Garlic: Allium sativum L.

Garlic, Allium sativum L. is the edible bulb from a plant in the lily family. It has been used as both a medicine and a spice for thousands of years. Garlic, is a species in the onion genus, Allium. Its close relatives include the onion, chive, leek, rakkyo and shallot. Garlic is native to central Asia and has been in the Mediterranean region, as well as in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Allium sativum L. has been used throughout history for both culinary and medical purposes.

Garlic Plant Family

Liliaceae Family

Garlic belongs to the Liliaceae Family, more commonly known as the lily family. The Liliaceae are mostly perennial herbs from starchy rhizomes, corms, or bulbs comprising about 280 genera and 4,000 species. Within this family, there are many different species that are closely related to garlic. Its most common relative, the onion (Allium L.) is also within the Liliaceae family. There are many different species of onions such as Allium acuminatum Hook, the tapertip onion, and Allium ascalonicum L., the wild onion that are related to garlic. Some other members of this family include asparagus and the tulip (Tulipa L.).

Distinguishing Characteristics of the Liliaceae Family

The Liliaceae, or lily family, is a family of monocotyledons in the order Liliales. Plants in this family have linear leaves,mostly with parallel veins but with several having net venation, and flower arranged in threes. Several have bulbs, such as garlic, while others have rhizomes. Species within the shade dwelling genera usually have broad, net-veined leaves, fleshy fruits with animal-dispersed seeds, rhizomes, and small flowers. Species within a genera exposed to sunny habitats usually have narrow, parallel-veined leaves, capsular fruits with wind-dispersed seeds, bulbs, and large flowers. Many plants in the Liliaceae family are grown for their attractive flowers. Many species are also poisonous if eaten and may cause renal failure, especially in household pets.

Geographic Distribution of Garlic


Garlic is among the oldest known horticultural crops. Garlic was grown by Egyptian and Indian cultures, and there is clear historical evidence for its use by the Babylonians 4,500 years ago and by the Chinese 2,000 years ago. Garlic grows wild only in Central Asia today. Earlier in history, garlic grew wild over large regions in China, India, Egypt, and the Ukraine.

Garlic is a crop widely grown by many producers on both small and large scale, particularly in the U.S. About 2.5 million acres of garlic produce about 10 million metric tons of garlic globally each year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Map on right displays where garlic is produced throughout The United States and Canada.

Information on Use and Efficacy

How it is Used?
Garlic can be used in many different ways. One can ingest garlic in a few different forms. Garlic cloves can be eaten raw or cooked. They may also be dried or powdered and used in tablets and capsules. Raw garlic cloves can be used to make oils and liquid extracts.

What is it used to treat?
Garlic is used for many different illnesses and diseases. Garlic's most common uses are as a dietary supplement for high cholesterol, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Garlic is also used to prevent certain types of cancer, including stomach and colon cancers. Garlic is also said to help with earaches.

What are the active compounds?
Garlic contains at least 33 sulfur compounds like alliin, allicin, and ajoene. This is why garlic belongs to the Allium genus. Garlic also contains 17 amino acids. Garlic contains a higher concentration of sulfur compounds than any other Allium species. The sulfur compounds are responsible for garlic’s odor and many of its medicinal effects. The odor is formed by the action of the enzyme allinase on the sulfur compound alliin.

The most biologically active compound allicin, does not exist in garlic until it is crushed or cut. Allicin, which was first chemically isolated in the 1940’s, has antimicrobial effects against many viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites.

Like allicin, ajoene is another chemical thought to be most important to health. Ajoene is a garlic-derived compound produced most efficiently from pure allicin.

Proving the
Facts behind the use of Garlic
Some evidence indicates that taking garlic can slightly lower blood cholesterol levels. Studies have shown positive effects for short-term 1 to 3 months. Preliminary research suggests that taking garlic may slow the development of the hardening of arteries, a condition that can lead to heart disease or stroke. Taking garlic may slightly lower blood pressure, particularly in people with high blood pressure. Some studies suggest consuming garlic as a regular part of the diet may lower the risk of certain cancers. However, no clinical trials have examined this. Most studies have been on the affects of the chemical allicin on other drugs. These studies may not be good evidence because they have not been studied for the long-term.

Side-effects and Drug-interactions
Garlic, for the most part is safe for most adults, but there are a few minor side-effects. The side-effects include, breath and body odor, heartburn, upset stomach, and allergic reactions. Most of these side-effects are common for raw garlic. Garlic can thin the blood similar to aspirin. Garlic has also been found to interfere with the effectiveness of Saquinavir, a drug used to treat HIV infection. Its effect on other drugs has not been well studied.


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3. "AllergyNet — Allergy Advisor Find". Retrieved 2010-04-14.
4. Ensminger, Audrey H. (1994). Foods & nutrition encyclopedia, Volume 1. CRC Press, 1994. ISBN 0849389801. p. 750