Bawang (Allium sativum L.) Herbal Medicine

Bawang uses, health benefits, side effects, warnings.

Garlic or Bawang (Allium sativum L.) has been used as a spice, food, and medicine for over 5,000 years, and is one of the earliest documented herbs utilized for the maintenance of health and treatment of disease. Under its name, numerous list of traditional health benefits are claimed. This article discusses these traditional health benefits and provides evidence based studies as support and suggests its proper use and warnings.


Scientific name: Allium sativum L.

Common name: garlic (English); ajo (Spanish); ail (French); arishtha, lashuna (Sanskrit); lasan (Hindu and Gujarat); vellaipundu (Tamil).

Bawang or garlic, is a specie in the onion family Alliaceae. Bawang is a close relative of onion (sibuyas), the shallot, the leek and the chive. Bawang has been used throughout recorded history for both culinary and medicinal purposes.

Bawang is a low herb, growing to up to 2 feet high. Bawang is widely popular for its bulbs. Bawang bulbs are broadly ovoid, 2 to 4 cm in diameter, consisting of several cloves. Bawang leaves are linear and flat. Umbels are globose, many flowered. Sepas are oblong, greenish white, slightly tinged with purple.

Bawang has a characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows and sweetens considerably with cooking. Bawang cloves are used as seed, for consumption (raw or cooked), and for medicinal purposes. The leaves, stems (scape) and flowers (bulbils) on the head (spathe) are also edible and most often consumed while immature and still tender.

Bawang (Allium sativum L.) Medicinal Uses

Bawang in Traditional and Folkloric Medicine

Bawang has long been used in traditional medicne by various cultures, Widely known health benefits include the folliwng:

  • In ancient Rome bawang was fed to the athletes for increasing stamina
  • In ancient Chinese and Indian medicine,  bawang is used to aid respiration and digestion and to treat leprosy and parasitic infestation
  • Bawang is also used to treat  arthritis, toothache, chronic cough, constipation, parasitic infestation, snake and insect bites,
  • Bawang is also used for gynecologic diseases, as well as in infectious diseases (as antibiotic).
  • Bawang consumption is known to lower blood pressure
  • Consumption of bawang prevents heart diseases
  • Bawang is believed to help treat cancer.

Science Based Health Benefits from Bawang

Bawang Mechanism of action in disease prevention

Bawang contains antibacterial compound known as Allicin, Because of this bawang or garlic is known as nature's antibiotic. Bawang juice inhibits the growth of fungi and viruses thus prevents viral yeast and viral infections. Preliminary test shows Bawang to have some positive results in the treatment of AIDS.

The Philippine Department of Health has endorsed Bawang as an alternative herbal medicine for its anti bacterial properties and its efficacy for controlling hypertension, blood cholesterol and blood sugar for diabetics among others.

The following are a number of studies that suggests the medicinal value of bawang in treating various diseases:

Garlic for the common cold

A study published in  Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews tried to determine whether garlic (Allium sativum) is effective for the prevention or treatment of the common cold, when compared to placebo, no treatment or other treatments. Results showed that a single trial suggested that garlic may prevent occurrences of the common cold but more studies are needed to validate this finding. Claims of effectiveness appear to rely largely on poor‐quality evidence.

Antimicrobial properties of allicin from garlic.

Allicin, one of the active principles of freshly crushed garlic homogenates, has a variety of antimicrobial activities. Allicin in its pure form was found to exhibit

  1. antibacterial activity against a wide range of Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, including multidrug-resistant enterotoxicogenic strains of Escherichia coli;
  2. antifungal activity, particularly against Candida albicans;
  3. antiparasitic activity, including some major human intestinal protozoan parasites such as Entamoeba histolytica and Giardia lamblia; and
  4. antiviral activity.

The main antimicrobial effect of allicin is due to its chemical reaction with thiol groups of various enzymes, e.g. alcohol dehydrogenase, thioredoxin reductase, and RNA polymerase, which can affect essential metabolism of cysteine proteinase activity involved in the virulence of E. histolytica. Source : Microbes and Infection (1999, Feb)

Potential of garlic (Allium sativum) in lowering high blood pressure:

Garlic supplements have shown promise in the treatment of uncontrolled hypertension, lowering blood pressure (BP) by about 10 mmHg systolic and 8 mmHg diastolic, similar to standard BP medication.  Hypertension could be alleviated with supplementation of organosulfur compounds derived from garlic Source: Journal of Integrated Blood Pressure Control Hypertension (2014, Jul)

Bawang Preparations, Usage and Side Effects

Bawang Preparation, Availability and Usage

Bawang - Antiinfectious: Antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic. Bawang juice is applied to the afflicted area. Scientifically ajoene 0.4% cream when applied topically, has been found 70% effective in certain dermatologic fungal infections. A 0.6% gel was effective in tinea corporis and tinea cruris.

Bawang - Antiinflammatory and antioxidant activity when included in diet.

Bawang - Hypertension: Bawang when eaten or chewed raw. Studies suggest ingestion of Bawang has beneficial antihypertensive effect but blood-lowering effects probably not dramatic. Other studies show a vascular benefit through improvement of aortic elasticity and possible slowing of the rate of atherosclerosis progression

Bawang - Hyperlipidemia: Bawang eaten or chewed raw is found to lower blood cholesterol. Though still controversial, but probably has beneficial effect on serum cholesterol and LDL levels. Some studies have shown a 4% to 12% lowering of total cholesterol. Bawang seems to have no effect on high density lipoprotein (HDL).

Bawang - Anti-cancer: Bawang is studied to have possible anticarcinogenic properties, specifically for colon, stomach and prostate cancers. In stomach cancers, probably through its inhibitory effect on H. pylori. In epidemiologic studies on stomach and colorectal cancer prevention, the garlic use was 3.5 grams to 30 grams of fresh or cooked garlic per week.

Other folkloric uses of Bawang as herbal medicine that needs further studies for verification:

ampalaya preparationArthritis, rheumatism, toothaches: Crush several Bawang cloves and rub on affected areas.

Headaches: Crush one Bawang clove and apply to both temples as poultice.

Insect bites: Crush Bawang or cut clove crosswise and rub directly to affected area.

Athlete's foot.Crush Bawang or cut clove crosswise and rub directly to affected area.

Fever, Decoction of boiled Bawang leaves and bulbs set to luke warm and applied to the head and body.

Colds, cough, sore throat, hoarseness, asthma and bronchitis; Nasal congestion steam inhalation of chopped Bawang and a teaspoon of vinegar in boiling water.

Fresh Bawang has been used as a complement herbal medicine to INH therapy for tuberculosis.

Digestive problems and gastrointestinal spasms. drink an infusion of a peeled bawang clove or can also be used as suppository.

Bawang Warnings and Side Effects

  • Known adverse effects of bawang include halitosis (non-bacterial bad breath), indigestion, nausea, emesis and diarrhea.
  • Bawang may interact with warfain, antiplatelets, saquinavir, antihypertensives, calcium channel blockers, hypoglycemic drugs, as well as other medications. Consult a health professional before taking bawang supplement or consuming excessive amounts of bawang.
  • Bawang can thin the blood similar to the effect of aspirin.
  • While culinary quantities of bawang are considered safe for consumption, very high quantities of bawang and garlic supplements have been linked with an increased risk of bleeding, particularly during pregnancy and after surgery and child birth. Some breastfeeding mothers have found their babies slow to feed and have noted a garlic odour coming from their baby when they have consumed garlic or bawang. The safety of bawang supplements had not been determined for children.
  • The side effects of long-term bawang supplementation, if any exist, are largely unknown and no FDA-approved study has been performed. However, garlic or bawang has been consumed for several thousand years without any adverse long-term effects, suggesting that modest quantities of bawang pose, at worst, minimal risks to normal individuals. Possible side effects include gastrointestinal discomfort, sweating, dizziness, allergic reactions, bleeding, and menstrual irregularities.
  • Some degree of liver toxicity has been demonstrated in rats, particularly in extremely large quantities exceeding those that a rat would consume under normal situations.
  • There have been several reports of serious burns resulting from bawang or garlic being applied topically for various purposes, including naturopathic uses and acne treatment, so care must be taken to test a small area of skin using a very low concentration of bawang.On the basis of numerous reports of such burns, including burns to children, topical use of bawang, as well as insertion of bawang into body cavities is discouraged. In particular, topical application of bawang to young children is not advisable.
  • Garlic or bawang and onions might be toxic to cats or dogs. If you wish to feed them to your pet, first use only one flake or a pinch.

Bawang Herbal Medicine: Useful References

Auer W, Eiber A, Hertkorn E, Hoehfeld E, Koehrle U, Lorenz A, Mader F, Merx W, Otto G, Schmid-Otto B, et al. Hypertension and hyperlipidaemia: garlic helps in mild cases. Br J Clin Pract Suppl. 1990;69:3–6. [PubMed]

Avicenna A. In: Al Qanoon Fil Tib. Sharafkandi, S, translator. IV. Tehran, Iran: Soroosh Press; 1988. pp. 122–178.

Aviello G, Abenavoli L, Borrelli F, Capasso R, Izzo AA, Lembo F, Romano B, Capasso F. Garlic: empiricism or science? . Nat Prod Commun. 2009;4:1785–1796. [PubMed]

Bakhshi M, Taheri JB, Shabestari SB, Tanik A, Pahlevan R. Comparison of therapeutic effect of aqueous extract of garlic and nystatin mouthwash in denture stomatitis. Gerodontology. 2012;29:e680–684. [PubMed]

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Article last reviewed: 10.07.2016