Tag Archives: garden

Garlic to Prevent and Treat Colds and Flu

This Year’s Harvest

It’s garlic planting season again.  It catches me by surprise every year because I’m just simply not in planting mode in mid-October.  Which means that every year in February I’m out there trying to hack a hole in the frozen ground to plant some garlic, realize that’s a dumb idea, and then go back to it in late March.  This year I added to the dumbness by trying to mulch my garlic (embedded in half frozen ground) with hay rather than straw (in case you don’t know the difference, hay has seeds in it, straw does not) which meant I spent the entire spring and summer pulling grass out of my garlic patch.  And then when I pull the garlic up in October as I did last week it’s very nice but not as large as I was hoping for.  So this year I’m making a Halloween resolution to plant garlic this month, and perhaps scare away some vampires for good measure.

Why do we love garlic? Let me count the ways.  Garlic has been researched for its health promoting properties to regulate blood sugar, blood lipids, and even treat cancer, in addition to being an indispensable addition to almost everything I cook.  Today, however, I am going to focus on its role in preventing and treating infections.

As I’ve mentioned before, a primary health focus for the autumn months is immunity, and this year colds, flus, tonsillitis and all their buddies all seem to be starting up earlier than ever.  When fighting viruses such as cold and flu, garlic has been shown to help prevent these illnesses.  When taken internally (aka eaten), garlic activates immune cells called T cells and NK cells to help the body fight off viruses before we get sick.  The primary active constituents that help garlic be such a powerful immune booster are called alliin and allicin; these are also the source of garlic’s pungent and wonderful scent.  Alliin is enzymatically converted to allicin when garlic is crushed or chopped so swallowing whole cloves won’t do you as much good.

Garlic has also been shown to kill bacteria and fungi, which can be useful for strep and other forms of tonsillitis.  In open wounds, garlic helps to prevent the formation of what are called biofilms.  Biofilms are a handy little trick that bacteria have of banding together to make a wall around themselves and prevent our immune cells or antimicrobial agents from getting in–sort of like bacterial armor. Because it can prevent this, garlic applied topically can prevent a wound from getting infected.

In Chinese medicine, garlic is seen as a very hot herb; it gets your circulation moving and boosts your temperature to more effectively fight and get rid of bugs.  Generally in this tradition garlic is not recommended for kids to eat every day because they are so warm to begin with.  However, garlic is seen as a wonderful medicine for children with colds and flu.  In his book Healing with Whole Foods Paul Pitchford recommends making a sandwich out of thin slices of apple with a slice of garlic between to help prevent and treat colds for kids.

Because of this quality of heating the body and helping to move illness out of the system, garlic can also be used to treat coughs, particularly those that have settled in and been hanging around for too long.  One of my mentors Bill Mitchell, ND specifically used it for  “excessive, irritating, and persistant coughs.” His prescription in this case is to chop 2 cloves and swallow them in a slug of water four times per day for an adult.  This would be sure to exorcise any cough, demon, or vampire without fail.

With this in mind, get out there and celebrate at your local garlic festival, make a batch of pesto, or roast a head to spread on some crackers with brie.  Your immune system will thank you for it.  As for me, I will be in the garden digging and planning for next year’s harvest.

Home Grown Tomatoes–Healthy Garden, Healthy Food, Healthy People!

I originally wrote this piece for Dr Stephanie Smith’s Create Mental Health Week blog earlier this year; it’s a personal story about how gardening helps me create mental and physical health for me and my family.

“Only two things that money can’t buy and that’s true love and home grown tomatoes.”

-John Denver

It’s springtime again and my yearly obsession is in full swing: tomatoes! Every year for the past 10 years sometime in the middle of February I notice a warm breeze in the air and start dreaming. I dream of ripe, warm, luscious, juicy tomatoes picked right off the vine, sliced, drizzled with some good olive oil and a touch of sea salt. My alternate dream is of fresh, toasted sourdough bread, crunchy thick-cut bacon, a light smear of mayo, a fresh lettuce leaf, and thick juicy slices of a giant tomato from my backyard.

This year the process is particularly special. We just rebuilt our backyard and put in several new garden beds; we have been watching workmen transform a bit of the open mountain behind our house into a home for all our delicious dreams. We’re putting in fruits, vegetables and herbs, hopefully enough to substitute for the farm share we used to get weekly. Right now our garden is all anticipation, and for me is the fruition of many years of “halfway” gardening in various combinations of limited space, poor soil, pots only, unfavorable climates, or limited time. This year, we are fully committed.

Gardening for me is an invaluable asset to my mental health for several reasons. First and foremost, I love good food. Fresh, flavorful produce is one of my greatest passions in life, and the best way to get it is to grow it myself. I love to cook and to feed healthy, delicious meals to my family, and gardening helps me do just that. Secondly, I love plants. As a Naturopathic doctor and herbalist, I use plants as medicine, but even more than that, there is something amazing about getting to know the intricacies of how mother nature works. Each plant has its own ideal soil conditions, watering needs, and interactions with other living beings from soil microbes to the animals who consume it. For me to learn about and understand plants helps me feel more connected to the planet and to my spirit because it helps me understand how interconnected every living being on the planet is. Finally, gardening gets me outside, breathing fresh air, moving my body and getting my mind off of things. Somehow, fiddling around with the vegetables helps me lose track of time and lets the stress melt away.

But back to February. One of the most satisfying parts of gardening is that if you follow the process, you reap great rewards at the end. In February, I buy my seeds and starting medium, resurrect the seedling trays from the garage, and start counting down the days to planting. Mid-March, seeds go in, trays go under the grow light, and the watering and watching begins. 5 or 6 days later, we have sprouts, a couple weeks after that I transplant sprouts, a few weeks later transplant again, and a couple weeks after that we start hardening off so our baby tomatoes get used to living in the outdoors. Mid-May my tomatoes finally get to go to their home in the ground, and from there it’s just pruning, watering, and finally in August my BLT dreams come true! I’m excited about all the food we’re growing, but there’s just something about tomatoes that feeds the soul.