Garlic gets its name from the old English ‘gar’ meaning spear (referring to it’s spear shaped leaves) and leac from leek. So spear-leek would be the rough translation from the old English.
Botanically garlic is in the allium family making sense of the second syllable of its name, leek (leac), which along with the onion also belong to this group of pungent plants.
Garlic is thought not to have evolved in the wild but from cultivated Allium longicupis or Wild Garlic, which does grow naturally in central Asia.
Cultivated garlic was used in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt from at least 2000 BC.
It has been found in Egyptian tombs as an ingredient used in embalming and as an offering to the gods. The Greeks and Romans saw garlic as a food that would give strength and workmen and soldiers would use it. A documented Roman hangover cure includes 16 bulbs (not cloves) of garlic boiled in a bucket of wine, mmm lovely.
Garlic has been known to, ‘thin the blood’, much in the same way as fish oils. It can help in lowering blood pressure and evidence is building in its use in lowering blood cholesterol levels.
Garlic is one of my favourite herbs and has to be one of the easiest things that I have grown.
• Buy a garlic bulb (also know as head) from the supermarket, greengrocers or market and plant each individual clove about 5cm (2inches) down and 15cm (6 inches) apart.
• Garlic grows best in hot wet conditions, but try it all year round. (I have only tried in the spring digging up in the summer, but am told that it can grow all year round.
• Ensure that the growing area is weed free.
• Garlic likes water, so if you live in a hot climate you may need to water it a fair amount. Just don’t let it dry out is the common sense approach.
• After about four months you should have some lovely strong garlic, you can tell it is ready when the foliage dies down
• Dig up with a fork to avoid damaging the bulbs..
• Does best when the soil pH is in the 6.2 to 6.8 range.
A note on growing Garlic indoors or in containers
I have tried on two occasions to grow garlic in pots indoors. On both occasions I was unsuccessful. However, I now know what I was doign wrong. The roots on a garlic plant are very fine and the plant will not grow if these are disturbed. On both occasions the containers were too small. James a good friend of mine grows his garlic purely for the shoots so this does not affect him. The shoots can be used in salads for a slightly subtle garlic flavour. I would suggest using a large (30cm. 1ft deep at least) container if you wish to grow garlic bulbs in containers. Good luck.
Drying out Garlic
After you have dug up your garlic you will need to dry it out, I find that it works best to leave it hanging up in a well ventilated room or shed for about 2 weeks. I have used garlic that has only been left to dry for a few days, it is very moist and the flavour is strong. I don’t think that it is poisonous or anything at this stage, but you do loose some of the garlic when you take the skin off.
Very easy to make, just take 3 good sized cloves of garlic crush them and mix with some melted butter and chopped parsley. Cut a french loaf in half and spread the mixture down the middle. Wrap in tin foil and place in the oven for a few minutes until crisp.
Mix all ingredients, thin to desired consistency. Use as you would any shop bought dip, perhaps with chips.
Garlic and Saffron mash
1kg (2.2 pounds) potatoes
100mls full cream milk
2 large cloves of Garlic
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
12 strands of Saffron
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Peel the potatoes and chop them to twice the size of a testicle.
Gently fry the finely crushed garlic for a few mins (neither the garlic nor the butter should melt at all), pour in the milk and add the saffron, pepper and nutmeg. Heat until not quite boiling then leave to infuse for half an hour, whilst the potatoes are boiling.
Add the spuds to the boiling water, simmer for about twenty mins or until a fork easily goes though them. Put them into a colander and leave to steam off for three mins.
Mash the potatoes and the hot mixture together and you should have enough to serve four people.
By Andy Hamilton