Allium sativum

Family Alliacae (Onion
Genus Allium
Species sativum

Synonyms and Common names:
poor man’s treacle.

Description and Habitat:  The leaves are long, narrow, and flat, like long grass. The bulb consists of numerous bulblets, known as 'cloves;' grouped together between membrane scales and enclosed within a whitish skin, which holds them in a kind of sac.

The flowers are placed at the end of a stalk rising directly from the bulb and are whitish, grouped together in a globular head, or umbel, with an enclosing kind of leaf, and among them are small bulbils.

Garlic is grown from the individual cloves. Each clove will produce one plant with a single bulb, which may, in turn, contain up to twenty cloves.

When planting garlic, choose a garden site that gets plenty of sun and where the soil is not too damp. The cloves should be planted individually, upright, and about an inch under the surface.  Plant the cloves about 4 inches apart with rows about 18 inches apart.  Garlic can be planted either in the early winter or spring, its usual to plant just after the first frost of the winter between October and late November depending on where you live.

Garlic is winter hardy, however, it can be damaged if the temperatures are very cold, if this happens then straw will protect it. Shoots should show in early spring, but if the crop fails then there is still the opportunity to plant a spring crop.

It is tempting to plant cloves leftover from cooking, but these may not germinate as they have usually been treated.  If this is your first crop then buy the cloves from a garden centre or seed shop. It is also worth noting that Wild Garlic Allium ursinum, found in gardens and in the wild has most of the active ingredients than cultivated garlic has, so can be used if you can find a reliable and renewable source.

Parts used: only the bulb is used.

Collection and preparation: In Northern Europe garlic is usually harvested in the summer months, from July to August. The best guide to when to harvest your garlic is to look at the leaves. The base of the leaves will form the layers wrapped around the garlic head once picked.  As summer progresses, these leaves will gradually brown and die off.  If you harvest too early, the garlic will not be ready. If you leave it too late and too many leaves have died off then there will be insufficient protection left for your garlic and it will not store well.  As a rule of thumb, you should consider harvesting when about half of the leaves are green and the other half turning brown and dying off. Garlic is best taken when fresh, although the bulb itself can be treated like any other onion and stored in a dry, cool dark place.

Constituents: volatile oil, mucilage, glucokinins, germanium, sulphur.

Actions:  antiseptic, antimicrobial, diaphoretic, cholagogue, hypotensive, antispasmodic, alternative, anti-catarrhal, carminative, expectorant, pectoral, rubefacient, stimulant, tonic and vulnerary.

Therapeutics: Garlic seems to be a cure-all, its abilities to lower blood cholesterol levels, thin the blood, lower blood pressure and enhance blood circulation, this all makes it the number one for ensuring a healthy heart.  Garlic prevents heart disease, thrombosis and arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)

Digestive infections and gastric upsets are alleviated, and a lowering of blood sugar helps with diabetes. Worms and other intestinal parasites are eradicated by ingesting garlic.

Garlic is invaluable as a preventative against infection, healing wounds, sores, and fungal infections such as athlete’s foot.  Coughs and colds, infections of the chest and lung, asthma, expelling catarrh and reducing sweating when fever is present.   All these are helped by regular intake of garlic.

Garlic is said an aphrodisiac as it increases the blood flow to the lower part of the abdomen, therefore, stimulates the hormones and testosterone to perform better in an emotional and a physical way.

Contraindications:  may cause stomach upset.

Garlic should also be used cautiously with other anticoagulant herbs such as ginkgo, ginger and willow. It's also worth mentioning that prescription anticoagulants like warfarin may also be affected by ingesting garlic.

The biggest problem with garlic is the smell, it not only makes the breath smell of garlic but if enough is eaten it also leaks through the pores, which isn’t surprising when we realise its effect on the bloodstream.  This is caused by alliin which is converted to allicin by the action of the enzyme allinase.  When raw garlic is cut, broken, or chewed, the "fragrant" allicin releases its powerful essential oil.  When cooked, garlic loses some of its strong odour because the enzyme allinase is destroyed, preventing its conversion to the smelly allicin

Preparation and dosage: 3 cloves a day, eaten raw or can be cooked if roasted garlic doesn’t have the same effect on the breath, yet still retains its health-giving qualities. There are capsules you can buy at health food stores which are odour free, but always read the label and see what else is in them before committing yourself to put them into the body.

Folklore and additional comments: Folklore concerning garlic is often proven fact. In ancient times, people would eat garlic before making a journey at night, it made them belch and gives one a foul breath, believing that evil spirits would not come within the radius of that powerful smell.

The entire ancient world loved garlic, particularly the Egyptians, who used to swear on garlic in much the same way as people swear on the bible today. Egyptian slaves were given a daily ration of garlic, as it was believed to ward off illness and increase strength and endurance. During the reign of King Tut, fifteen pounds of garlic would buy a healthy male slave.   And when King Tut's tomb was excavated, there were bulbs of garlic found scattered throughout the rooms

The Greeks had ideas of their own on the virtues of garlic. Greek athletes would take copious amounts of garlic before the competition, and Greek soldiers would consume garlic before going into battle. It became custom for Greek midwives to hang garlic cloves in birthing rooms to keep the evil spirits away. As the centuries passed, this ancient custom became commonplace in most European homes.

Hippocrates (300BC) recommended garlic for infections, wounds, cancer, leprosy, and digestive disorders. Dioscorides praised it for its use in treating heart problems, and Pliny listed the plant in 61 remedies for a wide variety of ailments ranging from the common cold to leprosy, epilepsy and tapeworm.

During World War 1, the Russian army used garlic to treat wounds incurred by soldiers on the Front Line. Although Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin in 1928 largely replaced garlic at home, the war effort overwhelmed the capacity of most antibiotics, and garlic was again the antibiotic of choice.  Red Army physicians relied so heavily on garlic that it became known as the "Russian Penicillin".

Garlic’s name of originates from the Anglo Saxon ‘gar’ meaning ‘lance’ and ‘leac’ meaning ‘pot herb’. Garlic traditionally warded off vampires, witches and evil spells. It may be possible that 8th century BCE Greek poet Homer, who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey, set the stage that elevated garlic's powers. During Odysseus's long journey, he encounters the goddess Circe, who uses sorcery to turn men into pigs. Hermes warns Odysseus not to eat the Moly, a plant in the garlic family, saving him from the fate of his companions.

Garlic's reputation as a protector from evil touches nearly every continent. In Mohammed's writings, he equates garlic with Satan when he describes the feet of the Devil as he was cast out of the Garden of Eden. Where his left foot touched the earth, garlic sprang up, while onion emerged from the footprint of his right foot.

Though many ancient cultures recognised garlic's curative abilities, they were unable to comprehend its components. The "cure" was attributed to garlic's ‘magic’.

Legend has made Transylvania the home of the vampires, and what better way to keep them away than with garlic, lots of it.  When diseases caused by mosquito bites were considered "The touch of the vampire," garlic came in handy as a mosquito repellent. Recent research reveals garlic is quite effective in keeping mosquitoes at bay. It’s easy to see how such lore came into being, vampires are said to suck blood and so do mosquitos.

Garlic's synonym of ‘poor man’s treacle’ doesn’t seem to have any explanation or origin, except perhaps that Garlic is a treatment for many of the ills of poor people, and ‘treacle’ having the meaning of ‘something sweet’, put these two together and it may be where the synonym came from.