FROM fruits to vegetables, from herbs to spices – the farm is a wealthy source of natural medicines. When taken conscientiously, they surely keep the doctor's away. But more importantly, they make you healthier.

"Eat leeks in March and wild garlic in May, and all the year after physicians may play," so goes an old Welsh rhyme. Garlic's mellow taste and aroma spice up gourmet dishes round the world. Popular with health-conscious cooks because it adds flavor without fat, some people still object to the herb's strong odor. But garlic’s health benefits are nothing to sniff at.

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In the past, garlic was said to strengthen the heart; protect against the plague; cure colds, athlete’s foot, toothache, and snakebite; repel vampires and demons; grow hair; stimulate sexual performance; and rid the dog of fleas.

Today, scientists all over the world are examining the folklore’s claims of garlic's benefits.

When Dr. Benjamin Lau of Loma Linda University in California gave people with moderately high blood cholesterol one gram a day of the liquid garlic extract (about one teaspoon), their cholesterol levels fell an average of 44 points in six months.

In 1993, the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians reviewed data on cholesterol and found that after just four weeks there was a 12 per cent reduction in cholesterol levels in the research groups that had taken garlic.

Scientists have also looked at the role garlic plays in helping prevent the formation of blood clots. A review of recent clinical trials, published in the Journal of Hypertension, showed that taking garlic tablets cut volunteers' blood pressure by between one and five per cent.

These results led the report’s authors to conclude that taking supplements could cut the incidence of stroke by anything from 30-40 per cent, while heart disease could be reduced by 20-25 percent.

In 2007, a BBC news story reported that garlic may prevent and fight the common cold. “Garlic can actually kill germs and clear up your cold symptoms rapidly,” says Dr. Elson Haas, the author of Staying Healthy with the Seasons. He recommends two to three oil-free capsules three times a day.

Like garlic, ginger has been used medicinally for millennia. "Everything good is found in ginger," commented an ancient Indian proverb. For centuries, natural hearers have used ginger to fight off flu and colds. Traditional folk wisdom maintains that ginger can prevent colds, as well as cut a cold's time short.

Chinese sailors may have been the first to discover ginger as a good remedy for seasickness. One recent study showed that taking two to four capsules of dried ginger before traveling in a car, boat, plane, or train prevented motion sickness in 90 percent of people who participated in the study.

Danish researchers report that a third of teaspoon of fresh or powdered ginger, taken at the first sign of migraine, may reduce symptoms by blocking prostaglandins, chemicals that inflame blood vessels in the brain.

In the Philippines, traditional medicine attributes many healing properties to ampalaya. For one, it has been considered as nature's answer to diabetes. Today, almost 100 studies have demonstrated the blood sugar lowering effect of this bitter fruit.

Dr. A. Raman and Dr. C. Lau reviewed over 150 pre-clinical and clinical studies on amplaya's anti-diabetes properties and phytochemistry. Their conclusion: "Oral administration of fruit juice or seed powder (of bitter melon) causes a reduction in fasting blood glucose and improves glucose tolerance."

Dr. William Torres, former director of Bureau of Food and Drugs, also came up with this conclusion after reviewing several studies done on ampalaya: "Ampalaya fruits, leaves, seeds and other parts, when used as dry powders, extracts, decoctions, fresh or cooled, have clearly demonstrated hypoglycemic activity."

However, Dr. Eduardo G. Gonzales, of the College of Medicine at De La Salle University, warned diabetics not to be "overly enthusiastic in replacing their proprietary medicines with ampalaya teas, capsules or tablets."

As he wrote in his column published in a national daily: "None of the studies so far conducted on ampalaya and diabetes can be labeled conclusive. All were done using a very limited number of human subjects, and most are not controlled."

Bunches of malunggay leaves are available in many markets, priced below many other leaf vegetables. Touted by scientists as “miracle vegetable,” malunggay has been promoted by no less than the UN World Health Organization as a low-cost health enhancer in poor countries around the globe.

Despite its legendary potentials, malunggay is still relatively unknown. "The sale of all forms of vitamins, minerals, and health supplements is a big business," points out Moringa Zinga, an American company that promotes and sells malunggay products in capsules. "If you are a company selling hundreds of nutritional products, why would you sell a product that will wipe out all your other products?"

Nutritionists aver that 100 grams of malunggay leaves yield the following: 75 calories of energy (higher than ampalaya, squash, tomatoes, or carrots), 5.9 grams protein (higher than cauliflower, lettuce, or mustard), 12.8 grams carbohydrate (higher than okra, papaya, or watermelon), 353 milligrams calcium (higher than gabi leaves, mung beans, squash, and camote tops), 3.7 milligrams niacin (higher than other vegetables analyzed). And for thiamin, phosphorus, and ascorbic acid, malunggay is at the top of the list.

Because of its nutritional content, Dr. Kumar Pati, an Indian doctor who is an expert in natural medicine, claims malunggay strengthens the immune system, controls blood pressure, relieves headaches and migraines, manages the sugar level thereby preventing diabetes, reduces inflammations and arthritis pains, restricts the growth of tumors, and heals ulcers.

One exotic fruit that receives some popularity in the Western countries because of its medical properties is the mangosteen. Dr. James Duke, who worked for the United States Department of Agriculture for 35 years, said mangosteen has over 138 beneficial properties including antioxidants and xanthones, a unique biological compound that can kill cancer cells.

Extensive research on mangosteen juice has been conducted in countries worldwide over the past years and revealed the benefits gained from drinking mangosteen juice. Reportedly, mangosteen juice can combat Parkinson’s disease, fungal and viral ailments, aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

The fruit hull of mangosteen has been used for many years as a medicine for treatment of skin infection, wounds, and diarrhea in Southeast Asia. In her book, Fruits of Warm Climates, Julia F. Morton wrote: "The sliced and dried rind is powdered and administered to overcome dysentery. Made into an ointment, it is applied on eczema and other skin disorders. The rind decoction is taken to relieve diarrhea and cystitis and is applied externally as an astringent lotion."

Florence Daniel has named pineapple juice as the specific remedy for diphtheria. In her book Food Remedies, she said that the sour, unripe fruit improves digestion, increases appetite, and relieves dyspepsia.

In Indian herbal medicine, pineapple is thought to act as a uterine tonic. The ripe fruit cools and soothes, and is used to settle gas and reduce excessive, gastric acid. Its significant fiber content makes it useful in constipation. The juice of the ripe fruit is both a digestive tonic and a diuretic. The leaves are considered to be useful in encouraging the onset of menstrual periods and easing painful ones.

Another benefit of eating pineapple is that it helps to build healthy bones. Pineapples are rich in manganese, a trace mineral that is needed for your body to build bone and connective tissues. The benefits of pineapple when you have a cold or cough are the same as the benefits of orange juice, as pineapple contains significant amounts of vitamin C.

By the way, women who want to get pregnant should not eat pineapple. In some parts of the world, the flesh of very young fruits is deliberately ingested to achieve abortion (a little with honey on three successive mornings).