Hello my dear readers,
Garlic (Allium sativum L) belongs to the Liliaceae family. However, for the shape of the inflorescence, some consider it, like the onion, in the Amarillidaceae family.
Thanks to its properties, it is useful for the immune, respiratory, circulatory systems and against colds and flu.
Let’s find out more.
Garlic is a plant known since ancient times, so much so that it was already used by the Egyptians in the third millennium BC and, subsequently, by the Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Indians.
The origin of garlic is very uncertain.
Today garlic is considered a point of reference for cooking and medicine, given its peculiar and beneficial properties both in the kitchen and in medicine.
Traces of it have been found almost everywhere, from Siberia to Calabria, from Sicily to North Africa, in central Asia in particular in the Kyrgyz desert in India, where, however, it still grows spontaneously today.
There are evidences that has been used by ancient peoples especially as a drug or in magical rites, in different eras and places around the world.
In ancient Eastern civilizations
In ancient India garlic was used to alleviate joint pain and treat fever, even if it was considered rajasic food, i.e. it inhibits spiritual growth.
An ancient Tibetan remedy for numerous diseases, it was prepared with garlic minced and fermented with butter and wheat.
We know with certainty that it was already used by the Egyptians and the Sumerians, about 4000 years ago, and that it is also mentioned in the Bible when it speaks of the exodus “the most precious good left by the Jews during the journey from Egypt”, in fact arrived in the promised land they introduced the use of garlic as a condiment.
The first written evidence of garlic can be found in the Ebers codex, an Egyptian medical papyrus dating back to 1550 BC, which cites garlic as a formidable remedy for twenty-two different preparations: a source of energy and an effective remedy for pains and stings from insects.
Although the pharaohs preferred to abstain from garlic, food unwelcome to the deities, it was administered abundantly to the slaves involved in the construction of the Pyramids to preserve them from intestinal diseases and infections, but also to give them greater physical resistance.
Herodotus – 490-424 BC – “slaves fed with a piece of bread, a clove of garlic and half an onion”.
In addition, a garlic necklace was made to be worn by children to allow them to protect themselves from intestinal parasites. With the same necklace they made sure of the fertility of women.
Also in Egypt, garlic remains were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun and the same product is also mentioned in the inscriptions of the pyramid of Giza.
In ancient Egypt the worshipers of Sokar (a god of the underworld) adorned themselves with garlands of garlic.
Over time, the cultivation of garlic extended from the Egyptian area to the entire Mediterranean basin.
The Greeks used it for both therapeutic and food purposes, leading to flavoring bread. It was eaten by soldiers just before the battle raged and this strange use can be explained by the widespread belief that saw garlic a “concentrate” of power and energy that had the effect of warming the hearts by exciting the senses.
The same Greeks who played sports consumed garlic before competitions. The Greeks called garlic with the derogatory name of “fetid rose”.
In ancient Greece it was considered a plant of the underworld and dedicated to Hecate, goddess of spirits and the one who accompanied the dead to the kingdom of the dead.
In Greece, despite the nickname “fetid”, the bread was usually flavored with garlic. Also experienced by Hippocrates (5th century BC – founder of modern medicine) during his studies.
In Imperial Rome it was widely used by both farmers and soldiers.
In fact, garlic was distributed in the legions of soldiers to prevent infections and to enhance the male “virtues” of the troops: from the heat of combat to the contempt for fear; for these reasons the Romans made it a sacred plant to Mars, god of war.
In ancient Rome the Latin expression “allium olere” (which means stink of garlic) was used to indicate those who belonged to a lower social class.
The Romans were the first to spread the garlic in Europe and to make it known even among the barbarian populations, who until their arrival did not know it.
“Allium sativum” is mentioned around the year 100 by Pliny the Elder in his “Naturalis Historia” and in the works of Terenzio Varrone, Ovid and other authors of the Roman era.
In the Middle Ages, many other attributions were added to the garlic: the faculty to heal fevers, deafness, blood outlets and other ailments again and above all as an antidote in the fight against the plague.
From the Middle Ages derives the superstition for which there was no hut or shack that did not expose a crown of garlic to keep away evil spirits, spells and demons.
In the Neapolitan tradition it served to protect itself from witches.
When the plague made its destructive appearance all over Europe, garlic became a precious ingredient and sought after also by doctors, who thought it was the only remedy to counter the advance of the disease and heal the fever and blight caused by the disease.
The good Henry IV, it is ascertained, was baptized with a clove of garlic in his mouth and with a sip of Juracon wine. He was famous for his female conquests and before attempting his exploits he never failed to eat a large clove of garlic preferably on an empty stomach.
With the Renaissance, garlic and onion, were recognized essentially for their phytotherapeutic qualities, were gradually removed from the kitchens of the courts because their perfume was considered too plebeian and vulgar for the nostrils, the refined palates of the new Lords.
The peasant classes, however, continued to enjoy the pleasure of cooking tasty and savory dishes.
The main therapeutic properties of garlic were scientifically defined by Pasteur in 1858: antibiotic, antiseptic, balsamic, antihypertensive. This true panacea however has a disadvantage: the antisocial smell that leaves those who take it.
In 1918 during “the Spanish”, a terrible influence that affected Europe, in many countries the plant was used to stem the epidemic.
But throughout history, garlic has been used to combat typhoid epidemics, tuberculosis and even cholera.
The plant was mentioned in a 16th century manuscript, the “Herbarium of Urbino”: a precious collection of recipes that combine folk medicine with empirical knowledge on the therapeutic virtues of plants, whose author is anonymous. The manuscript, preserved in the Vatican Apostolic Library, reports the virtues of 62 other medicinal plants including garlic itself.
I would also like to mention that the Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweizer, in the absence of adequate medicines and facilities, administered garlic abundantly among the most disadvantaged African populations in the early 1900s to combat and stop dysentery.
It was used in huge quantities to disinfect the wounds of soldiers at war in the trenches of the First World War, and can still be used to prepare antiseptic gauze for wounds and ulcerative sores, and has been and still is used for respiratory tract infections.
On the other side, Taoists argue that it is a plant that feeds demons and does not eat it as it is claimed that anyone who approaches the path of Yoga, must avoid garlic.
Today the garlic plant is grown on all continents and is well known for its culinary use. It is a rustic perennial, grown as an annual plant, very adaptable,
It can be easily sown in a vegetable garden or even in a pot in the balcony.
The domestic cultivation of garlic will allow us to have a unique and controlled product available in the desired quantities. And it is no small matter, considering that often the garlic that we find in supermarkets comes from other countries (in particular China, the first world producer).
It is an aromatic plant with basal leaves that develop in height and reach up to 60 cm. Each leaf wraps the other in a sort of envelope, scaling towards the inside of the stem.
The garlic head and bulbils are covered with thin metamorphosed leaves, called sterile tunics, which have a protective function.
Each head can have a different weight which will depend on the variety and growing conditions. In general, it ranges from a minimum of 20 g to 150 g of a super developed garlic head.
The best times for its sowing are the months of October and November. The harvest, however, takes place in the spring in the months of May and June.
The plant is able to withstand low temperatures, although it can suffer from periods of prolonged frost.
In too cold areas, it is recommended the cultivation of garlic in the spring, with harvest in the summer.
How to sow
Garlic is sown by burying the bulbils. These will be positioned with the tip upwards at about 3-5 cm deep.
So it is easy to reproduce it starting from the fruit itself, perhaps preserving seeds from the previous cultivation. Or following the purchase of a particular variety found in a local market.
The sowing distances to be respected are at least 15 cm between one plant and another. Between the rows, however, it is good to keep a distance of 20 cm.
Soil, water and fertilization needs of the garlic plant
The cultivation of garlic prefers a loose and well-worked soil. It is important that the soil ensures adequate drainage of rainwater. This is because the development of the bulb occurs in the rainiest seasons. Soil drainage is essential, as water stagnation can lead to the appearance of rot and cryptogamic diseases. If the soil is able to drain water efficiently, you will hardly have disease problems.
If you choose the cultivation of garlic in pots, you can use a universal soil but remember soil drainage is essential.
As mentioned, garlic is harvested in late spring. The harvest is done manually by uprooting the plants in full, with all the root.
During the harvesting period, the soil may be excessively dry and therefore difficult grubbing up. In this case it is advisable to dig gently around the plant. In this way the operation will be easier and you will avoid breaking the stem.
It is good practice to let the newly harvested plants dry on the ground for a period of about a week. After this period, the garlic heads must be cleaned of the residual soil and the outermost and damaged tunics. At this point the roots are cut and the braids or “rests” are made, to hang in a cool and dry place for storage. The latter, if done correctly, will protect the product for up to 7-8 months.
Garlic in our kitchens
Garlic has been used since ancient times as a condiment for food. Used raw, in salads or added to sauces, stews, fish or vegetable dishes. They are also widely used in the preparation of sausages and in the canning industry for appetizers in oil and in vinegar.
If you want to enjoy its properties in full, you can prepare a decoction of garlic or a simple bruschetta.
Its penetrating flavor is enhanced in the so-called garlic soup, a first dish typical of Catalonia and Spain, based on bread, cold-ground red pepper, eggs.
If it is true that simplicity rewards, with a classic spaghetti with garlic, oil and chilli peppers, you can’t go wrong.
Often, due to the strong persistence of its flavor, it is preferred to avoid garlic. But there is a way to maintain its taste by eliminating the trace in the mouth: peel it and put it in a container full of white vinegar, black pepper, coriander and basil. Close it well and let it rest in a completely dark place for 4 weeks. Good to know, right?
Properties and benefits of garlic
Garlic has a respectable medicinal reputation.
Thanks to its composition rich in fiber and vitamins, garlic is considered excellent against intestinal problems and to strengthen the immune system.
Excellent for the prevention of flu, skin diseases, colds and infallible disinfectant for the intestine.
A clove of garlic is a reservoir of highly effective curative active ingredients such as allicin, sulfur, vitamins B.
It has anthelmintic properties against ascarids and pinworms, anti-mucolytic, hypotensive, expectorants, digestive, carminative, antiseptic, and hypoglycemic agents.
The role of this plant is also in the regularisation of cholesterolemia and triglycerides and in improving the ratio between LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol, that is, between bad lipoproteins, which promote the formation of cholesterol deposits in the arterial walls, and good lipoproteins, i.e. those that function as tiny arterial sweepers, removing harmful cholesterol accumulations.
It can be useful in chronic infections caused by Candida albicans and in those of the respiratory system.
Garlic also recognizes remarkable “spicy” properties: it would in fact help to maintain active and healthy sexuality, being a food with aphrodisiac properties, especially thanks to the positive action it exerts on circulation in general.
Calories and nutrition facts of garlic: 100 g of garlic contain 41 kcal / 171 kj.
Also in this case, as with many other foods, we need to know how to rely on our common sense and not to exceed the consume of garlic.
If it is true that a clove of raw garlic taken every day and for long periods can cause irritation to the intestinal walls and damage blood cells, moderate consumption can only improve the general state of health. However, you should avoid taking the precious clove before a meeting.
In the ancient world it was also appreciated for its magical and protective faculties. From ancient Egypt, for example, numerous therapeutic and magical prescriptions have come down to us that use it as the main ingredient. Reading some of them you realize how garlic was considered very effective against the snake’s poison: once bitten, to stop the fever and the poison, it was enough to apply a paste composed of garlic and bread on the wound. In other recipes, on the other hand, we read that it was enough to sprinkle the body with garlic so as not to be bitten, or even to prevent the snake from leaving the den, it was necessary to place a clove outside.
In Egypt it was also thought that garlic served to keep away the shadows of the dead: they believed that they could enter the houses during the night to take away newborn babies. To protect them from this terrible event, the mother prepared a sort of “magic potion” repellent for the dead that had garlic as its main ingredient, recited the ancient formula: “I did this magic protection against you … with garlic that it gives you harm, with sweet honey to men, but bitter to those who are in the afterlife “.
A question spontaneously arises: where does this belief, so rooted in the ancient world, of the magical and protective qualities of garlic come from?
Perhaps the origin is precisely to be found in the unpleasant smell it emits: managing to keep people at a safe distance, why shouldn’t it have done it with the spirits of the afterlife and the poisonous snakes?
Furthermore, its acrid and biting flavor closely resembled that of snake venom and since it represented something similar and related homeopathically it could also have the power to defeat it.
Garlic, an ancient amulet against everything that bites, primarily the treacherous snake and against everything that has died and returns to the world of the living to harm, closely resembles the stories of vampires typical of western folklore.
Remember Dracula? The vampire is a dead man who returns in the night and like a snake, bites … the only salvation, the amulet that makes the vampire keep back and inexorably defeats him, is once again garlic!
The beliefs of the rural civilization also considered garlic to be the “farmers’ apothecary” or the “pharmacy of the poor”.
It was widely used for both external and internal use. In the first case, it was used reduced to a pulp to soften the corns, if roasted on the embers to rub the chilblains, if in fresh wedges to soothe the burning of insect bites. For internal use it was consumed fresh in order to lower blood pressure, cooked in milk as an antidote against cough.
Despite its smell, I always loved raw garlic and was always in the menu in our house, to prevent flu and cold. It was one of my grandma’s medicines. Also nowadays, I enjoy it in the evening when I’m sure I don’t need to meet anyone 😉
How about you? Do you eat garlic? How do you like it?
Thank you all for reading.
And if you would like to discover more about our food, you may enjoy my previous posts
Wish you a wonderful day!