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Garlic....the stinking rose.

The use of garlic for its medicinal properties has been documented as far back as Ancient Egypt. Codex Ebers a 35 century old document cites the plant as being useful in the treatment of heart disease, tumours, worms, bites and other ailments. Less well documented is garlic's use by the Chinese but cultivation and use is thought to have spread to the Middle East and Europe from China's Heavenly Mountains on what is now China's eastern boundary with Russia. There is well documented use by the Greeks and Romans of large quantities of garlic for treating ailments, as a prophylactic and to give stamina and strength. With the decline of Roman political power in the west much of the culture and knowledge was lost and reference to garlic all but disappears from around 350 AD until 900. Its use however was still widespread and it was still cultivated in monastery gardens.

Today garlic is well recognised by humans for its ability to help with heart disease, but it is also effective in the treatment of fungal, bacterial and viral infections. Along with Echinacea, Garlic must be one of the most studied herbs.

Anti fungal Action :

Garlic, it seems, can act just as effectively and more quickly than chemical anti fungal agents. A letter in the Medical Journal of Australia of 23 January 1982 from a Dr Rich of Adelaide recounted how he and all his family were infected with ringworm by a stray kitten. His teenage daughter, the last to suffer, did not think much of the drug the others were using and decided to try garlic instead. Dr Rich, being a scientific man, persuaded her to treat one arm with garlic and the other with the modern drug; the lesions on her garlic-treated arm healed in 10 days, while the other took 3 to 4 weeks.

Anti Bacterial Action :

A paper in the Indian Journal of Experimental Biology described an in vitro experiment. They placed disks of garlic-extract-soaked paper in the middle of culture dishes of bacteria and measured the area of those killed. They found that fresh garlic extract was at least as effective as any of the common antibiotics, in dealing with a very wide range of bacteria, including those causing food poisoning, digestive problems, throat, lung and skin infections, as well as harmless ones. The most effective of the antibiotics tested was chloramphenicol, which worked better than penicillin, tetracycline, streptomycin and others. Yet garlic matched chloramphenicol and, in two cases, killed bacteria resistant to it.

Anti Viral Action :

Studies into garlic's virucidal activity are harder to find. An in vitro study looked at the effects of fresh garlic, diallyl thiosulphinate (allicin), allyl mehtyl thiosulphinate, ajoene, deoxyalliin, diallyl disulphide and diallyl trisulphide. The virucidal effects of each were determined against herpes simplex type 1 and 2, parainfluenza virus type 3, vaccinia virus, vesicular stomatitis virus and human rhinovirus type 2.

The order for virucidal activity was: ajoene, allicin, allyl methyl thiosulphinate. No activity was found for the other substances, but not surprisingly fresh garlic extract was virucidal against all viruses tested.

Anthelmintic Action :

Garlic is traditionally used as an anthelmintic although studies are hard to find. We did a trial some years ago on goats and garlic indeed lived up to its reputation as an effective anthelmintic. Other herbs work well also and a combination including garlic was the best. We have found that continued use of garlic is an effective control against parasite build up although we have done no further trials.

Fresh is Best :

The trials reported above used fresh garlic. There is no doubt that fresh is best and if you are using garlic to treat an infection of some kind it is well worth the effort.

However as well as being of great benefit for acute infections garlic is very useful as a preventative. As well as the actions described above garlic is a tonic to the respiratory system and helps in the prevention of coughs and colds.

However if you are feeding a lot of horses the use of fresh garlic can be quite demanding. It is available in a number of other forms. Most readily available are probably garlic powder and granules. We don't think there is much to choose between them but have always used powder....it tends to be cheaper than granules. Be careful though it attracts water and gets very sticky. Keep it well sealed in a plastic bag.

We need to look at a bit of chemistry here. Don't worry the concept is easy but the names are a bit of a mouthful. One of the main actives in garlic is a chemical called allicin. Allicin is what gives garlic its wonderful smell when you crush it. It is also the most important active to get into the body. What you smell is wasted. Allicin is released when its precursor alliin is acted on by an enzyme alliase. This happens when the cells are ruptured and there is water or oxygen present, as in the fresh bulbs or when powder or granules are exposed to the air.

Powder and granules are stable until they are ingested or have water added. Try it and notice the change. It is therefore better to feed garlic powder or granules dry, because the allicin once formed is quite unstable and within a fairly short time will degrade to less effective compounds.

How much to give :

Recommendations vary depending on your source, but we have found that about a dessertspoonful of powder or half a fresh head is a good daily dose for an average sized horse. If you are treating an infection increase the dose to at least twice and try to use fresh garlic.

Finally I must report on the most amazing effect we have had with garlic. We had a calf with joint ill. It had had repeated courses of antibiotics with no lasting effect and the infected knee had erupted. We feed the calf fresh garlic and packed the open joint with fresh cloves. Sure enough the garlic did what the antibiotics could not and the calf recovered and thrived with only a chronically swollen and slightly stiff knee.


© James Hart

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