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A bulb of benevolence.

Long ago, garlic was believed to repel vampires. Today, researchers from the National Cancer Institute and other medical communities believe that garlic may indeed be a powerful talisman, but against modern-day demons-cancer and heart disease.

For thousands of years, garlic's magical aura of healing was as illustrious as its smell was malodorous. Venerable ancients extolled its virtues, claiming it to be everything from an aphrodisiac to an antidote for horses' nightmares. The Egyptians fed garlic to pyramid-building slaves to build their stamina, and Alexander the Great fed garlic to his legions to increase their valor in battle; Hippocrates declared it a laxative; Aristotle recommended it for rabies; Pliny the Elder prescribed it for 62 ailments, including hemorrhoids and snakebites; Muhammad applied it to scorpion bites. In the Middle Ages, a garlic garland worn around the neck was protection against the plague.

More recently, it was rubbed on racehorses' bits to prevent competitors from passing, and Swedish farmers tied cloves around cows' necks to prevent trolls from stealing milk in the night. Today, bullfighters still wear garlic around their necks as good luck against the horns of bulls.

Modernity's claims of garlic's extraordinary properties are as dramatic as those of ancient lore. Recently, the National Cancer Institute declared that a diet rich in garlic and other allium vegetables can help prevent stomach cancer. Other studies have revealed garlic as an antidote for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, a retardant of blood clotting, a powerful antibiotic, an activator of our own natural immune systems, and a possible treatment for other cancers.

Researchers have found that the very essence of garlic's healing power is in its smelly sulfur compounds. Garlic, along with onions, leeks, chives, and scallions, is a member of the plant genus Allium and is rich in volatile, biologically active sulfur compounds proving to be enthusiastic fighters in the war against modern-day killers.

A definitive study on garlic's cancer-fighting abilities, recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, focused on the diets of stomach-cancer patients and cancer-free subjects in Linqu, China. Researchers found that allium vegetables "can significantly reduce the risk of stomach cancer. Persons in Linqu tended to be exposed to mild doses of allium vegetables over long periods, likely beginning in childhood. Our study suggests that all or part of such exposure has resulted in a reduction in stomach cancer risk starting at an early age ... and continuing through life."

Likewise, another study in China seems to support the institute's findings. In Gangshan, China, each resident eats an average of seven garlic cloves a day, and the rate of stomach cancer in that area is extremely low.

Garlic also shows promise of fighting heart disease in a variety of ways. Recent studies of a religious East Indian sect whose members eat extremely large amounts of garlic have shown that these persons exhibit very low levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, which clog the arteries. Furthermore, garlic raised the levels of "good" cholesterol. This type of cholesterol, called high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, reduces artery-clogging substances in the blood.

Another study, at the State University of New York at Albany, indicates that garlic produces a compound called "ajoene," released when garlic is heated. Eric Block, a professor of chemistry at the university, says ajoene keeps blood platelets from clotting, which may indicate that garlic would be helpful in thinning the blood and preventing heart attacks and strokes.

Garlic's benevolence does not end here. The bulb also contains the sulfur compound allicin, an antibiotic that in 1858 Louis Pasteur discovered would kill bacteria. Because of the bulb's antiseptic qualities, garlic was used widely in World War II as a poultice for open wounds. Today we know that, used in large amounts, garlic can kill 23 types of bacteria, including salmonella and staphylococcus, and 60 kinds of fungi and yeasts, among them Candida albicans, a cause of vaginitis. Garlic is also a source of vitamins A, B, and C, as well as selenium, which stimulates the body's immune response.

Although some of garlic's medicinal powers remain mysterious, modem science is closer to unlocking its curative secrets. Questions that remain unanswered are "Just how much garlic must a person eat to reap its healthful results?" and "What forms of garlic are most healthful?"

Studies seem to indicate that the way garlic is prepared affects its healing properties. Some beneficial compounds are released when the garlic is crushed; others, when it is heated or cooked. As The Official Garlic Lover's Handbook states, "The more you do to it, the more it will do to you." When raw garlic is crushed, for example, an amino acid from one part of the clove combines with an enzyme from another part and produces allicin, which kills bacteria. Garlic gurus suggest that the bulb's healthful chemicals can be destroyed when deodorized or dried into garlic salt or powdered form.

There is also the question "Can you eat too much of a good thing?" Most indications are that large amounts of garlic are harmless, although there have been cases of allergies, stomach disorders, and diarrhea in heavy ingestors. Perhaps the biggest drawback is garlic's antisocial qualities, for which it was nicknamed "the stinking rose." Its pungency was once considered so infamous that it was believed to repel werewolves, warlocks, and sorcerers.

Despite the pungent smell, this humble little bulb is quickly redeeming itself as an effluvial elixir that holds promise of enriching our health as much as it has enriched our palate. In light of new research into garlic's protective powers, the old folk adage "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" may have to be revised.

Garlic and Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breasts

(Makes 4 servings) 2 tablespoons unsalted

butter or margarine 1/3 cup chopped green onion 3 medium cloves garlic,

minced 1 package (10 oz.) frozen

chopped spinach, thawed

and well-drained 1 can (10 3/4 OZ. Campbell's

Special Request cream of

mushroom soup 3/4 cup shredded Monterey

Jack cheese 2 whole chicken breasts,

split and boned 1/4 teaspoon pepper 3/4 cup skim milk 1/4 teaspoon paprika Bulb of Benevolence set aside. Reserve remaining soup.

With fingers, separate skin from breasts at one end to make a pocket. Rub pepper into flesh of each breast. Stuff 1/4 of spinach mixture into each pocket. Secure skin to flesh with toothpicks. Place in greased 8" x 8" baking pan. Dot breasts with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Bake at 375, F. 25 minutes or until meat is tender.

Meanwhile, in 1-quart saucepan over medium heat, heat reserved soup, milk, and paprika until hot.

To serve: Remove toothpicks from chicken; slice and arrange on serving platter. Spoon sauce around chicken.

Provence Cauliflower

(Makes 4 servings) 1 medium-size cauliflower Sauce: 3 cloves garlic 1 egg or equivalent egg substitute 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 1 tablespoon wine vinegar 1/2 cup olive oil 4 pimiento strips 12 capers Cook cauliflower until just tender. While it cooks, make sauce: Mince garlic and place in blender or food processor. Add egg, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Spin 2 seconds. Start adding oil through top opening very, very gradually. Sauce will thicken, and as it does oil can be added a little more rapidly. Taste sauce for seasoning.

Arrange cooked cauliflower on shallow platter. Cover with sauce. Arrange pimiento strips and anchovy fillets in a star fashion on cauliflower and dot with capers. This is delicious served with roast lamb.

Garlic Piperade Soup

(Makes 4 servings) 20 garlic cloves 2 cups sliced onions 1 cup sliced green peppers 1/2 tablespoon oil, preferably olive 3 cups peeled, seeded, sliced ripe

tomatoes (or use canned) 2 cups beef broth 2 slices crustless dark bread, cubed Freshly ground black pepper to taste Grated Parmesan for garnish, if

desired Blanch garlic cloves in boiling water 30 seconds, rinse under cold water, drain, and peel. Slice garlic thinly.

In large saucepan, saute onions and peppers in oil until soft and golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and tomatoes. Reduce heat, cover pan, and tightly simmer vegetables 30 minutes.

Pour in broth, and heat soup just to boil. Add bread cubes to thicken soup to desired consistency. Add pepper, and serve soup with grated cheese, if desired.

Preparation tip: Soup thickness can be adjusted by adding more or fewer bread cubes. If soup gets too thick, thin with additional broth or water.
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Title Annotation:garlic; includes recipes
Author:Hufford, Deborah
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1990
Previous Article:Putting your heart to the test.
Next Article:Pets' allergies are nothing to sneeze at.

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