The Roman writer Horace hated garlic. He associated the odor with vulgarity. Homer, on the other hand, has Ulysses attribute the virtues of yellow garlic to his escape from being turned into a pig by Circe. De Candolle, in his 1883 treatise on the Origin of Cultivated Plants, wrote that the plant originated in southwest Siberia and was carried to southern Europe. Dumas has described the air of Provence as being “particularly perfumed by the refined essence of this mystically attractive bulb.”
Through the centuries, garlic has been touted as curing or preventing most of what can ail us humans. It’s been variously identified a diaphoretic (something that brings on a good sweat), diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, stomachic. Its antiseptic qualities have been long recognized. It was believed useful against leprosy and smallpox. It was the principal ingredient in the ‘Four Thieves’ Vinegar,’ said to have been used successfully against the plague at Marseilles in 1722. Apparently four thieves confessed that while protected by the liberal use of a garlic infusion, they plundered the dead bodies of plague victims and lived to tell about it.
Syrup of garlic was used to treat asthma, hoarseness, coughs, chronic bronchitis and most other lung disorders. A clove or two of garlic, pounded with honey and taken two or three nights successively, was supposed to be good for rheumatism. (Then, of course, there’s its efficacy against vampires.)
More currently, garlic has been promoted as a cholesterol-lowering agent, but a recent study, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NCCAM, testing this effect came up with interesting results.