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Home Plant Lore Garlic


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Wild Garlic Description and Habitat: Although only the cultivated Garlic is now used medicinally, all of the other species have similar properties in a greater or less degree. Several of the species of Allium are natives of this country:

The CROW GARLIC (A. vineale) is widely distributed and fairly common in many districts but the bulbs are very small and the labour of digging them would be great. It is frequent in pastures and communicates its rank taste to milk and butter when eaten by cows. The FIELD GARLIC (A. oleraceum) is a rather rare plant. Both this and the Crow Garlic have, however, occasionally been employed as potherbs or for flavouring. It is an old country notion that if crows eat Crow Garlic, it stupefies them.

RAMSONS (A. ursinum) (pictured) is the Allium most commonly referred to as ‘Wild’ or Broad-leaved’ Garlic. It grows usually in woods and like Field Garlic, it has very small bulbs which limit its practical use. Ramsons, the wild Wood Garlic, ranks among the most beautiful of our British plants. Its broad leaves are very similar to those of the Lily-of-the-Valley and its star-like flowers are a dazzling white. It flowers between April and June and in many areas of the UK it carpets the ground in woods and sheltered valleys. Walk through it at your peril if you don’t like the smell of garlic!

Synonyms and Common names: Poor man’s treacle.

The common name ‘Garlic’ originates from the Anglo Saxon ‘gar’ meaning ‘lance’ and ‘leac’ meaning ‘pot herb’. Garlic traditionally warded off vampires, evil spirits and evil spells. It may be possible that 8th century BC Greek poet Homer who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey set the stage that elevated garlic's powers. During Odysseus's long journey he encounters the goddess Circe who uses sorcery to turn men into pigs. Hermes warns Odysseus not to eat the Moly, a plant in the garlic family, saving him from the porcine fate of his companions.

Parts used: Only the bulb is used medicinally.

Collection and preparation: In Northern Europe garlic is usually harvested in the summer months, from July to August. The best guide to when to harvest your garlic is to look at the leaves. The base of the leaves will form the layers wrapped around the garlic head once picked. As summer progresses, these leaves will gradually brown and die off. If you harvest too early, the garlic will not be ready. If you leave it too late and too many leaves have died off then there will be insufficient protection left for your garlic and it will not store well. As a rule of thumb you should consider harvesting when about half of the leaves are green and the other half turning brown and dying off. Garlic is best taken when fresh, although the bulb itself can be treated like any other onion and stored in a dry, cool dark place.

Therapeutics: Garlic seems to be a cure all. Its abilities to lower blood cholesterol (fat) levels, thin the blood, lower blood pressure and enhance blood circulation all make it number one for ensuring a healthy heart. This prevents heart disease, thrombosis and arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

It was also used for digestive infections and gastric upsets as well as lowering of blood sugar which is helpful with diabetes. Worms and other intestinal parasites are eradicated by the ingestion of garlic. Garlic is invaluable as a preventative against infection, the healing of wounds and sores and fungal infections such as athletes foot. Coughs and colds, whooping-cough, infections of the chest and lung including bronchitis, asthma and the reduction of sweating in a fever are all helped by regular intake of garlic. New research shows that taking garlic during pregnancy can cut the risk of pre-eclampsia (raised blood pressure and protein retained in the urine). Garlic is also an aphrodisiac as it increases the blood flow to the lower part of the abdomen therefore stimulates the hormones and testosterones to perform better in an emotional and a physical way.

Its use as an antiseptic has long been recognized. During World War 1, the Russian army used garlic to treat wounds incurred by soldiers on the Front Line. Although Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin in 1928 largely replaced garlic at home, the war effort during World War 2 overwhelmed the capacity of most antibiotics and garlic was again the antibiotic of choice. The Red Army physicians relied so heavily on garlic that it became known as the "Russian Penicillin".

It is said to prevent anthrax in cattle, being largely used for the purpose.

In the past, Garlic was used to cure leprosy, epilepsy, rhumatism and smallpox. It formed the principal ingredient in the 'Four Thieves' Vinegar,' which was adapted so successfully in Marseilles for protection against the plague when it prevailed there in 1722. This originated, it is said, with four thieves who confessed that whilst protected by the liberal use of aromatic vinegar during the plague, they plundered the dead bodies of its victims with complete security. It is also said that during an outbreak of infectious fever in certain poor quarters of London, the French priests who constantly used Garlic in all their dishes visited the worst cases with impunity, whilst the English clergy caught the infection, and in many instances fell victims to the disease.

Contraindications: Garlic may cause stomach upset and if ingested by a pregnant woman may cause stomach upset in the child. Garlic should also be used cautiously with other anticoagulant herbs such as ginkgo, ginger and willow. It is also worth mentioning that prescription anticoagulants like warfarin and aspirin may also be affected by ingesting garlic. The biggest problem with garlic is the smell, it not only makes the breath smell of garlic but if enough is eaten it also leaks through the pores.

Folklore and additional comments: In ancient times, people used to eat garlic before making a journey at night. It made them belch and gave them a foul breath and they believed that evil spirits would therefore not come within the radius of that powerful smell. The entire ancient world loved garlic. Garlic was placed by the ancient Greeks (Theophrastus relates) on piles of stones at cross-roads as a supper for Hecate, and according to Pliny, garlic and onion were invocated as deities by the Egyptians at the taking of oaths. Egyptian slaves were given a daily ration of garlic as it was believed to ward off illness and to increase strength and endurance. During the reign of King Tut, fifteen pounds of garlic would buy a healthy male slave. Indeed, when King Tut's tomb was excavated, there were bulbs of garlic found scattered throughout the rooms.

The Greeks had ideas of their own on the virtues of garlic. Greek athletes would take copious amounts of garlic before competition and Greek soldiers would consume garlic before going into battle. It became custom for Greek midwives to hang garlic cloves in birthing rooms to keep the evil spirits away. As the centuries passed, this ancient custom became commonplace in most European homes.

Hippocrates (300BC) recommended garlic for infections, wounds, cancer, leprosy, and digestive disorders. Dioscorides praised it for its use in treating heart problems and Pliny listed the plant in 61 remedies for a wide variety of ailments ranging from the common cold to leprosy, epilepsy and tapeworm.

Garlic's reputation as protector from evil touches nearly every continent. In Mohammed's writings, he equates garlic with Satan when he describes the feet of the Devil as he was cast out of the Garden of Eden. Where his left foot touched the earth, garlic sprang up, while onion emerged from the footprint of his right foot. Though many ancient cultures recognized garlic's curative abilities, they were unable to comprehend its components. The "cure" was attributed to garlic's magic. Legend has made Transylvania the home of the vampires and what better way to keep them away than with garlic. When diseases caused by mosquito bites were thought to be "The touch of the vampire," garlic came in handy as a mosquito repellent. Recent research reveals garlic is quite effective in keeping mosquitoes at bay. Its easy to see how such lore came into being, vampires suck blood and so do mosquito’s.

Horace, however, records his detestation of Garlic, the smell of which, even in his days (as much later in Shakespeare's time), was accounted a sign of vulgarity. He calls it 'more poisonous than hemlock,' and relates how he was made ill by eating it at the table of Maecenas. Among the ancient Greeks, persons who partook of it were not allowed to enter the temples of Cybele.

A writer in the twelfth century - Alexander Neckam - recommends farm labourers to rub Garlic on their lips and noses as a palliative for sunburn and in Cole's Art of Simpling (1656) we are told that if a garden is infested with moles, Garlic or leeks will make them 'leap out of the ground presently.'

There is a curious superstition in some parts of Europe that if a morsel of the bulb is chewed by a man running a race it will prevent his competitors from getting ahead of him. Hungarian jockeys will sometimes fasten a clove of Garlic to the bits of their horses in the belief that any other racers running close to those thus baited will fall back the instant they smell the offensive odour.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 November 2010 19:55  



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