History of GarlicGarlic (Allium sativum) originated someplace in Central Asia and has since spread and diversified throughout the world. So what’s so special about garlic? We all know about its distinctive odor, but did you know the long-proven history of the medicinal use of garlic make it one of the best natural medicines available? The ancient Sumerians, Chinese and Indians all used garlic for a variety of ailments, everything from leprosy to lice. The Egyptians fed their pyramid-building slaves garlic in order to pump up their work capacity. However, it wasn’t reserved exclusively for the lower classes. Pharaoh Tutankhamen was buried with garlic, lapis lazuli, and gold. The Israelites also used garlic as a strength enhancer. Reapers were instructed to eat a special garlic and cheese meal every Friday. Greek athletes ate garlic before competitions. Roman soldiers ate garlic before major battles. Romans would also make a lotion of garlic and wild thyme to prevent snake bite. Garlic has been used to treat fever, infection, plague, and the common cold. It was also useful in fending off vampires back in the day. So how much of this is fancy and how much is factual? Well, although the vampire thing has yet to be proven scientifically, for the most part, the ancients and their garlic beliefs were spot on. Take a look at this impressive list of herbal actions!
Herb ActionsGarlic contains allicin which is activated when the leaves or cloves are chopped or crushed. This compound is what gives garlic its distinctive Aromatic odor and incredible medicinal quality.
- Cardiac Tonic – Garlic has been shown to lower hypertensive blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL while raising HDL levels. Ingesting garlic has also been shown to provide a preventative effect on atherosclerosis, increase the elasticity of blood vessels and blood flow in the capillaries.
- Anticarcinogenic – Garlic inhibits cancerous tumor cell growth, enhances detoxification and excretion of carcinogens and adds a layer of protection for DNA against activated carcinogens.
- Hepatic – Garlic has been shown to be beneficial to liver function by protecting liver cells from toxins.
- Antimicrobial – Garlic has been effective in aiding the body in its fight against infections from bacteria including Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli.
- Anthelmintic – Garlic aids the process of expelling a variety of parasites, including giardiasis and Candida albicans, from the digestive system.
- Aperient, Carminative, and Diuretic – As a further aid to the digestive system, garlic increases the flow of urine and bowel movements while reducing flatulence and colic.
- Galactagogue and Emmenagogue – Garlic is an important component to women’s health as it both increases milk flow for nursing mothers and helps regulate the menstrual cycle.
- Anti-catarrhal and Expectorant – Garlic helps the body remove excess mucous from the body through coughing.
- Anti-depressive, Stimulant, and Nervine – Garlic has been successfully used to treat depression. In fact, its stimulating effect is so strong that some Buddhists advise against eating garlic since it disturbs a peaceful mind.
- Diaphoretic and Febrifuge – Garlic increases perspiration and encourages sweating as well as reducing fever, a good combination to combat the common cold.
- Alterative, Anti-inflammatory, Astringent, and Vulnerary – Garlic quickens tissue regrowth, reduces inflammation, contracts blood vessels and generally aids in wound healing.
Parts UsedThe bulb of the garlic, which can be divided into individual cloves, is the most used part of the garlic plant. However, the leaves, known as scapes, and flowers, also called bulbils, can also be used as medicine and food flavoring as well. Both scapes and bulbils have a milder flavor than the bulb.
Garlic In the GardenGarlic is a bulbous plant. It grows up to 1.2 m (4 ft) in height and produces flowers in a number of colors. Varieties of garlic can be grown in both mild and cold climates.
Varieties of GarlicThere are two main types of garlic, softneck and hardneck. As the names imply, the principal difference between the two varieties is the hardness of the stalk where it meets the bulb. What you grow depends on your climate and your culinary needs. Hardneck garlic varieties tend to have a stronger flavor and grow best in areas with very cold winters with the exceptions of Creole Garlic and Asiatic Garlic which thrive in warmer climates. Softneck garlic varieties have more cloves per head. They tend to have a milder flavor, therefore a better choice when the recipe calls for raw garlic.
Hardneck varieties include:Purple Stripe Garlics Marbled Purple Stripe Garlic Cultivars Glazed Purple Stripe Garlic Cultivars Rocambole Garlics Porcelain Garlics Creole Garlics Asiatic Garlics Turban Garlics
Softneck varieties include:Artichoke Garlics Silverskin Garlics
Planting InstructionsGarlic bulbs should be planted in the fall, after the first frost for the best yield. Break the cloves apart a few days before planting. Do not remove the papery husk as you would for cooking. Plant cloves 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep with the wider root side down and the pointy end up in a sunny, well-drained area. In colder climates, cover the area with mulch over the winter months, removing it in the spring. For larger bulb size, cut any flower shoots that emerge. Water the plants every 4 days or so. The first year after planting, the garlic will grow into small plants that can be harvested like scallions in late spring. If left to grow, the cloves will grow into full-sized bulbs in two or three years.
Harvesting GarlicWhen the leaves begin to appear pale and withered, it’s time to harvest. Lift the bulbs carefully with a spade or digging fork. Brush the dirt off and lay them out in a warm, airy spot for about a week. Make sure this area is protected from rain and not in direct sunlight. Clip the roots to about 1/2 inch. Let them dry another week. Clip the stems of the hardneck varieties. The bulbs are ready to store when the roots and papery covering are dry. Do not remove the papery covering to prevent sprouting and protect against rotting.
How to Preserve and Store GarlicWhen kept between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, most hardneck garlic varieties typically last 6 months while softneck garlic can last for 8 months or more. Hang them in mesh bags suspended from the ceiling. The stems of softneck varieties can be braided together and hung in that manner. Be sure to save bulbs to plant for the next year. Depending on the variety, a single bulb can contain between 4 and 20 cloves.
How to Prepare and Use GarlicThere is no end to delicious recipes with garlic. You can use the peeled cloves, chopped scapes and bulbils or garlic powder to add flavoring to a variety of yummy foodstuff. Garlic powder is easily made by drying thinly sliced garlic in the oven at 150 degrees Fahrenheit until crisp. Allow the slices to cool and grind them to a powder with a blender. 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder is approximate to one clove of garlic. One of my favorite cold-busters is Garlic, Honey, Lemon Tea. Add 3-6 garlic cloves, peeled and halved, to 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add 1/2 cup organic honey and 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice. (You’ll need 3-4 lemons.) Enjoy hot or cold.
Precautions for the Medicinal Use of GarlicAs with any herb, there are some things to consider when using garlic. If you have gastric problems, you may find that garlic will irritate your stomach, especially if eaten raw on an empty stomach. If you are already taking blood thinners or aspirin, limit your garlic intake. If you have excessive body heat, garlic will make that problem worse. Bad breath and body odor are unavoidable side effects. In fact, the Ancient Greeks forbid entry into the temples to garlic eaters. Fortunately, there are some foods that help reduce that garlicky smell. Apples, spinach, basil, mint and parsley are all helpful in this regard, as is drinking a glass of milk or a cup of green or cinnamon tea.
Identifying Garlic in the Wild or in Your BackyardIn certain regions, garlic has become naturalized and grows wild. Usually found growing in damp ground in large clusters, wild garlic grows in abundance in some areas. The air around wild garlic areas will smell like onion or garlic. The plants themselves are easily identifiable. They have a distinctive globular ball of small flowers, each with 6 petals, that looks like a fireworks display. Pinching off a leaf and checking for the unique garlic smell, will finish the task. Remember, the leaves and flowers are also edible, so there is no need to pull up the entire field. Just remember where it is and return year after to year to harvest the bounty. Or better yet, discover how to Be Your Own Herbalist with a larger garden so you won’t lose track of your crop of garlic!
Homesteading Benefits of GarlicPlanting garlic around fruit trees and in your garden not only reduces pest and disease but also increases the nutritional value of vegetables grown. Garlic changes the nutrient level, enzymatic activity and composition of the soil which improves the quality and yield of your garden. Because of its Aromatic action, garlic is offensive to some animals and therefore a natural repellant of borers, weevils, fruit flies, snakes, moles, aphids, spider mites, carrot flies, grasshoppers and Japanese beetles. Combined with hot peppers, crushed garlic in a spray also works to deter mice, rats, rabbits, voles, elk and deer from foraging in your garden. Crushed garlic in your chicken’s drinking water will improve their appetites and immune systems. Garlic’s Galactagogue action will aid your dairy goats’ milk production.
Essential OilsAged garlic extract is an even more potent form of garlic. You can make your own at home without much fuss.
- Peel the garlic cloves and chop them into small pieces.
- Mash the garlic with a spoon and let it soak in water for 48 hours. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth.
- Strain the chopped garlic using the cheesecloth.
- Put the garlic essential oil in a bottle and close it tightly.