Garlic is a power plant. The myths and lore surrounding it, tarring its reputation, or instead – and most often – celebrating its merits, have been building up around the world for over seven millenniums. It’s so powerful that it’s rumored to have triggered the first labor strike, when during the construction of the Egyptian pyramids, the builders’ daily garlic ration was removed, causing the workers to put down their tools in protest. It’s so powerful that there is a word – Alliumphobia – for those that fear it. Its influence is so strong, that some Hindu and Buddhist monks avoid it, so as not to stimulate their aggressive desires or be tempted by its aphrodisiac qualities. It’s so celebrated that here in the Hudson Valley, we have a whole festival devoted it, and we’re not unique in that phenomenon. To the home gardener, garlic is a gastronomic savior, the cure-all that instantly adds great flavor to nearly anything; an indispensable medicine in the home apothecary; and a fairly easy crop to grow.
Garlic, Allium sativum, is native to central Asia, and can now be found growing all around the world, with over 300 varieties in cultivation today. China is by far the largest producer of garlic, accounting for about 77% percent of commercially grown garlic globally. In the United States, as with so many vegetables, most garlic found in grocery stores hails from California.
Medicine: Garlic’s rich culinary footprint across the world is rivaled only by its powerful medicinal properties. It is a natural antibiotic, and is perhaps best known in helping the body fight viruses, bacterial or fungal infections, parasites, and harmful microbes. During World War II, it was popular as an antiseptic wound dressing on the battlefields. It also said to aid in lowering cholesterol blood pressure, preventing blood clots, lowering the risk of heart disease, reducing rheumatoid arthritis pain, shrinking some cancerous tumors, the list goes on and on.
Garlic is generally rich in nutrients – namely, B vitamins, an array of minerals and amino acids, and other immune system boosters – so regularly including it in one’s diet is one of the most delicious example of food as medicine. Do keep in mind, though, that its medicinal properties are at the most potent when the bulb is raw, crushed, and allowed to sit out for ten minutes before consumption, to allow it to release more allicin. Allicin is one of garlic’s active medicinal components and interestingly, the amount of it does not vary across varieties. It can, however, change drastically based on the type of soil and environment the bulb is grown in: a strong argument for building healthy soils!
In the garden: Many insects do not get along with garlic, and deer and rabbits are also repelled by its smell, making it a great companion plant for both the gardener’s comfort in the field and critter-favorite crops.
Growing: Garlic is best planted in the fall and harvested the next summer. Our favorite, organic, hardneck garlic varieties for planting are now available in our catalog! For detailed growing instructions, take a look at our Garlic Growing Guide.
Harvesting: To learn the tricks for easy and successful harvesting, curing, and storing, take a look at our Garlic Harvest Guide.
Food: Garlic is a magical ingredient, adding great flavor to wherever it lands in a meal. It’s antimicrobial properties make garlic a welcome ingredient in any preserved food – like pickles or fermented foods. Raw, it adds sharpness to dressings and sauces, cooked – its flavors mellow and sweeten, making it a perfect addition to stir-fries, soups, grains, pastas, savory pies and breads. My favorite way to celebrate a fresh garlic harvest is by roasting whole heads and then squeezing the caramelized, creamy mush onto crusty bread. All the recipe calls for is salt, oil, and an oven, but the result is memorable. Here’s how to do it:
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Rinse off any soil that might be stuck to the bulb, keep the papery husk intact
- With a sharp knife, slice of the top half inch of the garlic head, so the tips of individual cloves are exposed
- Drizzle an oven-safe container (cookie sheet, pie pan, etc), drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, then roll the garlic head in this mixture to coat, before placing it cut side down in the container
- Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the cloves are soft and the cut tips golden brown.
- Let it cool for a few minutes, then simply squeeze out the individual cloves from their papery skins directly onto toast. Voila!
Hardneck garlic varieties produce a flower stalk – called a scape – which can be harvested in late spring, giving gardeners a lovely preview of the later, summer bulb harvest. To learn all about harvesting and cooking with the great garlic scape, take a look at our article here.
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