Delicious, beautiful little herb has interesting history

Published on Thursday, 29 May 2014 01:00 - Written by Dee Bishop, In Our Garden

See the three little flowers in the picture? I have always loved seeing the tight bud (left) then the bud bursting open (center), which I always thought looked like a little “dunce cap” sitting on top the bloom, then the full-blown flower.

Garlic flowers are beautiful and I always dry a bouquet for the kitchen. Garlic is a pretty plant growing, but read on for a lively history of this lowly, but delicious little herb.

Sometimes we take for granted plants that are common, but Alliums are beautiful and the common garlic is no exception. Garlic (Allium astivum), a most useful herb, is grown by good cooks throughout the world. Here in Texas one often finds it still growing around old house places long forgotten. Garlic has a marvelous history as well as being one of our kitchen herbs.

Used for more than 6,000 years, garlic is thought to have originated in central Asia. Worshiped by Egyptians, clay garlic bulbs were found in tombs of the ancient pharaohs and were even used as currency. During Medieval times, garlic was thought to repel vampires. I don’t know about vampires, but it certainly will repel people if you eat too much!

Garlic was not used by people in the U.S. until the first part of the twentieth century. Different ethnic groups settled here and brought garlic with them. Soldiers returning from the world wars found that good cooks in Europe used garlic and it was very delicious. Italians, Greeks, Spaniards, as well as Middle Eastern groups brought garlic over with them and locals learned to grow and use it as well. I sure am glad. I hardly ever cook a meal without using garlic in something.

Growing garlic is easy here in Texas. Plant cloves about 2 to 3 inches apart and about 1 to 2 inches deep in good, rich soil. Alliums need a lot of sun, but will do OK in part shade. Plant garlic in October and harvest in June. Lay the bulbs to dry in a shady place for a couple of weeks, then store in a dark, dry place. Garlic keeps for many months. Do not freeze garlic cloves unless you blend them up in oil and freeze them that way.

Cut the end off whole bulbs of garlic, drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes. Squeeze the little cloves and enjoy the soft buttery looking garlic to spread on bread or to mix in oil for dressings. When your garlic bulbs sprout, either toss it out or pull the cloves apart and plant them to use later as you would use chives in salads or rice dishes.

Hints: Garlicky smelling hands? Wash hands and rub on a chrome faucet (amazing, but it works). Vinegar also will remove the smell. To sweeten breath after eating garlic, eat parsley. Parsley on your plate will freshen your breath and add vitamins to your meal as well. Whatever you do, enjoy garlic.

 

Dee Bishop is a Smith County Master Gardener. She writes about plants growing within the Tyler Rose Garden.