native to: central Asia
in season here: late summer-fall
One of the best-known benefits of garlic is prevention of high blood pressure. It does this by providing alliin, which keeps blood vessels from contracting, and (according to more recent research) because red blood cells use the polysulfides in garlic to make hydrogen sulfide gas that helps blood vessels expand. Not all garlic extracts have the sulfur compounds for this second effect, so you’re better off eating garlic in your food and putting up with garlic breath. To help mitigate the problem, encourage all your friends and family to eat garlic, too; if they smell of it, they’re less likely to smell it. Some less-known effects of garlic include improving iron metabolism, lowering cholesterol, preventing blood clots, and just possibly reducing the number of fat cells the body produces, a side effect of its anti-inflammatory properties (apparently researchers have decided that obesity is characterized by chronic low-grade inflammation; who knew?).
There are lots of flavonoids in there too, along with selenium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, germanium, and vitamins B1, B6 and C, and it’s an anti-oxidant and anti-arthritic. It can even help reduce airway inflammation during allergic reactions (but you should still keep your medication on hand…). Its anti-cancer properties include inhibiting carcenogen formation during high-temperature cooking of meat. There’s also some interesting research being done on the antimicrobial properties of garlic.
Garlic is a member of the Allium family, related to lilies, onions, chives, shallots, and leeks. There are two basic types, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck garlic has a tough central stalk while softneck has a softer leaflike stalk that allows for braiding. Softneck garlic keeps longer, nine months or more, has a larger bulb with more cloves, and is generally milder in flavor. Hardneck garlic is closer to wild garlic and tends to larger cloves, if fewer per bulb, and richer flavor, but will only keep about half a year, if that.
Folklore claims it will bring good luck and ward off evil (including vampires), and that eating raw garlic will prevent colds; and it does in fact boost the immune system. Ancient Egyptians were the first (that we know about) to cultivate garlic, and it was used in the ancient and classical worlds to enhance strength. There was even a Roman dish, called moretum or garlic cheese, that is described in a poem (possibly by Virgil and giving us the national motto “E pluribus unum“) as using four bulbs of garlic — some fifty cloves — in one mortar-full. It was used for millennia for ear infections, cholera, and typhus. In both world wars it was used as a disinfectant, and even now is being used against MRSA.
The longest string of garlic in the world was 123 feet long and contained 1600 garlic bulbs.
label-style nutrition information for raw garlic
Really Garlicky has some home remedies using garlic
The Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog discusses hardneck vs. softneck garlic