(Allium sativum var. sativum— Family Liliaceae)
Garlic, common garlic
Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants, and thought to have originated in Southwest Asia. The English name comes from the Anglo-Saxon “gar-leac” or spear plant, which refers to its spear-shaped leaves and its relation to the leek.
Although known to be rich in vitamins and minerals, the trick is in eating enough to gain a measurable amount, but some always try. King Henry VI, of 16th century France, loved to eat fresh garlic; and, as a result, according to some, had the “breath that would fell an ox at twenty paces”.
Even in ancient times, garlic was a popular medicinal plant and soothing herb. Herbalists in China, Greece, and Egypt, as well as the ancient kingdoms of Babylon, Sumeria, and Mesopotamia all record such uses.
Until recently, scientists and researchers were skeptical; but garlic is still proving to be the healer the ancients have always known it was, especially where arterial disease and infections are concerned.
Clay models from 5000 BCE show that garlic bulbs were buried with the Egyptians in their tombs. They also gave it to their slaves to ward off infections. Hippocrates prescribed it for uterine tumors. In medieval times, garlic was hung outside doors to deter witches and vampires.
For all of this folklore, garlic really does have some valuable medicinal properties which modern science is finally endorsing.
Garlic contains over seventy known compounda including volatile oils, alliin (the major odour producer which is decomposed by heat and alkali), enzymes, ajoenes, proteins, minerals, vitamins, lipids, amino acids, as well as other substances not yet identified.
Garlic has hypoglycemic effects, as well as those that lower blood cholesterol. It is an expectorant, antibacterial, antifungal (antimycotic), antiviral, antiparasitic, amebicidal, insecticidal, larvicidal, antitumor, antithrombotic, and antihepatotoxic (helps the liver detoxify).
It also lowers blood viscosity, improves microcirculation, and has diuretic properties. Garlic oil is known to act as a gastrointestinal smooth muscle relaxant.
Substances called “allylsulfides” in garlic, increase the production of the “phase 2” liver detoxification enzymes (glutathione transferases) that increase the water solubility of cancer-causing compounds and toxins that accumulate in the liver, speeding up their excretion. Diallylsulfide may also protect against lung cancer while other compounds seem to inhibit tumour growth.
Research has shown a lower incidence of several types of cancers in those who eat garlic regularly. It is also effectively used for digestive complaints, bowel disorders, and insect stings. However, garlic yields different active ingredients, depending on the way it is prepared and where and how it was grown.
Alliin and allicin are two sulfur compounds with antibiotic activity. When a clove is crushed, the cell walls are bruised, releasing an allicin precursor, allinase, an enzyme that turns the precursor into allicin.
When crushed, allicin quickly breaks down into over seventy different sulphur-bearing compounds. This explains why garlic is able to help so many different health problems as each compound has its own special effect.
Although garlic has been used for centuries against a broad variety of microorganisms, its effects have yet to be proven scientifically. Therefore, as the ancients have always done, it is best to keep using it while waiting for this scientific proof.
Despite its name, elephant garlic
is not a true garlic but a member of the leek family.
Originating in southeast Asia, elephant garlic lacks the familiar strong odour and taste. Elephant garlic can weigh up to a pound and sometimes yields only one clove, the size of a golf ball. Some heads can grow to be the size of a grapefruit, containing four to six cloves, with each being about three or four inches in length.
There are about 300 varieties of garlic cultivated worldwide, particularly in hot, dry places. Today, garlic is one of the twenty most important vegetables in the world, with an annual production of about three million metric tons.
Major growing areas are Spain, Egypt, France, and Italy. However, the world’s largest production area centers around Gilroy in the Santa Clara Valley of California. Garlic festivals are held wherever it is abundantly grown.
The Gilroy festival
attracts more than 100,000 garlic lovers each year; while on the Isle of Wight
in England, a festival is held at New Church each August.
California garlic is the most common in North America and is responsible for about 90% of the US garlic crop. There is a California early and a California late variety. Both are white and average ten cloves per head. There are also red, pink, and purple varieties grown worldwide.
Planting garlic beside rose bushes helps control the greenfly.
Single garlic cloves are planted annually late in the fall and are referred to as seeds. In the spring, the plant produces long pointed leaves known as garlic shoots which can be used in salads and stir fries.
Garlic does not develop its full flavour until the bulbs have dried and the outer layer appears papery.
The garlic bulb is formed at the base of the perennial plant and is surrounded by several dry, white, red, or purple layers of skin. It is usually composed of up to twelve bulblets called cloves, which in turn are surrounded by papery layers of skin.
When garlic sprouts, diallyl disulfide, the sulfur compound that gives it its distinctive taste and odour, goes into the new growth, causing the garlic itself to become milder. Properly stored, garlic will keep for months.
Head garlic is a Thai specialty. It is planted so closely together that it remains small and does not form the typical bulb with its numerous cloves. These little bulblets are popular used raw in hot pickles.
Garlic requires plenty of sunshine and does particularly well in Mediterranean countries where the big, juicy cloves have an excellent flavour. However, these do not keep well.
Green or “wet” garlic has a mild flavour and the appearance of a leek, but will not keep more than two or three weeks at this stage. The dried heads will keep for months. The bulbs are generally harvested in mid-summer and left in the field to dry out.
During this time, the cloves remain plump and juicy, and the outer skins become flaky. The roots are trimmed and the stems snipped or braided. Depending on where they are grown, the size, shape, colour, and flavour will differ. Colours can range from white to red to purple or pink.
Garlic varieties are grown in areas where it has best adapted to climate and day lengths.
is very reliable in Mediterranean conditions and keeps well.
is an excellent large long-dormancy variety that produces up to fifteen cloves per bulb.
is an early variety that produces large cloves and purple bulbs, but must be planted before the end of the year.
Long Keeper likes cool temperate climates. The bulbs are white-skinned and firm.
Rocambole (var ophioscordon)
is also called Serpent Garlic because of its coiled red bulbous-producing stems.
Rose de Lautrec
is a famous pink variety of the Mediterranean.
is a heavy-producing new variety that has large cloves with a mild flavour.
is a Mediterranean variety most often available during the winter months. It has large cloves and keeps longer than the Rose de Lautrec.
Venetian or Italian garlic
comes from the Po Valley. It is a dense white bulb that keeps well.
Caution: Many people store garlic in oil. This can be a dangerous habit as it makes conditions right for the growth of Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium responsible for botulism, a deadly food poison. To be safe, use the garlic in oil preparations as soon as they are made or refrigerate after adding vinegar or such citrus juices as lime or lemon, which will stop any bacterial growth.
Chinese garlic stems, garlic flower stems, green garlic
suan tai (Chinese), shen sum (Korean)
Chinese garlic has a symmetrical bulb in thin purple or silver skin, but has little flavour. Its stems should not be confused with the inedible fibrous tops of curled garlic often found at Farmer’s Markets and specialty markets. These greens are about a foot long and not hollow like the green onions. They are solid and about the width of a pencil. If snapped or cut, the aroma is unmistakably garlic. In China, garlic flower stems are a side product of the garlic bulb of strains known to produce them. The bulbs are cultivated in the usual way, but the flower stems are cut in early summer when they are green and harvested very carefully so that the bulb will not be damaged and can be left to mature. The stems are usually twelve to eighteen inches in length and sold in bundles. They are too strong for most people to use raw; but, if quickly cooked, they are an excellent addition to dishes requiring a hint or two of garlic.
Ramsons, bear’s garlic (Allium ursinum)
Ramsons garlic is closely related to the cultivated garlic and was once cultivated in Northern and Central Europe, not only as a vegetable, but also as a medicinal plant and herb. It is now naturalized throughout Europe and in Asia.
The leaves resemble those of the lily-of-the-valley, but have a strong garlic aroma and taste because of their allicin content.
In Northern Europe, it grows wild in damp deciduous forests and in shady, moist locations, as well as in home gardens. The leaves are picked before the plant flowers in May and chopped to add to salads and other vegetable dishes.