Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Irish minister's raw garlic habit

Garlic has been used as a health remedy for more than 5,000 years

Raw garlic may not be most people's idea of a tasty snack, but details have emerged of Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan's unlikely fondness for munching on the herb.

Although it's renowned for its many healthy properties as well as being a traditional safeguard against vampires, Mr Lenihan is reported to have used it to stay awake during late-night talks about the Republic's troubled economy.

The revelation emerged in an extract from a book by economist and television personality David McWilliams, who says he met the minister in September 2008 at the height of the banking crisis.

"He pulled a bulb of garlic out of his pocket and started to peel it. It was one of the odd moments in a long night of odd moments.

"In subsequent meetings, the raw garlic was produced and squashed into bowls of soup. This time he just peeled a clove and left it on the table.

Brian Lenihan
Brian Lenihan is said to have begun the habit when he became finance minister

"He explained to me that the garlic gave him strength and kept him healthy and alert. I had no reason to doubt him.

"He went on to say that he had been chomping raw garlic all summer, since he'd got the finance job."

Details of Mr Lenihan's habit were confirmed by Minister of State Pat Carey, who said on a radio programme that Mr Lenihan "constantly chews garlic".

Mr Lenihan is following in the footsteps of many people throughout history who used garlic to improve their physical and mental strength in challenging times.

Health remedy

Roman soldiers ate garlic before battle, Greek athletes took it before a race, and the workers building the pyramids were issued garlic with their rations so that they could chew it all day long as they manhandled the heavy blocks into position.

It may be a wonder herb, but one unfortunate side-effect is that it can lead to bad breath.

Experts suggest eating a sprig of chopped, fresh parsley, but this might look a bit strange in polite company.

Garlic is thought to have been used as a health remedy since 3000 BC.

It is a member of the Lilly family and contains sulphur and amino acids as well as minerals such as germanium, selenium and zinc as well as vitamins A, B and C.

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