Do You Know Your Garlic?

We have been growing garlic for 10 years now, starting out as just a crop to include in the garden, and growing into being part of our business. As I continued to grow garlic, and select various varieties to grow, I started learning some interesting facts about the pungent spice.

I read somewhere that garlic is the third most popular spice in the world, next to salt and pepper. I also read that garlic isn’t a spice it’s an herb, and read that garlic is neither, it is a vegetable. Regardless what category you put it in, it has been used since 4,000 B.C. The garlic we use today is the domesticated sterile version of a wild plant found somewhere in Mesopotamia or possibly central Asian steps, northern Iran or Tibet.

Hard Neck Garlic and Soft Neck Garlic

There are two main types of garlic, hard neck garlic and soft neck garlic, and from those two types you can find something along the lines of 400 varieties. Hard neck garlics have a hard center stalk that the scapes form on, the scape is the false flower stalk that appears in spring. The scape is edible, we cook it like asparagus for a side dish in the spring, sautéed in oil with a little salt and pepper. Hard neck garlics contain fewer cloves, however the cloves are much larger in comparison to the soft neck varieties. The flavor of the hard necks is stronger, ranging from a potent but mild flavor to strong spicy flavor. They tend to not store as long as soft necks.

The soft neck garlics in contrast don’t have the scape or hard center stalk, this is the garlic that you see braded most of the time. They tend to have smaller individual cloves but more of them per bulb. Although some varieties can be strong, in comparison, the soft necks tend to be more mild flavored than the hard necks. Soft necks can be stored much longer than the hard necks, and tend to grow better in warmer climates. The hard necks like the cooler climates.

A Brief World History of Garlic

The earliest known references to garlic use was in Egypt. Fed mostly to the laborers, possibly to maintain health and strength to keep them productive. Not much seems to be know about its use in the elite classes, however garlic was found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb. The Codex Ebers is one of the earliest sources indicating use of garlic as medicine. The Egyptians seem to have used garlic for abnormal growths, circulatory ailments and infestations of insects and parasites.

Excavations of Greek Temples have unearthed garlic dating back to 1800 B.C. Greek soldiers were fed garlic to provide courage and probably, as with the laborers, to increase strength and stamina. The earliest Olympians ate garlic before competition, likely as a performance enhancing food. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, advocated the use of garlic for pulmonary complaints, as a purgative agent and for abdominal growths.

Romans also considered garlic as a strength and endurance aid. Soldiers and sailors consumed it and it was part of a ships manifest. Dioscorides, chief physician for Nero’s army, wrote treatise that included garlic as a treatment for circulatory aid, gastrointestinal tract issues, animal bites and issues with joints.

China and Japan show garlic being used around 2000 B.C. as a food preservative, and medicine. Garlic was used to aid respiration and digestion and for parasites. Fatigue, headache and insomnia were also treated with garlic.

India has used garlic as far back as written records go there. It was used for infections, parasites, weakness and fatigue and digestive issues.

The middle ages of Europe via the monks, applied the medicinal uses of garlic learned from Romans. During the Renaissance, attention was paid to medical uses of plans, and garlic was one of the major plants grown for medical use. Again, as with other cultures in the past, garlic was prescribed for digestive issues, infestations of parasites, and other issues.

In the above descriptions I focused mainly on the medicinal uses of garlic. There where spiritual and superstitious uses applied to garlic throughout the cultures as well. Many of the cultures did not allow garlic to be on temple grounds, or they believed that it repelled evil spirits. What I find most interesting in this research is how similar the uses where in multiple cultures over thousands of years. This makes me think there must be something to it, otherwise the uses and beliefs would surely have died out over the years.

Weather you believe in the medicinal uses, or the spiritual value of this plant, or maybe just love the flavors that it provides, there is no doubt that garlic has played a small role in the development of civilization throughout the years.

I do hope you have enjoyed this little snippet of garlic history, if you find yourself craving the robust flavors of fresh garlic in your meals, or need to ward off some evils spirits please visit and consider our hard neck garlic options, you could enjoy the flavors of a plant with a 5,000 year lineage!

We do hope you continue to join us on this adventure! Please feel free to leave a comment, visit our website and visit us on FB. Until next time, be a good neighbor.