Garlic is a part of the allium genus and is thus related to the onion. It is, of course, best known as a cooking ingredient used for its wonderful taste. It would actually be better to say “tastes” plural since it can take on a completely different taste depending on how it’s cooked – everything from a subtle sweet flavour to a strong almost overpowering one.
What to look for:
Choose garlic heads that are firm to the touch, with no nicks or soft cloves. If you notice dark, powdery patches under the skin, pass it up because this is an indication of a common mold which will eventually spoil the flesh. As garlic ages, it will begin to produce green sprouts in the center of each clove. These infant green sprouts can be bitter, so discard them before chopping the garlic for your recipe.
However, if you plant the cloves and let them sprout to a height of about six inches, you can use the sprouts like chives in salads and such.
How Mother Nature loves it:
Fresh, dried and powdered garlic are available in markets throughout the year, however, fresh varieties from California are in season from June through December. The soil may be sandy, loam or clay, though Garlic flourishes best in a rich, moist, sandy soil. Dig over well, freeing the ground from all lumps and dig some lime into it. Tread firmly. Divide the bulbs into their component ‘cloves’ – each fair-sized bulb will divide into ten or twelve cloves – and with a dibber put in the cloves separately, about 2 inches deep and about 6 inches apart, leaving about 1 foot between the rows. It is well to give a dressing of soot.
How to use it:
Numerous studies have demonstrated potential benefits of regular garlic consumption on blood pressure, platelet aggregation, serum triglyceride level, and cholesterol levels. Routine eating of garlic may also help stimulate the production of nitric oxide in the lining of blood vessel walls, which may help to relax them. As a result of these beneficial actions, garlic can be described as a food that may help prevent atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease, as well as reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke. Modern science has shown that garlic is a powerful natural antibiotic, albeit broad-spectrum rather than targeted. The body does not appear to build up resistance to the garlic, so its positive health benefits continue over time.
Egyptians worshiped garlic and placed clay models of garlic bulbs in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Garlic was so highly-prized, it was even used as currency. Folklore holds that garlic repelled vampires, protected against the Evil Eye, and warded off jealous nymphs said to terrorize pregnant women and engaged maidens. And let us not forget to mention the alleged aphrodisiacal powers of garlic which have been extolled through the ages.