This pungent member of the Amaryllis Family (Amaryllidaceae), which includes beautiful blooming flowers like the daffodil, as well as members of garlic’s own genus (Allium), such as onions, leeks, and shallots, is thought to have originated in central Asia, south Asia, northeast Iran, or even possibly southwest Siberia. Garlic (Allium sativum), while experiencing a rise in popularity in the past century, is definitely not the new kid on the block, and in fact has been utilized for over 5,000 years. The Romans and Greeks used it to build strong soldiers and athletes, ward off illness and evil, and flavor numerous culinary dishes. Garlic was even worshipped by the Egyptians at one time and documented in ancient Indian and Chinese writings.
Garlic is an easily grown garden plant and can be sown in the spring as soon as the ground is workable. However, fall plantings are usually recommended as they give you larger and more flavorful bulbs. Garlic is frost tolerant, but will need to planted 6 weeks prior to the first expected fall frost date in your area. Planting at this time will ensure the ground is unfrozen and that the garlic has had time to develop roots, but not enough growth time to emerge above ground before temperatures drop below freezing. Cover the garlic with straw during the winter and remove it in the spring once the threat of frost has passed. If any flowering shoots emerge, trim them off so the bulb size isn’t reduced.
Prior to planting your garlic, break apart the bulb into the separate cloves, but do not remove the husks. When you go to plant, find a location in full sun with a well-drained, very slightly acidic loamy soil. Sow individual cloves with root facing down and the pointed end facing up. Plant approximately 6”apart and 2”deep. Water your garlic 1-2 times per week as they begin to emerge.
Garlic is a natural pest repellent and usually doesn’t succumb to insect invasions. Plus, garlic can help other vegetables ward off pesky pests by utilizing companion planting. One thing that garlic can suffer from is rot. However, rot can be avoided by keeping your garden neat, tidy, and well ventilated. Rotating your crops can help prevent this as well.
When you notice the tops starting to discolor and fall over, your garlic is ready to be removed from the garden. To harvest, carefully loosen the soil around the bulb with a garden fork and gently pull the garlic up and out. Brush off the soil and place the garlic in a well ventilated, shady location for 2-3 weeks to allow it to cure. You will be able to tell if bulbs are cured and ready for storage when the husks are papery and the roots are dry and hard. Store the garlic in a cool, dark, and dry location. Note that the flavor of your garlic will intensify as the bulbs dry.
From one clove (3 grams) of garlic you will receive 4 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0.2 grams of protein, and 1 gram of carbohydrates. Garlic is an excellent source of manganese and a good source of Vitamins C and B-6. Garlic also provides many of the other B Vitamins and various minerals. However, since garlic is consumed in such small quantities the nutrients it does provide are somewhat negligible, unless eaten often and/or in larger doses.
Garlic’s greatest health benefit is that it can ward of vampires…ok, so maybe that one isn’t quite true. However, garlic can boost the immune system, prevent bone loss, reduce inflammation, and help prevent heart disease by lowering blood pressure. Garlic can, due to its antioxidant capabilities, help prevent cognitive decline, including the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Garlic has also been used to enhance athletic performance by reducing heart rate. One other benefit to garlic is that it can help detoxify the body of heavy metals such as lead.
Most of garlic’s benefits come from the fact that it contains sulfur compounds called allium and allyl disulfide that when chopped, chewed, or crushed, can convert to allicin. This enzymatic activation is important because it helps our bodies eliminate cancer-causing cells, regulate insulin, and reduce possible blood vessel stiffness, which would normally lead to high blood pressure, untimely blood clotting, coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular diseases, and stroke.
With all the wonderful things garlic has to offer, it’s great to include in a variety of recipes such as potatoes, sauces, and salad dressings. As you add it to your favorite recipes the dosing is up to you. Add a little or a lot depending how much garlic flavor you want to come through. One thing I love adding garlic to is a hearty stew. I enjoy a nice robust Irish stew loaded with garlic to intensify the flavor. Here’s a recipe I like making for friends and family. It goes best when served over mashed potatoes!
Garlic & Stout Beef Stew
5 slices bacon – cut into 1” pieces
5 cloves garlic – smashed and minced
2 pounds beef stew meat
3 medium carrots – coarsely chopped
3 stalks celery – coarsely chopped
2 medium onion – coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups broth
1 – 14oz can diced tomatoes with juices
1 can/bottle of an Irish stout beer
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
In a large stock pot or Dutch oven cook bacon until done but not crispy
Remove bacon and reserve to add in later
Place garlic in pot and cook in bacon grease until fragrant
Add stew meat and salt and pepper and cook until pieces are seared on all sides
Add the remaining ingredients, including bacon, and bring to a boil (meat and vegetables should be covered with liquid)
Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally
Ladle into bowls (preferably with over mashed potatoes), top with cheese if desired, and enjoy!
Garlic is such a wonderful vegetable to have around for many reasons. It grows so easily in the garden and adds such a flavorful highlight to many dishes. It has a wealth of health benefits and can be easily stored for use at a moment’s notice. So whether it is fall or spring where you are, plant a little garlic and enjoy a great many gorgeous garlic gains!
Choose My Plate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. SuperTracker. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-supertracker
University of Maine Cooperative Extension. University of Maine. Cooperative Extension Agriculture. Garlic. https://extension.umaine.edu/agriculture/garlic/