This magical herb is known to slay vampires, clear a room if you eat too much, and ward off disease and illness. Garlic, thought to be originated in Central Asia, is mentioned in ancient Egyptian, Greek, Indian and Chinese writings.

Used to add depth to your spaghetti sauce, roasted and spread on some deliciously crunchy bread or sprinkled over just about anything, garlic is a staple in most kitchens - coming only after salt and pepper in popularity in the spice and herb category.

The ancient Indians believed this herb to be an aphrodisiac. It was forbidden by monks because it was thought to arouse passions. The Buddhists wrote about garlic’s ability to cure several illnesses and promote long life. And, it was hung on doors to stop the spread of diseases such as smallpox.

Although highly regarded in the medical field, garlic was pretty much avoided in the culinary world until the period of Muslim rule – when garlic, ginger and onion took their place as the prominent trio of flavors found in South Asian cuisine.

So, that’s where garlic came from and what our ancestors thought about it… Yes, it sure is a tasty way to add taste to your daily meals, but what do we know about the benefits of garlic to our health?

The National Academy of Sciences found that eating garlic can boost our natural supply of hydrogen sulfide (this is the same stuff that smells like rotten eggs in a more concentrated form). This antioxidant transmits cellular signals to the body to relax blood vessels and therefore increase blood flow.

The boost in hydrogen sulfide is also known to help fight cancers such as breast, prostate and colon cancer. It also helps to protect the heart. Although it has not consistently shown to reduce cholesterol levels, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that it can help prevent damage to the heart during a heart attack.

So, garlic is good for you! That’s great! Now, how much do you have to eat to get the full benefits of this tasty treat? Well, the studies that have found the aforementioned benefits of garlic are based on the consumption of the equivalent of two large cloves of garlic per day. That sounds like a lot in our country, where smelling like a bulb of garlic is not yet socially acceptable. It is, however, pretty normal for those in countries such as Italy, Korea and China where consumption reaches up to 12 cloves a day.

To increase your consumption of garlic, try snacking on some tasty hummus with fresh veggies, add it to sautéed vegetables and meats and, when possible, always use fresh garlic.

Here’s a tip – when cooking with garlic, peel the cloves, crush and/or chop the garlic, and let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before cooking. This helps to boost its healthy powers.

One last note… While garlic powder and garlic pills are easy ways of incorporating garlic into your meals, it is not yet proven that the powder has the same healing power as fresh garlic.

This message is brought to you from The Chester County Hospital and Health System.