Renowned for its medicinal properties, famed as a seasoning, yet shunned by some for its strong smell and qualities of tamas, garlic is a controversial medicinal food. Learn more about its benefits and how to use it in home remedies.
Lasuna — Garlic
Allium sativum L
Part used: Bulb
Garlic in Hindu Myth
Vaishnavas, Brahmins and yoga practitioners avoid onions and garlic because they are regarded as a tamasic food and are said to increase sexual desire. However, the texts of Ayurveda extoll garlic as a rasayana.
An Indian myth of the origin of garlic, as related in the classical texts Ashtanga Hridaya and Ashtanga Sangraha (AS, U 49 v101, AH U 39 v 111-112), conveys the ambivalence that many experience in relation to this medicinal plant. At the time of the churning of the Ocean of Milk, after the nectar was recovered from the ocean, Lord Vishnu in his enchanting Mohini form began distributing nectar to the gods. But the demon Rahu seated himself among the gods and received a sip of nectar. Vishnu promptly cut off the demon’s head with his sudarshan chakra (discus). The nectar in the mouth of the demon fell on the ground and immediately manifested as onions and garlic. So garlic is nectar, imbued with rejuvenative properties, but it is also seen as contaminated because it touched the mouth of a rakshasa (demon). “The twice-born (Brahmins) do not eat it because it is born from the body of a demon, but since it is actually born out of nectar, it is a best rasāyana (rejuvenator).”
The Ayurvedic text Bhavprakash relays a different origin myth for garlic. This story refers to a section in Mahabharata where Garuda, half man, half eagle, the vehicle of Vishnu, snatches away the nectar of immortality from the thunder god Indra. While he is carrying the nectar, a few drops spill on the earth. From this nectar, lasuna or garlic springs up. Immediately we can see that Bhava Mishra, author of Bhavprakash, does not have ambivalence about garlic, seeing it as pure nectar, gift of the king of birds.
And in Kashyapa Samhita, yet another story is told, expressive of this text’s focus on women and children. Indra’s wife did not conceive after a hundred years. Then Indra consoled her, took her by the hand and coaxed her to drink nectar. In her shyness, she burped out some of the nectar, which fell down in an unholy place. “Never mind,” said Indra, “Now you will have many children. And the nectar you burped out will become a rasayana. But due to the defect in its location, it will have a bad smell and will not be used by Brahmins. On earth, it will be known as lasuna.” (KS, Chapter on garlic.)
Rasa: Pradhan or predominant taste, pungent
Contains five of the six tastes, absent sour (pancharasa amla rahita)
Its roots are pungent, leaves are bitter, stem is astringent, apex of stem is salty and seeds are sweet.
Guna: Heavy, oily, cloudy, sara (motile)
V -P+K - (vatakaphashāmaka)
- Vataghna—removes excess vata
- Liquefies kapha and removes phlegm
- Dipana—kindles agni
- Calms colic
- Supports semen production
- Supports ovarian function
- Enhances female fertility (literally—‘producer of pregnancy’)
- Supports longevity and stability of life
- Clarifies memory and intellect
- Removes shyness
- Clears the complexion
- Cleanses the srotansi (channels)
- Supports joints, heals fractures
- Kusthaghna—clears eczema and psoriasis
- Eye tonic
- Hair tonic
- Heart stimulant
- Liver stimulant
- Kashyapa describes it as blessed and fortunate and a foremost herb for promoting freedom from disease.
According to Kashyapa Samhita
- Fractures, dislocations, bone diseases
- Vatavyadhi (neurological disorders)
- Menstrual problems and menorrhagia
- Seminal disorders
- Cough, breathlessness, asthma
- Skin disorders
- Discoloration of skin
- Soft tissue tumours
- Cataract and other eye disorders
- Chronic fever
- Injury to srotansi
- Stiffness of body
- Urinary stones, dysuria, neurogenic bladder disorders
- Splenic disorders
- To increase intellect, digestive fire and strength
According to Vagbhat:
- Fractures, dislocations, bone diseases
- Bells palsy
- Vata-kapha diseases
- All the avaranas (covering of one dosha or subdosha by another) except for covering by pitta and rakta (blood).
Note, these are contraindications for the medicinal use of large amounts of garlic. They do not necessarily refer to light use of garlic as a seasoning, although they would apply to heavy use.
According to Kashyapa Samhita:
- Kapha and pitta diseases
- Progressive emaciation
- Old age
- No digestive fire
- Post partum
- Āma conditions
- Stiff thighs
- Diseases of throat and mouth
- After vaman, virechan, niruha vasti or nasya (not meaning a mild daily nasya)
- When acutely thirsty, vomiting, hiccoughing, short of breath, impatient or helpless
According to Vagbhat:
- Abdominal diseases
- Chest injury
- Pitta diseases
- Eye disorders
- One with predominance of pitta and rakta should avoid heavy use of garlic, or they will get rakta and pitta disorders.
Garlic in the classical texts
According to Vagbhat (AH U 39 113-114), garlic should be taken during winter. It can also be used in spring if kapha is greatly increased—think allergies and spring colds—during rainy season if vata is aggravated, and indeed all year round as long as a summer ritucharya (season regime) is followed when the weather is warm. In order to use garlic (not merely as a seasoning but as a strong rasayana), first complete the purvakarmas or preparatory actions of oiling and sweating. Take sweet, cooling foods. In an ideal world, to use this rasayana you would have kind attendants running around, adorned with garlands, earrings and sweet fragrances.
The garlic is harvested at the end of spring, dehusked and soaked in wine. Next morning the garlic is macerated with the soaking liquid and then filtered through a cloth. After doing gandhusha (oil pulling), the patient drinks this garlic liquid alone or in three times its quantity of wine, milk, takram, gruel or herbal decoction suited to his health concern. If he sweats too much or throws up, cold water is sprinkled on the face. If he gets burning sensations, his body is smeared with cooling pastes such as rose or sandalwood. Wearing a pearl necklace helps too.
“The teeth, flesh, nails, beard and moustache, complexion, age and strength of human beings who eat lasuna will never decline. The women’s breasts never become lax and their beauty, fertility and strength never decrease, if they use lasuna daily. Their fortune increases and youth becomes stable.” (KS, Chapter on Garlic).
Kashyapa goes on to say that garlic protects women from sexually transmitted infections, prevents diseases of the pelvic and sacral region and supports lifelong beauty. In the case of men, garlic supports muscle mass, intelligence, sexual stamina and handsome appearance.
The doses recommended for use of garlic are so high; it is easy to understand why Kashaypa offers numerous contraindications! The best dose is 100 dry strong cloves, medium dose is 60 cloves and low dose is 50 cloves (this is not a typo!).
To take Kashyapa’s lasuna rasayana in this manner requires strength and resolve. One enters into a kutir free from drafts, where the attendant macerates the garlic in fresh ghee and newly pressed oil. After taking internal oleation just as is done for panchakarma, the patient slowly eats the garlic, accompanied with hot water and taken with herbs such as fresh ginger, saffron and pomegranate, along with green vegetables. The garlic is sprinkled with cinnamon, dry ginger, black pepper, cardamom and nutmeg as well as sea salt, rock salt and black salt. The patient sits comfortably by the fire (for this is a cold weather practice), alternately eating seasoned garlic and drinking wine until he is full. Then he takes hot water, wine or warm milk. He can drink hot herbal teas, or, if pitta is provoked (as one might imagine by now) lukewarm water. He follows this practice daily for a designated period--two weeks or a month or even for the entire winter. A strict regimen of prescribed diet and lifestyle is followed throughout this time. Kashyapa portrays lasuna rasayana as a best-kept secret of health, longevity and fertility.
- Fever—chop a clove of garlic, mix in a little ghee and take each morning until the fever subsides.
- Earache—make garlic oil by boiling a quarter clove of garlic in one tsp. of sesame oil and straining. Cool to body heat and put three drops in the ear at bedtime.
- Earache—a simple village remedy we learned in South India is to put a clove of garlic in your ear. Do not leave the clove in for a long while though—if it shrivels and dries it will get stuck in your ear and a doctor will have to remove it! So change the clove frequently for a fresh one.
- Indigestion—mix ¼ tsp. of garlic powder with ½ tsp. trikatu (mixture of dry ginger, black pepper and long pepper) and a pinch of rock salt and eat before lunch and dinner (not for pitta).
- Indigestion—Chop a clove of garlic with ¼ tsp. ground cumin, a pinch of rock salt, a pinch of trikatu and a teaspoon of lime juice and eat before meals.
- High cholesterol, obesity—eat 1 clove garlic, chopped, with ½ tsp. grated ginger and ½ tsp. lime juice before meals.
- Pain and swelling—crush a few cloves of garlic and apply locally as a paste or poiltice.
- Bruises and sprains—mix garlic juice in salt and apply locally.
- Garlic garland—When the composer Shostakovich travelled the USSR during World War II, he protected himself on train rides with a necklace and bracelets of garlic. This in fact is a technique mentioned in the classical texts for warding off infections.
- Vata menstrual cramps—mix 1 cup milk, ¼ cup water and 1 clove garlic, chopped and boil down to 1 cup. Drink to soothe vata menstrual cramps. You may also take garlic milk at bedtime for sound sleep or drink it for other vata conditions like arthritis, and after giving birth, as a galactogogue.
Alakananda Ma A.D., M.B., B.S. (Lond.) is an Ayurvedic Doctor and graduate of a top London medical school. She is co-founder of Alandi Ayurveda Clinic and Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula in Boulder Colorado, as well as a spiritual mother, teacher, flower essence maker and storyteller. Alakananda is a well known and highly respected practitioner in the Ayurveda community both nationally and internationally.
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