Learning about Spices
What is a spice?
Why were spices important?
Sources of spices
Perfumes and Incenses 
Use of spices as aphrodisiacs
Use of spices as medicines
Culinary herbs
A spice timeline

Table of Spices
Allspice (Pimento)
Black Pepper
Chile Pepper
Coriander (Cilantro)
Frankincense and Myrrh
Nutmeg and Mace

Contacts and Acknowledgments
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Genus SpeciesAllium sativum
Origin Himilayas, Siberia
Cultivated Widely around the world
Description Garlic is the name given to the leek (herb) with gar (spear) shaped leaves. Its Latin name Allium sativum is derived from al = burning, sativum = harvested. The plant may have arisen as a wild variant (“ramson”) in Siberia, but it has spread world-wide, and is harvested in China, India, Gilroy in California, and in many other places. As a food, it was favored by the Hebrews in biblical Egypt, and it is now beloved in both homespun and gourmet cooking everywhere. Garlic has had a long-held reputation as a medicine, and it was regarded by the popular 17th century British herbalist, Culpeper, as the “poor man’s treacle”, implying that it had value as an antidote to poisons and as a panacea for illnesses. Chicago is named after the Indian term for the place where the wild garlic grows.

Garlic is so widely grown that it cannot be regarded as an exotic plant. Nevertheless, it is generally thought of as a spice because of its remarkable pungent aroma, and its value for culinary and medical uses. William Harvey published his revolutionary book on the Motion of the Blood in 1628; he was impressed with an issue that still remains a concern: the presence of garlic’s smell on the breath following its consumption. However, Harvey was more impressed that a folk remedy for colds called for garlic in the shoe: the fact that this therapy led to the smell of garlic on the breath was noted by him as additional evidence that the blood circulates in the body. The other well-known connection between garlic and blood was the herb’s traditional property of repelling vampires. See a list of spices by Taste and Hotness.
Useful Parts The bulb’s small cloves contain the active ingredient used in cooking and for medicinal purposes.
Medicinal Properties
  • The smell of garlic is caused by allicin (diallyldisulfide-S-oxide), which is derived from precursors such as alliin (S-allyl-L-cysteine sulfoxide) by the enzyme alliinase which is liberated when the clove is broken up. The active compound resembles the well known drug N-acetyl-L-cysteine (Mucomyst), which has mucolytic and antioxidant properties.
  • Garlic contains several potent antioxidants, and there is evidence that its addition to the diet may help reduce the incidence of gastric and colorectal cancers.
  • The chemicals in garlic can help reduce serum cholesterol, hypertension, blood clotting, blood sugar, bowel parasites, respiratory and other infections, and the aging process itself. However, additional clinical evidence is still needed to determine whether its widespread popularity as an herbal medicine can be justified by measurable benefits of significance.
  • There is insufficient information to suggest that any specific proprietary or home preparation is more effective than either simple raw or cooked garlic.
  • The taste of garlic is acceptable to many animals, and our eating of garlic has not been proved to deflect the attention of mosquitoes, vampires or wolves.
  • Garlic festivals and specialty restaurants have demonstrated that this unique spice can be appreciated as a delectable flavor in almost any prepared food, including ice cream.

See chemicals in spices.
Historical View “As a medicine garlic was held in great repute by the ancient physicians, and was also formerly much used in modern practice, but in this country is now rarely used by the regular practitioner, although it is still employed to some extent in the United States. Garlic is stimulant, diaphoretic, expectorant, diuretic, and tonic, when exhibited internally; and rubefacient when applied externally…"

Bentley, Robert and Henry Trimen. Medicinal Plants; being descriptions with original figures of the principal plants employed in medicine and an account of the characters, properties, and uses of their parts and products of medicinal value. London, Churchill, 1880. (WZ 295 B556m 1880)
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Spice Exhibit URL: http://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/biomed/spice/index.cfm

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