“Let thy Food be thy Medicine.” Hippocrates was spot-on when it comes to choosing the best herbal medicines. He was all about preventing illness from the get-go. Garlic is one Medicinal Foods you don’t want to do without.
Garlic and Onion as Herbal Medicine
Garlic and Onion are generally lumped together when Herbalists talk about their medicinal properties. They’ve share a lot of similarities mainly because they’re close cousins within the Allium family. Both are anti-bacterial, diuretic, and hypotensive, meaning they’re good for preventing colds and flus, can help get the bladder moving when needed, and they protect the heart by lowering or regulating blood pressure.
Garlic has stronger anti-microbial properties than does onion and it tends to improve the potency of medicines. If you’re taking medicines of any sort and choose to begin eating more garlic than before, you may want to have your medicinal levels checked with a medical professional, because garlic can help those medicines have a stronger effect on your body than they did without this weedy herb.
Is Culinary Garlic the same as Wild Garlic?
Humans have cultivated garlic for more than 6000 years. The earliest records of cultivated garlic, now widely known as the culinary garlic with which we’re quite familiar, date from central Asia where it was likely used as it is today for it’s hot, dry, and disbursing qualities.
Culinary Garlic, aka Allium sativum, shares many medicinal properties with Wild Garlic, which goes by a host of names. Allium ursinum, A. canadense, A. drummondii, A. oleraceum, and A. paradoxum are just a few of the many species of Alliums dubbed Wild Garlic. A quick search online will turn up a number of similar species.
Garlic and Onions have made their homes across the globe. If you’re out and about foraging, you’ll likely run into a bit of Garlic or Onion growing wild. Either make good eating, but if you’d like to know which you’ve found, check out This Video for the key id elements to look for.
How to Grow Garlic
If you’re more interested in cultivating your own, Garlic is easy enough to grow. It’s happy growing as a perennial in moderate climates year-round and grows as an annual in colder climates with relative ease.
Folks living in climates with winters that freeze do well to plant garlic cloves deeper in the ground shortly before the freeze so they’ll sprout in spring. Folks in moderate climates can plant at any point, although giving your garlic a short period in the refrigerator to replicate a wintering-over environment is wise. Garlic likes a little cold before it germinates and will produce bigger, juicier heads as a result, but once it’s sprouted it prefers shelter from frosty conditions.
Seeds vs Cloves: The Best Way to Grow Garlic
You can grow garlic from seeds or from cloves. Cloves are the more common method across North America. Technically speaking, growing garlic from cloves is cloning or using asexual reproduction to produce more garlic. Most varieties of garlic will grow easily from cloves, although there can be subtle differences between parents and offspring of garlic grown from cloves.
Fewer varieties of garlic produce seeds, making seed-grown garlic less common from the get-go. Garlic seeds are fairly easy to sprout. Sow them as you would onion seeds, lightly in loose, well-drained soil. Once they’ve sprouted, plant them out as you would onion sets, leaving enough space between sprouts for heads to form. If you want to really get into propagating garlic from seed, This Site has a wonderful and in-depth article on the merits of this endeavor with tips for growing a healthy crop of seed-grown garlic year after year.
Types of Garlic
Garlic cloves for growing or eating comes in three basic forms: Hardneck, Softneck, and Elephant.
Elephant Garlic, A. ampeloprasum, is the variety with the largest cloves. Heads of elephant garlic can be as large as a bowl, although the ones I’ve grown and been gifted from farming friends have typically been about the size of a closed fist or a baseball. They typically have just a few cloves per head. The flavor of elephant garlic is less intense and pungent than that of hardneck or softneck garlic varieties. Often it’s described as sweet with a hint of pungency. My own experience is that elephant garlic has a mildly pungent flavor with hints of a smokiness or earthiness hardneck and softneck varieites lack.
Softneck Garlic is the type I grew up with because it’s the variety that’s most common in grocery stores across North America. It, like hardneck garlic, is a variety of A. sativum. Softneck is a reliable storage garlic, typically lasting up to 8 months or more given the right conditions; a cool and dry cabinet is perfect. If you’re looking to grow garlic from seeds, you’ll most likely choose a softneck variety. The flavor of softneck garlic varieties is the classically pungent, slightly spicy garlic flavor that predominates the culinary scene today. Softneck garlic heads are about the same size as those of hardneck varieties and have between 10 and 20 cloves. Often, softneck cloves vary in size, with the smallest being at the center of the head and the largest around the outside.
Hardneck garlic is the Artisan garlic you’ll find in specialty shops and at good Farmer’s Markets. It’s got a flavor that’s more complex than either softneck or Elephant Garlic, often described as more sweet and mild. This is the garlic that many Western European elders grew up growing in their parents’ and grandparents’ gardens. Hardneck garlic keeps reasonably well, although rarely beats softneck’s 8-month expectations. Hardneck garlic heads are of similar size to those of softneck but they generally have fewer cloves that are more uniform in size. Expect about 10 cloves from each hardneck head you grow or procure.
Herbal Nerd Society Members…Look for more articles on Garlic as Herbal Medicine this month.