Thursday, April 7, 2011

Allium sativum - Garlic

Allium sativum - Garlic, is a species in the onion family, its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, and chive.  The name is of Anglo-Saxon origin, being derived from gar (a spear) and lac (a plant), in reference to the shape of its leaves.  It is of such antiquity as a cultivated plant, that it is difficult with any certainty to trace the country of its origin, though it is thought to be descendant from the species Allium longicuspis, which grows wild in central and southwestern Asia.

As a medicinal herb garlic is used as a metabolic regulator, expectorant, vasodilatory, antitoxic, gentle antibiotic and antiseptic.  It is believed to help in preventing infectious diseases, gangrene and sepsis along with heart disease and cancer, and also thought to help control leprosy. Garlic has been used for chronic bronchitis, bronchial and lung infections, flu, pneumonia convalescence, ulcerous sores, and worms. 

Garlic has also been used for severe gastrointestinal infections, dysentery, typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis, leprosy, colds, thrush, various infections in the mouth and throat, high cholesterol, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, susceptibility to strokes, jaundice, flatulence, improved assimilation of vitamin B-1 (thiamine), malignant conditions, coronary and anginal conditions, phlebitis, varicose ulcers, and blood sugar levels.

Garlic is known to kill 60 types of fungi and yeast, such as athlete’s foot and vaginitis. A modern herbal remedy states that one clove of garlic inserted into the entrance of the vagina, will alleviate itching from a yeast infection. This treatment is said to work much better than over-the-counter anti-itch medicines.

Garlic has been used as food and medicine in many cultures for thousands of years, dating as far back as when the pyramids of Giza were built.  The Egyptians worshiped it and placed clay models of garlic bulbs in the tomb of Tutankhamen.  It was so highly-prized, it was used as currency.

Its use by the pyramid builders, who believed that it gave them strength, is inscribed on the Great Pyramid of Cheops. The only slave revolt in Egypt (beside the Jewish Exodus) was by laborers over a lack of garlic when the Nile flooded the garlic fields one year.  In the Egyptian "Ebers Codex," written in 1550 B.C., there were 22 different medical formulations that included garlic. 

The ancient Israelites were fond of garlic long before Moses led them out of Egypt. In the Mishnah, a collection of Jewish traditions incorporated into the Talmud, the ancient Hebrew writers refer to themselves as "the garlic eaters." In the Bible (Numbers 11:5), still on their way to the Promised Land, the Jews lamented the absence of garlic, as well as other foods from Egypt.

The Greeks used garlic to bring strength to their athletes at the Olympic games.  In India it was valued for its medicinal properties and was believed to be an aphrodisiacHildegard of Bingen advocated raw garlic to heal the sick. The London College of Physicians recommended it for the great plague in 1665.  And English physician, Sydenham, used garlic around the same time to cure small pox.

In 1858, Louis Pasteur observed garlic's antibacterial activity, and it was used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene during World War I and World War II. More recently, it has been found from a clinical trial that a mouthwash containing 2.5% fresh garlic shows good antimicrobial activity, although the majority of the participants reported an unpleasant taste and halitosis.  Garlic is an effective way to prevent scurvy, because of its high vitamin C content and it enhances thiamine absorption thereby reducing the development of the thiamine deficiency beriberi.

Garlic was used throughout World War I to treat battle wounds and to cure dysentery. During World War II, garlic was known as "Russian penicillin" because it was so effective in treating wound infections when adequate antibiotics were not available.

Garlic has been regarded as a force for both good and evil.  The ancient Greeks placed Garlic on top of piles of stones at crossroads, as an offering for the goddess Hecate.  The Romans believed that it could repel scorpions.  Before mating with mortal women, Korean gods fed them black garlic to bless them with supernatural powers and immortality. It was once thought that hanging garlic bulbs on doors would stop the spread of smallpox.

Garlic is mentioned in the Bible and the Talmud. Hippocrates, Galen, Pliny the Elder, and Dioscorides all mention the use of garlic for many conditions, including parasites, respiratory problems, poor digestion, and low energy. Its use in China was first mentioned in A.D. 510.  A Islamic myth states that when Satan stepped out from the Garden of Eden after the fall of man, Garlic sprang up from his left footprint, and Onion from his right footprint.  Ulysses owed his escape to garlic which prevented him from being changed into a pig by Circe.

A superstition in Europe, says that if a morsel of the bulb is chewed by a man running a race, it will prevent his competitors from getting ahead of him.  Hungarian jockeys sometimes fasten a clove of Garlic to their horse's bits, in the belief that other racers coming close to them will fall back the instant they smell the offensive odour.

More recent folklore attributes garlic's power to repelling vampires, protecting against the evil eye, and warding off evil nymphs that terrorize pregnant women. Central European folklore considered garlic a powerful ward against demons, werewolves, and vampires, although, some new information states that it is actually the garlic flower that repels vampires. 

Garlic is easy to grow and nearly all garlic cultivation is done by planting individual cloves in the ground.  The soil may be sandy, loam or clay, though Garlic flourishes best in a rich, moist, sandy soil. Dig over well, freeing the ground from all lumps and dig some lime into it.

Divide the bulbs into their component cloves and put them in separately, about 2 inches deep and about 6 inches apart, but garlic plants can be grown close together, as long as you leave enough room for the bulbs to mature, and they are easily grown in containers of sufficient depth.  When selecting garlic for planting, it is important to pick large heads to separate cloves from. Large cloves will also improve head size, along with proper spacing in the planting bed.

Garlic plants prefer to grow in a soil with a high organic material content, but it is capable of growing in a wide range of soil conditions and pH levels.Garlic beds should be in a sunny spot.  They must be kept thoroughly free from weeds and the soil gathered up round the roots.

When planted early in the spring, in February or March, the bulbs should be ready for lifting in August, when the leaves will be beginning to wither. Should the summer have been wet and cold, they may probably not be ready till nearly the middle of September.

Garlic plants are usually very hardy, and are not attacked by many pests or diseases. Garlic plants are said to repel rabbits and moles, making it a good companion plant.

Resources include:

Amazing Herbs:
A Modern Herbal:

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