The New England Unit of The Herb Society of America

Garlic - 2004 Herb of the Year

Garlic- Allium sativum

There are over 700 species within the genus Allium. Most are perennial. Garlic, a member of the Allium family that also includes onions, rocambole, shallots, leeks and ramps, has been used and revered for so long that it is hard to define its origins. Garlic is one of the most used plants in the world. Besides the superstitions and rituals attached to these pungent bulbs, garlic is valued for healing and culinary purposes.

Medicinally, it has been used internally as a diuretic expectorant, antiseptic, for intestinal complaints, to lower blood pressure and as a vermicide. Externally used for abscesses, insect and snake bites, wounds and earache.

Recipes containing garlic abound. Some common uses are for dressings, flavoring oils, and adding to meat and poultry.

In addition to garlic, we want to point out the attributes of other members of the Allium group. Some are edible, while others are strictly ornamental. We feature many different types in a section of our teaching garden at Elm Bank.

We encourage you to seek out the many noteworthy varieties available when selecting your other bulbs for fall planting. They can range in bloom time from spring through to the fall.

Here are some of our favorites: A. bulgaricum, A. flavum, A. karataviense, A. moly,

A. thungergii ' Ozawa', A. aflatunense, 'Purple Sensation', A. azureum, A. pulchellum.

Medical benefits

This familiar member of the lily family has been cultivated for thousands of years both for culinary use as well as for medical purposes. Garlic is one of the two best-selling herbal dietary supplement products in the mass market in the United States, and is the second-best-selling herbal dietary supplement in the health food market (second only to Echinacea).

For centuries, herbalists have employed garlic as a carminative for digestive problems, a treatment for diarrhea, and a treatment for bacterial, fungal and viral infections.

Many cultures have used garlic to treat intestinal parasites. During WWI garlic was widely used as an antiseptic. Much modern research on garlic has focused on garlic's value as a "preventer of disease."

Garlic contains sulfur and selenium aroma compounds most likely developed in the plant to protect it from animal predators and possibly even soil-born organisms. It is these chemicals, released upon cutting or crushing garlic, which provide its health-giving benefits.

Medicinal Disclaimer:

The Herb Society of America does not give advice on the medicinal uses of herbs.

Tidbits, Facts, History and Lore

"Three nickels will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat." -- New York Yiddish Saying

"Eat leeks in tide and garlic in May, and all the year after physicians may play." -- Russian


Some believe garlic originated in Siberia and Asia, then gradually spread to Europe and the Mediterranean. Traders carried it to other parts of the world where it was regarded as both a medicinal and culinary necessity. Many civilizations also ascribed magical properties to the bulb.

A European superstition states that if a racer eats a clove of garlic, he cannot be passed by his competitors. Roman soldiers fed garlic to their horses before battle, and Egyptian slaves went on strike while building the Pyramids when they ran out of garlic. In China, the use of garlic dates back to at least 2000 B.C.

The Latin word Allium comes from, "The Celtic all, which translates as "pungent' or 'stinky', supplied the original basis of for the Latin name of this genus, and it does describe the aromatic characteristic that certainly epitomizes it." The term, sativa, sativum or sativus refers to the plant being cultivated or deliberately planted. The common name, garlic, " is derived from the Anglo-Saxon garleac, or 'spear leek'." ( Tucker, Arthur O., DeBaggio, Thomas -The Big Book of Herbs)

A 16th century German botanist and physician, Jacobus Theodorus Tabernaemontanus (1520-1590) wrote an herbal published in 1588 called Neww Kreuterbuch. In his herbal he recommended using parsley as an odor blocking substance for masking the smell of garlic.



To keep aphids and other pests off your roses: Finely chop

* 1 onion

* 2 medium cloves of garlic

Put ingredients into a blender with 2 cups of water and blend on high. Strain out pulp. Pour liquid into spray bottle. Spray a fine mist on rose bushes, making sure to coat both tops and bottoms of leaves.

Growing Garlic

There are two basic types of garlic: hardneck and softneck.

Some hardneck garlics:

Some softneck garlics (better type to use if you plan to braid it or store it):

Garlic is planted in the fall, 6-8 weeks before the first frost- (right around Labor Day in our area) so prepare your beds ahead of time. Provide good drainage - work in organic matter- add a fertilizer high in phosphorous and potassium. The average gardener will need about 15-20 plants. Separate the bulbs into cloves- plant each clove. Decide how much garlic you will need for the next year and plan the size of your bed accordingly. Most people won’t need more than 15 to 20 plants. (Each clove of garlic makes one bulb). Select an area that has good drainage. If you have clay soil, till in compost and sand, or make a raised bed. A week or two before planting time, till the soil again and work in more organic matter and a fertilizer high in phosphorus and potassium. Separate the bulbs into cloves and plant each clove 3 to 4 inches deep and 4 inches apart with the pointed end up. Press soil firmly around each clove and water well. After frost, mulch with 3" or more of straw. Once the ground warms up a bit in early spring, pull back the straw and side dress with a nitrogen fertilizer.

Garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves begin to droop, but a few are still green (late June or July in our area). Dig carefully to avoid damaging the bulbs. After harvesting, lay them out on a screen in a shaded, airy location. After several weeks, depending on the weather and size of bulbs, remove the tops and roots. Store in old onion bags or panty hose. Hang them in a cool basement till ready to use.

List of Some Other Edible Alliums:

Chives- (A. schoenoprasum)

Garlic Chives (a.k.a. Oriental Chives) -A. tuberosum

Welsh Onion- A. fistulosum

Egyptian Onion-A.cepa proliferum



Garlic: The Plant That Makes It Chic to Reek

More Things about Garlic :

Very fair-skinned people, especially suffer what could be called "garlic hangovers" ( headache, dehydration, slight nausea).

To produce a gentle hint of garlic flavor drop the unpeeled cloves into boiling water for 2-3 minutes before using them in a recipe.

A whole garlic clove will season a dish far less than the same clove cut into pieces, and a crushed clove will be even more intense.

You should use your garlic press for fresh ginger root, not garlic.

Never sauté onions and garlic together. Cook your onions first and then add garlic in the last few minutes. It will have an awful acrid flavor if browned too much.

The great chef, Louis Diat, had this to say : " There are five elements, earth air, fir, water..

and garlic."

Fresh garlic kept in a dry, dark, cool place will keep for a long time. Some use special containers for storing garlic- but never keep your garlic in your refrigerator. It will sprout and become bitter.

Storing Garlic : a word of caution: NEVER allow garlic in oil to sit at room temperature. It is a hotbed for botulism. Keep it refrigerated or frozen at all times.

Chive Recipes

Chive Blossom Vinegar and Pickled Chive Blossoms

(Make flavored vinegar and pickles in one easy step!)

1/2 c. freshly picked chive blossoms (dry--no rain or dew)

1 c. white wine vinegar or rice vinegar

Pick chive blossoms, put in jar, add vinegar, and cover. Use a clean, dry jar with a plastic lid, or use a piece of plastic wrap under a metal lid (vinegar, even fumes, can rust metal). Place jar with vinegar/blossom mixture on your windowsill for a couple weeks and watch the vinegar turn a lovely amethyst shade. After 2 or 3 weeks, strain out the blossoms (saving them) and put your vinegar in a pretty bottle. Store out of direct light as the color will last longer. The vinegar has a delicate, chivey flavor. Use for vegetable salads, potato and pasta salads, and poached eggs.

Use your pickled chive blossoms in salads. They will keep for a week or so, covered, in the refrigerator.

Iris Weaver, member of NEUHSA



1. Foster, S. 1996. Garlic - Allium sativum. Botanical Series, No. 311. 2nd. ed. Austin, Texas: American Botanical Council.

2. Koch, H. P. and L. D. Lawson, (eds.).Garlic - The Science and Therapeutic Application of Allium sativum L. and Related Species, 2nd ed. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1995.

3. Reuter, H.D. 1995. Allium sativum and Allium ursinum: Part 2 Pharmacology and Medicinal Application. Phytomedicine 2(1):73-91.

  1. Heyhoe, Kate-
  2. McVicar, Jekka -New Book of Herbs - Dorling Kindersley, Limited, Inc. 2002

6. Tucker, Arthur O. and De Baggio, Tom- The Big Book of Herbs -Interweave Press, Inc. 2000

7. Dabney Herbs- -updated April 2004

8.Walter, Eugene and Edge, John T.- Hints and Pinches -Hillstreet Press, October. 2001

9.Arndt, Alice, Seasoning Savvy - Haworth , June 1999