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A longtime kitchen staple, garlic doesn't just add flavor to most recipes, it's also good for you.

For thousands of years, people all over the world have hailed garlic as an elixir of health. Its cloves are said to help treat the common cold, keep the plague at bay, and even ward off vampires. Despite its notorious odor, this veggie is the bulb of a plant in the sweet-smelling lily family. Ancient writings show that garlic was used as an aphrodisiac in India and as currency in Egypt.

Today, at just 4 calories per clove, it's a low-cal immunity-boosting superstar. One clove contains 5 mg of calcium, 12 mg of potassium, and more than 100 sulfuric compounds -- powerful enough to wipe out bacteria and infection (it was used to prevent gangrene in both world wars). Raw garlic, not cooked or dried, is most beneficial for health, since heat and water inactivate sulfur enzymes, which can diminish garlic's antibiotic effects. In clinical trials, the toxin-fighting staple seems to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and kill parasites in the body.

Other Immunity Boosters

Sulfuric compounds are also in brussels sprouts, cabbage, chives, kale, leeks, onions, and shallots.

Recipe

Roasted Garlic and Garlic Oil

Makes 2 2/3 cups garlic oil and 2/3 cup garlic mash

4 large heads garlic

3 cups olive oil

4 sprigs fresh rosemary or thyme

2 teaspoons black peppercorns

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Break the garlic heads into quarters with skins intact. Do not peel the cloves.
  3. Place quarters in a small ovenproof casserole dish. Pour olive oil over garlic to cover. Add herbs and pepper. Cover.
  4. Bake slowly for about one hour until the cloves are soft.
  5. Cool. Strain the garlic oil into a bottle and store at room temperature.
  6. Squeeze the garlic from the skins and mash. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to three weeks.

Use garlic mash in soups, stews, egg dishes, or pizza. Spread on baguette slices for garlic bruschetta, and on grilled chicken or roasted meats. You can substitute garlic oil, which has a subtle hint of garlic plus rosemary or thyme, in any dish that calls for olive oil. You can also use garlic oil to roast tomatoes, drizzle on grilled vegetables, or moisten cooked pasta.

Per serving (1 teaspoon plus 1 teaspoon garlic mash): 45 calories, 0.2 g protein, 1 g carbohydrate, 4.5 g fat, 0.6 g saturated fat, 3.3 g monounsaturated fat, 0.4 g polyunsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber, 0.5 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 90%.

Originally published in the September/October 2007 issue of WebMD the Magazine.

WebMD Magazine - Feature

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