An ancient plant, closely related to the onion, leek, shallot and the herb chives. It has long been used as medicine as well as a food. Essentially the medicinal qualities are because of the large number of sulphur containing compounds, and in particular, allicin.
Allicin is well known as an antibiotic, anti fungal and anti viral substance. it is also responsible for the reduction (partially at least) of high blood pressure. During the First World War it was used as an antiseptic, macerated into field dressings to treat wounds.
During periods of plague a substance known as four thieves vinegar was used to fight the bacterial infection. It was said to be used by four thieves who robbed dead bodies, but didn’t actually become ill. They said it was because of this concoction:
Take three pints of strong white wine vinegar, add a handful of each of wormwood, meadowsweet, wild marjoram and sage, fifty (garlic) cloves, two ounces of campanula roots, two ounces of angelic, rosemary and horehound and three large measures of champhor. Place the mixture in a container for fifteen days, strain and express then bottle. Use by rubbing it on the hands, ears and temples from time to time when approaching a plague victim.
It contained anti flea properties as well as antibacterial.
Garlic has been used in cooking since it was discovered in Central Asia. There is evidence for its use in Egypt from 3200 BC, but was probably used before that. It came to Europe during the Crusades, and was quickly incorporated into medicines and food.
Cooking with garlic
Whereas it is possible to eat garlic raw, mostly it is cooked in many ways. Not used in the classic mirepoix (onion, carrot and celery), garlic is however used along with onion as the starting base for many dishes.
The aroma of garlic does not appear until the garlic is damaged in some way, so most preparation consists of the removal of the skin and the crushing of the corm inside.
(Botanically speaking, garlic cloves are not cloves at all, but corms, though we do use the term cloves, and everyone knows what is meant by it.)
Once crushed, the garlic is chopped finely. Anywhere between 1 and 5 garlic ‘cloves’ is usual for flavouring oil when making stews, meats and many sauce based dishes.
Do not have the oil too hot, and add plenty for finely chopped onion, not letting wither the onion or the garlic burn or brown – when it can become quite bitter.
Garlic is used to flavour vinegars and salad dressings, usually crushed and chopped finely or pounded or blitzed in a food processor.
Examples include aioli (with mayonnaise), pesto (with basil) and hummus (with chick pas and sesame). Recipes for these will appear on Kitchen Newbie soon.
Garlic can be roasted whole or mixed with other roasting vegetables. A combination of tomatoes, onions, garlic, aubergines, peppers, chillies, almost anything you like, roasted and then topped onto a pizza base is completely wonderful.
You can also add garlic cloves to roasting vegetables for a roast dinner (UK – Sunday Dinner) you can push cloves into the meat you are roasting. Or simply cut a whole head in half and roast them.
You can crush and chop garlic finely, sprinkle a little salt on a chopping board and use the flat of a knife to bring it to a paste, then add to butter and make buttered garlic bread. The other end of the spectrum is simply to cut a garlic clove in half and rub on the bread. Subtle but really lovely when toasted.
In temperate climates the very best garlic is grown from special varieties bred for the cooler climate. ‘Solent Wight’, ‘Chesnock Wight’, ‘Early Purple Wight’ are some examples of plants that do well.
plant them from November to January in reasonably good soil and they simply look after themselves. It is east to have garlic all over the garden and always have a supply!
Keep them weed free and harvest at the end of the summer, when they need to be kept dry to dry out – they need a good coating of papery like leaves.