Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Herb of the Week - Garlic

I have been putting off writing about Garlic because I have been trying to decide if it is a real herb or not. It is generally classified as an herb, but all of the other herbs I grow, I use the leaves, or sometimes an occasional flower, whereas when I harvest Garlic, I discard the leaves, and just use the bulb.

But I finally decided that if Chives, which are the smallest member of the onion family are an herb, than it stands to reason that Garlic, the largest member of the onion family must also be an herb.

The Herb Society of America defines herb as: A plant that is valued for it’s flavor, scent, or other qualities.  Based on that definition, I suppose just about everything I grow is an herb.

But there is another reason I chose Garlic this week: tomorrow is National Garlic Day. So today we will celebrate the Herb of the Week Garlic(allium sativum )
Garlic is native to central Asia, but its use spread across the world more than 5000 years ago. It was worshipped by the Egyptians and fed to workers building the Great Pyramid at Giza, about 2600 BC. Greek athletes ate it to build their strength. Garlic came to the Western Hemisphere with some of the first European explorers, and its use spread rapidly. In the United States it was first cultivated in New Orleans by French settlers. Missionaries brought it to California, where it is grown today.
Gilroy California is home of the Annual Garlic Festival, the last week of July, where visitors can try everything from Garlic Aspic to Garlic Zucchini. The recent winner in the garlic cook-off was Spicy Garlic Butter Cookies with Garlic Goat Cheese and Honey. I have included the recipe below.


The word Garlic, near as I can tell comes from the old Anglo Saxon Gar meaning spear and Leac, (leek). The word Leek, at various times in history has defined not only the plant we know as Leeks today, but also any member of the onion family, and any herb with a grasslike appearance, So Gar-Leek would simply be a spear shaped grass, with bonus points given if it belonged to the onion family.

In ancient times, people used to eat garlic before making a journey at night. It made them belch and gives one a foul breath. The primitive belief was that evil spirits would not come within the radius of that powerful smell.  German miners took cloves of garlic with them into the mines to ward off evil spirits. It is no wonder that garlic's Sanskrit name means "slayer of monsters". Throughout other parts of Europe, India, China, Japan and Asia Minor, garlic is used as protection against the evil eye and witchcraft. The Koreans of old ate pickled garlic before passing through a mountain path, believing that tigers disliked it.  According to Islamic tradition, garlic is said to sprout any place where Satan placed his left foot during the time that he was being driven from paradise.

In Cuba, it is believed that if one wears a necklace of 13 garlic cloves for 13 days, jaundice will be cured. In England, nannies used garlic to treat whooping cough by putting it inside children's socks. In parts of Europe, people believe garlic can cure smallpox, leprosy, the plague and other infectious diseases. Also, it is said to prevent dropsy, sunstroke, hysteria and cure intestinal diseases.

Superstition aside, medicinally, Garlic is one of the safest herbs, and as such can be taken often. It does, however, have its drawbacks, as we all know. Bear this in mind when using remedies (especially internal ones), and cut back when family and friends start avoiding you.  Garlic has scientifically-proven medicinal properties. Allicin, has anti-bacterial properties that are equivalent to a weak penicillin. It appears that cooking garlic weakens the anti-bacterial effects considerably, however, so don't count on cooked garlic with meals for much in the way of a curative.

Garlic has been used at times, to treat wounds, ulcers, skin infections, flu, athlete's foot, some viruses, strep, worms, respiratory ailments, high blood pressure, blood thinning, cancer of the stomach, colic, colds, kidney problems, bladder problems, and ear aches, to name a few.

Eating garlic raw is probably the most potent way to take it. However, due to the obvious lingering odors associated with this, a tincture can be made by soaking 1/4 pound of peeled and separated garlic cloves in 1/2 quart of brandy. Seal tightly and shake every day. Strain and bottle after two weeks  If you like it enough to eat it raw, the odds are good that your health will benefit from it.  Current research is showing Garlic will lower bad cholesterol.

To Grow

Garlic, while sometimes getting a bad rap as being too strong or sharp, is one of the most coveted and useful herbs in the garden. There are three primary types of Garlic. Common Garlic, Hard-Neck Garlic and Elephant Garlic.

Elephant Garlic grows bigger bulbs, but is somewhat lacking in flavor. In fact, one of my sources said it “has absolutely enormous cloves, but has no garlic flavor worth mentioning.” I personally wouldn’t be quite so harsh. I have tried it, and it sort of tastes like garlic, but it certainly is weak garlic, I find Garlic chives have a more robust flavor than Elephant Garlic.

Of the Common Garlic there are two primary types. Artichoke, and Silverskin.

Artichoke varieties generally have either very white or white blushed rose outer skins with a row of decent sized cloves around the outside, and irritatingly smaller, thinner cloves in the interior. These are harder to peel and cook with, but are the ones that lend themselves best to braiding and will keep the best through the winter.

Silverskins have the strongest flavor, and have numerous small cloves. They are very white, with a soft brittle skin which breaks away easily, but provides very little protection in the root cellar.  These are the Garlic cloves most often found at the grocery store.

Hard-Neck Garlic gets its name from the tough stem that grows up the center of the bulbs. It is usually surrounded by 7-12 cloves and will have very little outside protective layers.

Growing Garlic is incredibly easy. Folklore says that Garlic should be planted on the shortest day of the year. While this may be fine for those in Europe, the ground here is generally frozen in mid December. My grandfather always planted his Garlic in the fall, and then covered the garden with leaves. This was part of putting the garden to bed for the winter.
Garlic will do best in full sun but can be grown with satisfactory results in partial shade. It can tolerate periods without rain, but best results come from plants that receive regular watering.  Garlic is grown as an annual, started from cloves broken out of the bulb. Garlic is best planted in the fall and allowed to overwinter in the ground, to be harvested the following summer. In mild climates garlic will grow all winter; in cold climates areas, it will go dormant in the winter, and should be mulched.

Garlic almost never produces fertile seeds. It must be propagated vegetatively. Divide garlic bulbs into individual cloves and plant them, flattened end down, about 2-3 in (5-7.6 cm) deep and 3-4 in (7.6-10 cm) apart. Rocambole can be started from cloves or from the little bulblets that are produced on the top of the looping stem, but the cloves grow faster.
You can buy seed garlic from a nursery or garden shop, but truthfully you can just use the cloves from the grocery store.  A serious gardener will buy several heads of garlic and the pick off only the biggest cloves to plant, using the smaller ones in their own kitchen.

The bigger the clove is when you plant it, the bigger the head of garlic will be when you harvest it.

Plant garlic with the flat end down, and the pointy end up. plant single cloves 4-6" apart in rows about 12" apart. Garlic will work in a container, but keep in mind that the mature plant may well be almost 3' tall, so plan accordingly.

Once you plant it, Garlic is relatively maintenance free. You just leave it alone until it grows and blooms and then, when the plant starts to die off and turn yellow you harvest it.

You can cut the tops off and dry the heads, or, you can braid the tops into an attractive Garlic Braid – I think I did a post on this a long time ago.

No matter how you choose to keep your garlic, remember that it is important that it be kept dry, or it will mold.

Garlic Dip

8-10 large garlic cloves
1/4 tsp. sea salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon or to taste
4 Tbls. extra-virgin olive oil

Add the garlic and salt to food processor bowl. Process and add oil through the feed tube very slowly. Add lemon juice, again very slowly; process until the mixture is very creamy, like mayonnaise. You MUST add the oil VERY slowly or it won't mix properly. It just ends up being very oily.  Use the dip with bread or crackers or as a flavoring in sour cream.

Garlic & Herb Dip
You can make this with Backyard Patch Garlic and Herb Combination Herb Mix or you can make it fresh by adding the herbs to freshly minced Garlic.  This recipe is for making with fresh garlic.

1 to 2 Tbls. Fresh minced garlic (to taste)
1 Tbls. Fresh chopped basil leaves
1 Tbls. Fresh chopped parsley leaves
1 tsp.  paprika
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
Pinch gr. Red pepper (optional)

Blend with ½ cup olive oil for a bread dip, or stir into 1 cup sour cream for a chip or vegetable dip.  Blend with 2 sticks of butter to make garlic bread.

Spicy Garlic Butter Cookies with Garlic Goat Cheese and Honey
Makes 20-25 cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour (unbleached preferred)
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. baking powder
1 stick plus 3 Tbls.unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup. sugar
5 cloves roasted garlic
3 ounces goat cheese, softened
3 cloves roasted garlic
Hungarian paprika

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne pepper in a small bowl.
Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the cloves of roasted garlic and beat for another minute or until cloves are incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture. Mix until just combined. Form dough into an 8″ to 10″ log (approximately 2″ diameter) and wrap it in plastic wrap. Chill dough until firm.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut log into 1/8″ to ¼” slices and fill ungreased large baking sheet(s), arranging slices about 1″ apart. Bake cookies until the edges are golden, approximately 12 minutes. When pulled from heat, immediately indent center of each cookie with the back of a spoon. Cool on the sheets then transfer to wire racks to completely cool.

Meanwhile, combine softened goat cheese and 3 cloves of roasted garlic in a small bowl, combining well. Once cookies have cooled completely, add a good-sized dollop of garlic goat cheese mixture in the center of each cookie. Drizzle some honey over each, add a dash of Hungarian paprika and serve.

Garlic Soup

26 garlic cloves (unpeeled)
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 1/4 cups sliced onions
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
18 garlic cloves, peeled
3 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup whipping cream

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
4 lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place 26 garlic cloves in small glass baking dish. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake until garlic is golden brown and tender, about 45 minutes. Cool. Squeeze garlic between fingertips to release cloves. Transfer cloves to small bowl.

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and thyme and cook until onions are translucent, about 6 minutes. Add roasted garlic and 18 raw garlic cloves and cook 3 minutes. Add chicken stock; cover and simmer until garlic is very tender, about 20 minutes. Working in batches, purée soup in blender until smooth. Return soup to saucepan; add cream and bring to simmer. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat, stirring occasionally.)

Divide grated cheese among 4 bowls and ladle soup over. Squeeze juice of 1 lemon wedge into each bowl and serve.


  1. i grew up in santa cruz near the gilroy garlic festival. you could smell it coming something like five miles away.

  2. Hey Marcy, Some people grow two crops of garlic. One to use the top leaves for spring stir fries and the other for growing bulbs. I was also taken when I did research for my garlic talk that they were different intensities and flavors or tastes (not cherry or grape!) I think you understand what I mean and yes, you can grow supermarket garlic. A friend said you have to grow garlic in your garden one year and he gave us a bulb or several cloves. Years later after we had been growing it for a while, I asked what variety of garlic he gave us. He replied, supermarket! Here's a link to a post I did to a rosemary garlic jelly recipe I make.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom and knowledge. xxoo Nancy

    1. I appreacite your insight Nancy, and your additional information. Thank you so much. Now I may try growing a few from the market too!


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