Garlic has long been a staple in the kitchen, used to add some zest to everything from pasta to potatoes. But the pungent bulb has also been a mainstay as medicine.

For centuries, cultures have used garlic to treat a variety of health conditions ranging from infections and digestion to heart disease and arthritis. Even Hippocrates, recognized as the father of modern medicine, prescribed garlic for many illnesses.

Modern studies have confirmed some of those ancient uses and come up with many more, ranging from beauty to agriculture. Here are some benefits to having garlic in your life.

Heart health

Although there are mixed reviews on whether garlic can have a positive impact on cholesterol, research seems to show garlic has a beneficial effect on blood pressure. Several studies have found that garlic supplements lower hypertension in people who already have high blood pressure.

Researchers think that red blood cells convert the sulfur in garlic into hydrogen sulfide gas, which then expands blood vessels, making it easier to regulate blood pressure, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Preventing and fighting colds

woman in bed with the flu Some studies say garlic can prevent and shorten the length of a cold. (Photo: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock)

Looking to fight the cold with food? Packed with antioxidants, garlic can have an impact come cold and flu season. But the key ingredient may be the phytochemical allicin, an antimicrobial compound. A British study found that people taking allicin supplements had 46% fewer colds and recovered faster from the ones they did get.

In another study published in American Family Physician, researchers in Indiana found that regularly taking garlic can decrease the number of colds, but doesn't have an effect on how long symptoms last if you catch a cold.

Immunity boost

Fresh and cooked garlic likely has immunity-boosting powers, reports the Cleveland Clinic.

In lab studies, garlic appears to kill cancer cells, and some studies show similar results in humans. According to the Iowa Women’s Health Study, those who regularly ate garlic, fruits and vegetables had a 35% lower colon cancer risk. An expert review panel organized by World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research also concluded that regularly eating garlic was a “probable” protective factor against colorectal cancer. However, other follow-up studies were not able to demonstrate that same supportive link.

In a study published in Nutrition and Cancer, researchers followed women in Puerto Rico and found that diets high in garlic and onion might protect against breast cancer.

Improved diabetes management

In an analysis of nine clinical trials involving 768 patients with Type 2 diabetes, researchers found positive results in those who took garlic supplements. Patients who took 50 to 1,500 mg of a garlic supplement every day for two or three months had significant reductions in the level of fasting blood glucose.

Hair and skin

The antioxidants, nutrients and antibacterial properties of garlic have made it a choice for hair and skin care. Some research suggests that the allicin in garlic may help prevent hair loss and its natural antimicrobial properties may keep hair and scalp healthy.

For similar reasons, people have tried using raw garlic on skin blemishes and to kill acne-causing bacteria. Although this may appear to help at times, garlic can also burn the skin.

Repelling insects

Garlic has long been said to repel mosquitoes: Eat copious amounts and the bloodsuckers won't dare to bite you. But when researchers studied if the strong odor would ward off the biting pests, they were unable to prove any sort of repellent connection.

However, in one study published in Scientific Reports, researchers found that essential oils were effective at repelling the swede midge, a tiny fly that is a major pest for farmers of broccoli, kale and other cabbage-family crops. They tried garlic, spearmint, thyme, eucalyptus lemon and cinnamon bark and found garlic was the most successful at scaring off the invading pest.

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

6 amazing benefits of garlic
Outside of the kitchen, garlic has many potential health, beauty and agricultural benefits.