What is garlic?

Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world, and is a hardy perennial belonging to the Liliaceae family. Other members of this family include onions, leeks, chives and shallots. They are distinguished by their pungent aroma and distinctive flavour.


The bulb is the most commonly used part of the garlic plant and is typically composed of eight to 20 individual teardrop-shaped cloves enclosed in a white, parchment-like skin.

Garlic health benefits may include:

1. Varied therapeutic properties thanks to a bioactive compound called allicin

2. Acts like an anticoagulant, so reduces the risk of heart attacks

3. May help manage blood pressure

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4. May inhibit the growth of cancerous cells

5. Has been known for its antibacterial properties

6. May relieve the symptoms of arthritis

7. May support joint health

8. May help prevent or reduce symptoms of the common cold

9. May protect the brain

10. May improve exercise performance

Find out more about healthy eating, from your nutritional needs whatever your age to healthy eating on a budget.

Nutritional profile of garlic

One clove (4g) of garlic provides:

  • 4Kcal / 16KJ
  • 0.3g protein
  • 0.0g fat
  • 0.7g carbohydrates
  • 0.2g fibre
  • 25mg potassium

Top 10 health benefits of garlic

1. Contains compounds with medicinal properties

Much of garlic’s therapeutic acclaim is down to an active compound called allicin. This sulphur-containing compound gives garlic its pungent smell and distinctive taste. Luckily for us cooks, the action of chopping or crushing stimulates the production of allicin. But it is thought that the application of heat may inhibit some of the perceived medicinal properties, making it best to add garlic late in the cooking process.

2. May reduce the risk of heart attacks

Much research has focused on garlic’s potential in reducing the risk of heart disease and helping to manage cholesterol levels. Several studies suggest that garlic makes platelets (the cells involved in blood clotting) less likely to clump together and accumulate on artery walls; this means garlic acts like an anticoagulant and by so doing reduces the risk of heart attacks.

3. May help manage blood pressure

Garlic may also lower blood pressure through its ability to widen blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely.

4. May have anti-cancer properties

The sulphurous compounds in garlic have been studied for their ability to inhibit cancerous cells and block tumours. That said, much of the evidence for garlic in relation to colon, prostate, oesophageal and renal cancer is observational, with only small numbers of subjects included in the studies. As a result, the effect garlic has in relation to cancer remains uncertain and more studies are needed.

5. Has antimicrobial and antifungal properties

Garlic has a long history of use as an infection fighter against viruses, bacteria and fungi. It has been referred to as ‘Russian penicillin’ to denote its antibacterial properties, once again attributed to the compound allicin. Some skin conditions, such as warts and insect bites, may also respond to garlic oil or a crushed raw garlic clove.

6. May support bone health

Animal studies suggest garlic may minimise bone loss by increasing oestrogen levels in female rodents. A study in post-menopausal women found a similar effect when a daily dose of dry garlic extract (equivalent to 2g of raw garlic) was consumed.

7. May support healthy joints

Studies suggest the consumption of garlic may provide some relief from the inflammatory symptoms of arthritis.

8. May help protect against the common cold

Thanks to its potent anti-viral properties, garlic may help to prevent and reduce the severity of illness from flu and the common cold.

9. May protect the brain

Garlic contains protective compounds that may help protect against the cognitive decline associated with ageing. This may slow the progression of conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

10. May improve exercise performance

Although animal studies suggest garlic may improve physical performance, there have been limited studies evaluating the effects in humans. However, a small 2015 study suggested garlic supplements may increase oxygen capacity during exercise, although more research is needed.

Wild garlic in a forest
Wild garlic

Health benefits of wild garlic

The health benefits of wild garlic and clove garlic are very similar. They both contain a variety of compounds with medicinal properties, including antibacterial and antifungal effects. But wild garlic has been found to have an even greater effect on lowering blood pressure than regular garlic.

Is garlic safe for everyone?

Garlic poses few safety issues and allergies are rare. If you take garlic supplements for cholesterol management, have your cholesterol levels checked after three months. The recommended daily amount of garlic ranges from ½-1 whole clove per day (around 3000-6000mcg of allicin).

Please note that some people may experience indigestion, intestinal gas or diarrhoea when taking high doses of garlic.

Overall, is garlic good for you?

Garlic is well known for its medicinal properties, thanks to allicin, and has long been used to fight against bacteria. Eating garlic may help keep your bones healthy, reduce the risk of heart attacks and lower blood pressure as it acts like an anticoagulant. While more studies are needed, it's believed that garlic may minimise the growth of cancer cells and potentially improve exercise performance and energy levels.

Recipe suggestions for garlic

A simple aïoli is a great accompaniment for roasts, fish or as a dip:
Homemade aïoli
Salmon & prawns with dill & lime aïoli

Make your own delicious garlic bread:
Garlic & basil ciabatta
Quick tomato soup with cheesy garlic dippers

Cook with mushrooms:
Garlic mushroom burgers
Mushrooms on toast
Garlicky mushroom penne

Pair with prawns:
Stir-fry prawns with peppers & spinach
Lemony prawn bruschettas

Add flavour to mashed potato and stews:
Roast sweet potato, squash & garlic mash
Garlic mash potato bake
Spicy root & lentil casserole

Garlic is great with chicken:
Garlic chicken with herbed potatoes

Want more? Take inspiration from our garlic recipes.

This article was reviewed on 6 February 2024 by Kerry Torrens.


All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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