Historical, Mythical, and Practical Facts About The Popular Garlic Plant
Garlic and humanity go back a long way. It’s believed to be one of the first wild plants domesticated by early humans. First found in the mountains of Central Asia, this pungent member of the Allium family has been used to repel vampires, restore virility, cure leprosy, and keep scorpions at bay.
To call garlic “versatile” is an understatement. Here are some of the more unusual uses and beliefs associated with what the Greeks called “the stinking rose.”
1. A Clove for Courage
The Greeks and Romans believed that garlic increased courage.
Greek commanders fed garlic to soldiers before battle, perhaps making their breath as lethal as their weapons. Roman soldiers also ate garlic for courage, but their commanders went a step further. Romans planted fields of garlic in conquered countries. They wanted the courageous effect of garlic to transfer from the garlic field to the battlefield â€“ hopefully to Roman soldiers only, not their enemies.
2. Strength in Numbers (of garlic cloves, that is)
Many cultures believed that garlic increased strength and stamina. Greek Olympic athletes chewed it for stamina before competition. Both Greek and Roman soldiers ate garlic before and during battles.
The Egyptian laborers who built the pyramids ate it as part of their daily ration. One year, unusual flooding on the Nile caused a shortage of garlic, so prices rose. Looking to cut costs, the Pharaoh stopped supplying it to the laborers. He was forced to reconsider when the workers revolted and threatened to stop building, thereby making garlic the world’s first recorded union organizing tool.
3. Bread, Wine, and a Clove of Garlic?
Garlic was also used to impart a different kind of stamina, mainly to men.
Ancient Indian writings called it an aphrodisiac, as did Aristotle. The Talmud (a collection of Jewish laws and customs) instructs husbands to eat garlic before the Sabbath begins on Friday and then go make love to their wives. In one Middle Eastern wedding custom, the bridegroom slides a clove of garlic into his pocket before the wedding in order to insure a successful wedding night.
4. Everybody Calm Down
Of course, not every culture and tradition wants a veggie version of Viagra.
Monks in ancient India avoided garlic. Not because of the smell, but due to garlic’s stimulating properties and ability to arouse passions. Those double dangers meant that teenagers and widows were also forbidden to indulge. Many Hindus still avoid garlic because they believe its stimulating effects keep them from reaching a high spiritual plane.
5. No Wooden Stakes Required
People since ancient times have used garlic to repel evil and as protection against warlocks, witches, werewolves, and vampires.
The most famous example of this is a movie clichÃ©: garlic braids hung in the doors and windows of every Transylvanian home. Children in some areas wore garlic necklaces to protect them from the evil eye and witches. Greek midwives crushed garlic in the birthing room before a child was born, then gave the newborn a garlic necklace immediately after birth to protect it from the evil eye.
6. Garlic, The Miracle Health Plant
Many of these superstitions probably stem from garlic’s healing properties. Ancient people thought evil spirits caused sickness, so garlic’s medicinal properties may have made it appear to be a magical plant that protected the wearer from harm. Other cultures viewed garlic as a medical treatment many different diseases.
For instance, Sanskrit medical texts from two thousand years ago detail garlic’s medical uses. Ancient physicians used garlic for a diverse assortment of aliments including arthritis, intestinal worms, and ear infections. Physicians in the Middle Ages used it to treat smallpox. When the British arrived in India, they named leprosy the “peelgarlic” disease because lepers used peeled cloves to treat their affliction.
7. Russian Penicillin
Garlic’s curative properties became more than anecdotal during World War I when British doctors used garlic juice on battlefield wounds to prevent infection. Russian physicians did the same during the Second World War and supplemented soldiers’ diets with garlic and onions to prevent disease.
In fact, garlic was such an effective antibiotic that was nicknamed “Russian Penicillin.” It’s still used in Russia to treat many ailments and for preventive care. Public health educations programs promote garlic and onions as disease preventatives â€“ and not just because they help repel germ-carrying people.
8. Ticks and Flies and Fleas No More!
Garlic’s most repellent feature â€“ the smell â€“ is a plus when people look for natural ways to protect animals from flies and parasites.
Studies have found that concentrated garlic kills ticks within thirty minutes. Dehydrated garlic is used as a nutritional supplement in pet food to repel fleas and ticks. Some horse owners rub down their equines with a garlic mixture to keep flies away.
Garlic rubbed on humans also repels pests, but don’t try it unless you’re longing to try the lonely life of a hermit.
9. Add Some Spice To Your Garden
Gardeners spray a garlic mixture on plants to repel a different set of pesky creatures: deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and other four-legged garden predators who happily consume a whole season of vegetables in a single night.
It’s a great alternative for organic gardeners and environmentally conscious people who want to repel pests without harming either animals or the environment. A spray mixture of insecticidal soap, garlic, and hot pepper protects plants and flowers for days at a time. Just remember to reapply after rainstorms.
10. I Went To A Garlic Party
Garlic has long been a staple in many cuisines and has exploded in popularity in the United States during the past few decades. Garlic lovers gather by the thousands at festivals held worldwide.
The town of Gilroy, California held its first garlic festival in 1979. Since then, over 3 million people have attended the annual event, indulging in such delicacies as garlic wine, garlic ice cream, and garlic sushi. Other festivals celebrating garlic include Garlic Fest in Fairfield, CT, the CARP Farmers’ Market Garlic Festival in Ontario, and the Romanian Garlic Festival in Copalau.
Interest in garlic continues to grow as more people learn about its many uses and benefits. The faint voices of ancient physicians echo over time as modern researchers make almost weekly announcements about the beneficial effects of garlic.
We’re finally catching on to what our ancestors already knew thousands of years ago: garlic is great!