A Short History of Garlic

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Garlic: 5,000 years of health benefits and other magic

For over 5,000 years, garlic has been used as food, medicine, an aphrodisiac, currency, and magic potions.

Garlic warded off the evil eye, gave strength and courage to Greek athletes and warriors, protected maidens and pregnant women from harm, and was rubbed on door frames to keep out blood thirsty vampires. Garlic clove pendants hung around the neck protected you from the sharp horns of a bull, warded off local witches and kept away the plague.

Worshipped by the Egyptians as a god, garlic was also used as local currency, and to pay and feed workers and slaves on the great pyramids.

Well-preserved garlic cloves were found in the tomb of Tutankhamen (ruler 1334 BCE – 1325 BCE). Such was the importance of garlic to workers building the pyramids that garlic shortages caused work stoppages. When the garlic crop failed after the Nile flooded, Egyptian slaves were moved to revolt; slave revolts were only recorded twice in Egyptian history.

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, used garlic for pulmonary complaints, as a cleansing or purgative agent, and for abdominal growths.

In India, the medical text Charaka-Samhita (900 BCE – 600 BCE) reveals garlic was used to treat heart disease and arthritis.

Some deemed garlic too pungent for religious institutions. Greeks wishing to enter the temple of Cybele had to pass a garlic breath test. Those who ate garlic were not allowed entry. In ancient India, the upper crust denied themselves the pleasure of the pungent herb because of its strong smell and association with commoners. In England, garlic breath was also deemed entirely unsuitable for refined young ladies and the gentlemen who wished to court them.

Modern science is tending to concur with many of the beliefs of ancient cultures regarding garlic, with many studies confirming garlic’s powerful anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and potential for disease prevention and treatment.

7 easy steps to harvesting your own garlic

If you haven’t planted your garlic yet, it may not be too late to get in the garden, or invest in some new pots. Garlic is best planted during Autumn and Winter. Here are 7 easy steps to get your crop from planting to harvest:

  1. Plant garlic cloves with the base plate down and the pointy end just below the surface of the soil.
  2. Space them about 15 centimetres apart with 30 centimetres between rows if planting in bulk.
  3. Don’t water until the plants have germinated. Keep the soil moist, during the growing season but don’t over water.
  4. Over winter, give them two applications of a complete fertiliser and in the first warm days of spring, give them a nitrogen-based fertiliser. Garlic has a very dense surface root system that can dry out quickly and is easily damaged by cultivation.
  5. The garlic bed should be kept as weed-free as possible so generous mulching after planting is essential.
  6. Six months after planting, reduce watering, as an overmoist soil can lead to rotting bulbs.
  7. When the tops start to yellow, the neck of the bulb starts to get soft and papery and the plant has about four or five green leaves left it is time to harvest. These leaves form the “tissue-paper” covering of the bulb. Allow to dry in a dry place and you will have a supply of home grown goodness to boost your health over the coming months.

Article adapted from RCA’s Quarterly Evolve Magazine Winter 2015. To subscribe to Evolve, visit our homepage – and follow the prompts.

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