Garlic’s health benefits have been recognized since at least 2600 BC, when prescriptions for this member of the lily family were chiseled into clay tablets in Sumer. Today, hundreds of studies from around the world have proven garlic’s wide range of healing properties. Whether you’re treating a cold with a steaming bowl of garlicky chicken soup or taking Aged Garlic Extract supplements to help ward off heart disease, there are many ways to put the health-protective benefits of garlic to practical use. Here are nine ideas to get you started.
1. Garlic Wards off Colds
While garlic can’t cure the common cold, its cold-fighting prowess is one of its best-known health benefits.
In a 2001 clinical trial, researchers validated the long-held belief that garlic is an effective remedy for the common cold. In the study, 146 people received either a garlic supplement or a placebo. Over a 12-week period during cold season, participants kept a diary in which they recorded their symptoms. At the end of the study, the garlic group had stayed significantly healthier, reporting 24 colds as compared with the placebo group’s 65. As a bonus, the garlic takers who did catch colds reported that their symptoms ebbed sooner than did the symptoms of those in the placebo group.
A 2012 study published in Clinical Nutrition found that a specific form of garlic—aged garlic extract (AGE), which is found in many supplements—also reduced the severity of colds and flu.
2. It’s Good for Your Heart
A great deal of research has focused on garlic’s health benefits for the heart. In a German study of 152 people with arteriosclerosis, researchers found that high doses of garlic powder significantly reduced the buildup of arterial plaque, a primary cause of cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. During the 48 months that the study was conducted, researchers noted that long-term garlic use also slightly reduced existing arterial plaque.
Similarly, garlic has been shown to help maintain the elasticity of the aorta, the main artery extending from the heart. A stiffening aorta occurs as a result of aging or high blood pressure and is a primary risk factor in cardiovascular disease. In comparing a control group to a group of adults aged 50–80 who took 300 milligrams or more of standardized garlic powder daily for at least two years, researchers found that aortic stiffening was significantly reduced in those taking garlic. The garlic powder used in the study was standardized for alliin, a sulfur compound that converts to allicin, long considered a primary active ingredient in garlic.
3. Garlic Reduces Homocysteine Levels
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Nutrition documented another heart-health benefit of garlic. AGE was found to lower homocysteine levels, the blood markers of inflammation that are considered one of the biggest risk factors for developing heart disease.
4. It Fights Bad Bacteria
The health benefits of garlic also extend to its juice. One scientific investigation found that fresh garlic juice exhibited antibacterial activity against several germs, including several antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. The authors of the study, which was published in AYU: An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda, concluded that, “garlic is active against organisms that are found to be resistant to conventional antibiotics.”
5. It Fends Off Fungus
According to British herbalist Andrew Chevallier, author of Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, garlic is helpful for fungal infections, particularly yeast infections and athlete’s foot. For yeast infections, Chevallier recommends eating one to two garlic cloves daily, crushed and taken with water or mixed into food. If you have athlete’s foot, rub half a clove on the affected area two to three times daily. If you don’t like raw cloves, try capsules, gelcaps, or extracts.
6. Garlic Clears Congestion
As an overall tonic for the body, and especially the immune system, garlic has been used traditionally to ease coughs and excess mucus associated with respiratory infections such as bronchitis, colds, and flu. Integrative physician Andrew Weil, MD, recommends eating one or two raw cloves of garlic per day to boost immunity. Note that the recent TikTok trend of stuffing raw garlic up the nose to relieve sinus congestion is not advised.
7. It Soothes Earaches
Many holistic practitioners recommend garlic oil for its benefits in easing earaches and ear infections. You can buy a garlic-infused culinary oil or try a garlic oil product (liquid or capsule— simply pierce a capsule and use the oil) from the supplement section. Add two drops to a cotton ball and plug into the sore ear; leave for several hours.
8. It Protects Against Cancer
Although garlic’s role in cancer protection is not clear, some population research has identified a link between a garlic-rich diet and reduced risks for colorectal and gastric cancers. According to Steven G. Pratt, MD, a La Jolla, Calif, physician and author of SuperFoods HealthStyle, eating one clove of garlic daily may reduce men’s risk of prostate cancer.
9. Garlic Boosts Flavor
While garlic boasts numerous health benefits, our favorite use for this popular herb is to help punch up the flavor of any dish. In his book, Pratt suggests the following:
- Sprinkle chopped garlic into sautéed kale and spinach.
- Add finely chopped garlic to salad dressings, soups, and sauces.
- Roast potatoes with whole garlic cloves, then purée the results with a splash of olive oil for garlicky mashed potatoes.
Or try one of these delicious, garlic-infused recipes: