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The Healing Power of Garlic: The Enlightened Person's Guide to Nature's Most Versatile Medicinal Plant
by Paul Bergner. Prima Publishing, P.O. Box 1260 BK, Rocklin, CA 95677. 1996. 290 pp. $14.95. Paper. ISBN 0-7615-0098-7. ABC BookStore #B212.

Contrary to the reading line following this book's title, you don't necessarily have to attain enlightenment to use this book. Simple literacy will do. The Healing Power of Garlic focuses on the medicinal uses of garlic past and present. It is divided into four major sections "Garlic in the Past," "Garlic Today: Traditional and Natural Medicine," "Garlic Today: Scientist Studies," and "Garlic and Disease." Author Paul Bergner has dug deep beyond the limits of garlic's roots to unearth a healthy, if sometimes arcane megadose of this famous food, flavoring and medicine. In the historical beginnings, he uncovers uses of garlic in ancient Mesopotamia, India, Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, Arabia, and more, into the twentieth century. This chapter along with the section to follow, serve not only to document garlic's rich traditions, but are good primers for the herbal novitiate on the herbal traditions themselves. Under ancient Greek traditions we learn as much about famous physicians such as Hippocrates and Dioscorides, as we do about their writings on garlic.

"Garlic Today: Traditional and Natural Medicine," gives the cultural and philosophical underpinnings on the use of garlic in Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine (from India), Unani Tibb medicine (Greek medical traditions adopted and modified in modem Islamic traditions), as well as the use of garlic by naturopathic practitioners, European herbalists, and contemporary folk uses from around the world. Those interested in learning of the basic foundations of herbal medicine, will find the first parts of the book as valuable for background knowledge as they are for interesting tidbits on the human relationship with garlic.

The bulk of the book is devoted to helping the reader, enlightened or otherwise, in understanding the voluminous scientific literature on garlic. Here, we learn about antibiotic and immune-stimulating properties, garlic in cardiovascular disease, garlic in the prevention and supportive treatment of cancer, along with the effects of garlic in stress, fatigue and aging. Separate chapters on garlic's constituents plus side effects and contraindications are included in this section. Specific researchers and research institutions are mentioned in the text, then the author jumps around to cite other studies that either support or refute an earlier statement in the same paragraph. The problem is that the actual literature listed at the end of the chapter isn't cited in the text, so you don't really know which of the 50-plus studies listed at the end of the chapter on antibiotic and immune-stimulating properties that the author is actually referring to. While the author has obviously d one his homework, it's hard to know if the homework was always done right. This leads one to question sweeping statements like, "Every form of garlic tested has cardiovascular benefits and anticancer properties. This includes fresh, cooked, oil, major commercial brands, and even ordinary dried garlic powder. Garlic has a wide effective dosage range, so dose is not normally a problem."

The final section, "Garlic for Specific Diseases," describes the use of garlic and its preparations for everything from AIDs to worms (forty-nine conditions in all). Here again, the author draws on comments in the scientific literature, coupled with the personal experiences of numerous herbalists and naturopathic physicians. Peppered throughout are useful how-to (and how-not-to) tips.

The Healing Power of Garlic is an interesting, informative journey through the collective experience of the ages from the cradle of civilization (and before) to the twenty-first century and beyond. If you use garlic for health purposes, or are simply curious about this fascinating plant, you will enjoy reading and referring to this engaging, if less then decisive account.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Steven Foster