Growing Garlic: From Harvesting to Using

Pungent aroma, potent flavor and powerful medicinal qualities make garlic a great choice for your garden and diet.

| September/October 2014

I remember a long-distance call with my mother a few years ago during which she gushed about my 3-year-old nephew. She was telling me how much he still enjoyed being cuddled and then paused.

“But,” she hesitated, “Frequently the smell of garlic coming off of him is almost overwhelming. He just loves the stuff!” My nephew has eaten a plant-based diet since he has been on solid food and he is one of the healthiest kids I know. Instinctively, he knew that garlic was one of the world’s superfoods.

Garlic lovers know how good this member of the Amaryllidaceae family tastes in myriad preparations. If you are not a fan of garlic, chances are you just haven’t tried it in a way that suits your tastebuds.

A Brief History of Garlic

Garlic may be the original wonder drug. Remains of the plant have been found in caves used by humans 10,000 years ago. A Sumerian clay tablet dated from 3000 B.C. contains a chiseled prescription for garlic. Its use was widespread throughout the ancient world from southern Europe to China, and the herb was revered by both the Egyptians and Greeks for its ability to ward off disease and increase strength. During World War I, garlic was used to treat wounded soldiers’ infections as well as amoebic dysentery. Over the last century, scientists have confirmed the antibiotic properties of garlic through numerous studies illustrating its effectiveness against diverse fungal, bacterial, viral and yeast strains.

Growing Garlic

Affectionately known as “the stinking rose” for obvious reasons, garlic comprises a multisegmented bulb, each of which is called a clove, and thin green leaves that typically grow between 1 and 2 feet tall. At the height of summer, small white or pink flowers appear on the plant. Many varieties of garlic are available to grow from bulb or clove. A study conducted by the USDA’s National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation assessed 211 varieties including Allium longicuspis, wild garlic found in Central Asia from which A. sativum (or common garlic) is descended. The study confirmed that, while various sources often give the same type of garlic a different name, there is actually substantial diversity in chemical composition in the garlic family.

Science aside, gardeners can simply remember that these genetically similar yet unique plants can be categorized as “hardneck” and “softneck” types. Hardnecks are considered more aromatic and flavorful, and they grow edible flower stalks called scapes. Softnecks are commonly sold in grocery stores due to their longer shelf life. Both are easy to grow and make a wonderful addition to any garden.

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