BC were found in the tomb of Tutankhamen, and garlic is mentioned in the Bible and Qur’an.

Today, garlic is grown in temperate and tropical regions all over the world, and many cultivars have been developed to suit different climates.

Garlic, onions, leeks and chives are all members of the genus Allium, which comprises approximately 750 species. 

Traditional medicine

Garlic is one of the oldest plants to be widely used as a medicine. In most corners of the world, it is regarded as an aphrodisiac. Its medical qualities have been recognised since ancient times and feature widely in traditional remedies.

The bulbs are the most frequently used part of the plant. In India they are prepared in several ways including extracting the juice or pulping the bulb to a paste. This has been taken to relieve problems such as coughs and fevers or applied externally to prevent greying of hair and to improve skin conditions such as eczema and scabies. It has even been applied to the noses of hysterical girls to calm them down!

Warmed garlic juice or a mixture made with oil and boiled bulbs have been dropped into the ear to relieve earache and deafness. In Ayurvedic and Siddha medicine, garlic juice has been used to alleviate sinus problems. In Unani medicine, an extract is prepared from the dried bulb that is inhaled to promote abortion or taken to regulate menstruation. Unani physicians also use garlic to treat paralysis, forgetfulness, tremor, colic pains, internal ulcers and fevers.

Extracts of bulbs have been widely used in folk medicine. Whooping cough in children has been treated by administering a drink made with a hot water extract of the dried bulb mixed with honey or by wearing a necklace of bulbs. Hot water extracts are also taken to kill intestinal worms. In Pakistan, an extract is traditionally taken orally to settle the stomach, treat coughs and reduce fever.

Garlic bulbs have sometimes been combined with other plants to make medicines. Mixed with the leaves of the ivy gourd (Coccinia grandis) it is used as a treatment for rabies. An infusion of the entire plant has been combined with sugar and taken to treat fevers. Garlic has also been used in traditional Indian veterinary medicine to treat tetanus and inflammatory disorders of the lungs.

Garlic also features in traditional medicine in other parts of the world. In Nepal, East Asia and the Middle East it has been used to treat all manner of illnesses including fevers, diabetes, rheumatism, intestinal worms, colic, flatulence, dysentery, liver disorders, tuberculosis, facial paralysis, high blood pressure and bronchitis.

Western medicine

The medicinal properties of garlic are now scientifically recognised. It is widely available in different forms as over-the-counter supplements, particularly to treat blood conditions and as an anti-viral medicine.

Various sulphur-containing compounds occur in garlic. One such compound is called alliin. Crushing or chopping garlic may also promote enzyme reactions and allow other compounds to form. Studies show that these compounds may be effective in many ways including: pain relief; anti-worm, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties; lowering of blood glucose and blood pressure; and liver protection.

Other research shows that garlic may help lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots and spasms, act as an expectorant and alleviate swellings, sores and acne.


Porrum sativum (L.) Rchb., Allium controversum Schrad. ex Willd. (Full list available on the World Checklist).


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