Kitchen Shrink: Meet your personal defense weapon - garlic

To ward off viruses, bacteria, inflammation, fungus infections, cholesterol gremlins, digestive ails, scratchy throats, colds and creatures of the night such as mosquitoes, ticks and the occasional vampire, eat a smashed or sliced clove of raw garlic with your buttered toast about once a week on one of your stay-at-home days.

A good reminder of this practice is the upcoming National Garlic Day on April 19 - appropriately coinciding with Earth Day, which is April 22.

Although garlic has been dubbed as the "new" superfood by health-food gurus, this first cousin to the onion, leek, chive and shallot and member of the lily family has been around since biblical times. Pharaoh discovered that this magical herb kept the slaves, who were toiling in close contact with one another, fortified and virus-free while building the Egyptian pyramids.

The ancient Greek athletes did garlic-loading in preparation for the Olympic Games, the soldiers ate cloves before their battles, while midwives hung garlands of garlic in the birthing rooms to keep the evil spirits at bay.

For thousands of years, garlic has not only been used as a repellent for various cooties and an offering to the gods, but also for assorted medicinal purposes. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, prescribed the miraculous bulb as a cure-all for everything from healing infections and wounds, like an herbal Neosporin to cancer, leprosy and digestive disorders.

Recently, garlic has even been given the moniker of "vegetarian Viagra" as a male-enhancing aphrodisiac, followed by a fresh sprig of parsley or three or four coffee beans chewed raw as a breath deodorizer.

Raw garlic is loaded with allicin, a potent sulfur compound that has been credited with having the power of killing 23 types of bacteria, including salmonella and staphylococcus (and endowing garlic with its infamous odor).

Garlic also contains vitamins A, B6 and C; selenium; magnesium; potassium; calcium; zinc; and flavonoids. making this "stinky rose" a powerhouse antioxidant and immune booster as well as a heart healer by lowering bad cholesterol, regulating blood pressure, improving circulation and preventing stroke.

Studies have also shown that garlic's allicin promotes weight control, kills parasites, boosts the body's defenses against allergies and is a good friend to diabetics by lowering insulin and triglyceride levels.

Drink a garlic cocktail with a crushed clove in a glass of vegetable juice or some lukewarm H2O (but not on an empty stomach) for a quick detoxifier, or treat a skin ailment by rubbing a raw clove directly on a cold sore, wart, blemish, athlete's foot or other skin disorders.

Some garlic advice and a couple of words of warning:

Elephant or Russian garlic is a hybrid of the leek plant and is not the real thing. So don't be enticed by the humongous garliclike cloves that are super-easy to peel and yield huge bulbs.

Stick to the real thing.

Don't O.D. on the stuff. Two to 4 grams a day is ideal. Too much of a good thing can cause heartburn, stomach woes and allergic reactions, even toxic effects. Once again, moderation is standing advice.

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