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Herbs Section

Garlic - science supports here say

"Today, Modern Western culture makes a distinction between medicine, cuisine, botany and agriculture but for thousands of years the herbalist made no such distinctions.

Garlic fresh from the garden

Garlic, was an important crop for several reasons. Grown as a companion crop with leafy vegetables, it acts like an insect repellent. As a vegetable, in the days before refrigeration, it's strong flavour concealed the fact that meat was off. It was an effective warding treatment for many ailments and an antiseptic. Probably the most valuable use for garlic was preserving meats in an age before refrigeration.

Harvested late summer, it was peeled, minced with salt and pork, stuffed into animal intestines and hung from the rafters in their homes during summer, to desiccate. For winter it was hung over their smokey fires that burned day and night. Over the winter with the continuous fire, they were transformed, smoked or cured. The result was what we call today, salami. We take it for granted today but in times when there was no such thing as refrigeration, food poisoning was a common occurrence and meat had a shelf life of only 3 days. Being able to preserve meat was an important skill. Adding the garlic to the minced pork meant the flies didn't infest the stuffed intestines while they dried out. This lack of moisture, salt and creosotes from the smoke stopped any harmful bacteria acting on the meat, providing a source of edible meat right through winter.

Salami

Salami relies on garlic and smoke creosotes to preserve the meat

It wasn't restricted to Italian peasants either. All over Europe they have some type of smoke cured sausage with garlic. The same garlic crop was also administered as a remedy for stomach upsets and applied to wounds as an antiseptic and insect repellent. It wasn't medicine, cuisine or intelligent crop husbandry. It was simply called survival.

Ironically it wasn't until the 1980s that mainstream science acknowledged that garlic has any antiseptic qualities. It was 'discovered' that garlic is rich in sulphur compounds that had both anti bacterial and anti fungal properties. (Meanwhile we never stopped buying salami and never stopped to wonder why the meat was magically transformed from fatty pork into long lasting salami and we never died of food poisoning!).

Salami curing on a rack

Dried salamis on a smoking rack.

We will never know when ancient man started adding garlic to his repertoire of herbs but we do know it was used in Ancient Egypt, before 2500 BC. It is mentioned in the oldest known writings on the use of herbs in Assyria. Amongst the Ebers Papyrus from Egypt, garlic is mentioned as one of 700 herbs used by the Egyptians. It was introduced to Britian by the Romans both as a medicine and a food preservative.

When the Roman Empire fell, the masters of medicine were the Arabic people. They translated the Greek texts and had the added advantage of trade with then East and thus access to their remedies. for the next 300 years Arab texts were translated into Latin, which had become the common written language of Europe now. The Arabs had perfected the skill of extracting essential oils from herbs, increasing the potency of the herbs in medicine. One of the limitations faced by herbal practitioners was that herbs had to be dried and stored in a cool dry dark place, to be useable during the winter, when little would grow in the snows. Drying herbs reduces their potency. The Arabian technique meant many herbs could be used at their full strength in winter now.

Wise folk were the herbal doctors in most villages in the middle ages but they were viewed with superstition and ran the risk of being proclaimed as a witch. If bought to the attention of the Church, they would be dragged from their home and tortured into a confession of witchcraft or "tested" by the church.

Testing was usually a no-win situation where a person's death during the 'testing', proved their innocence and their survival confirmed they were in league with the devil. Those who confessed to heresy or witchcraft were told that they would be able to find spiritual salvation through confession and were then summarily executed for their crimes against the church. The favoured execution method was a public burning at the stake - the ideal deterrent for anyone thinking of challenging the authority of the church. For a more comprehensive account of these times go to Mimenta.com's account of life in the middle ages in Europe.

Monasteries, as well as being places for religious training, were also the medical schools and hospitals of the time. They grew many of their own herbs in "physic" herb gardens.

Medieval monastry garden

Illustration of a Monastery herb garden from the Roman De La Rosa (circa 1400)

These were usually walled gardens within the monasteries, similar to what the Romans used. Paths would divide the walled enclosue into small intensively cultivated beds. Today many European monasteries still have their Roman style Physic Gardens.

Herb garden in a modern day monastry

The physic garden in a contempory monastry.

Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, is a relative from the Alliacea family which includes the leeks, onions and chives varieties, comes in two forms:

Garlic cloves

The most common form of garlic - a collection of cloves forming a bulb.

The common multiple clove variety of garlic shown above, is available nearly all year round. A less common variety, Yunan or Pearl garlic, shown below in bulb and peeled form, originates from China and is a single bulb. The flavours and aromas are identical but if you have ever had to peel a lot of garlic, the Yunan variety is much easier to work with.

Pearl Garlic

Yunan or Pearl garlic is a single bulb and much easier to peel.

Separator bar with green apple

Cullinary Uses

Garlic is an indispensable ingredient of all the great cuisines, including Italian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Eastern European and Arabian countries. Here in the West we tend to use only the bulb but the young leaves are edible and very nice, added to a salad. The stems that support the flower head are also edible and are similar to spring onions in a salad or Asian stir fry.

Asian Cuisine

Thai cuisine would not be the same without garlic.

It is used with meat, fish, vegetables, sauces and soups; almost everything except desserts.

When buying garlic cloves or bulbs should be plump, hard, full and with no discoloured spots which may be bruising or decay. Because garlic is a strong antiseptic, any spots on a clove should be cut off. Adding infected garlic to food can cause food poisoning.

Garlic is best stored in a cool but dry place and has a storage life of up to nine months. This can vary with the variety and storage conditions. However a little handy hint you may find useful, is to store garlic in the freezer. It will keep for several years but the real advantage is the skins will separate from the cloves, making it much easier to peel.

In cooking it gives food a fuller flavour depending on when the garlic is added during the cooking process. If added first and fried in oil or butter to caramalise, the pungent odour and strong taste of garlic vanishes. If added later and not allowed to caramalise, it tends to unite the flavours of the food. Stews and stir fries taste richer, as if you added more stock.

Unfortunately garlic is one of those herbs and spisces that have a habit of coming out with your perspiration creating and objectionable rancid body odour, so eat moderately small amounts, especially the night before a social event.

Roasted Garlic

Have you tried garlic roasted?
The pungent odour of garlic is greatly reduced when roasted and the caramalised result yields a slightly sweet vegetable, unlike any other. It's a perfect dish for finger food or bruschetta type occasions. Although garlic is an expensive vegetable, this works out relatively cheap because it is the sole ingredient. If you really want to do this cheaper, further down the page, we show you how to grow your own garlic, no matter where you live. Click here to go to the recipe page.. It's the sort of dish your guest will be fascinated with because it so uncommon but it's so easy to prepare.

Roasted Garlic

Roasted garlic is an impressive gourmet dish that is easy to prepare.

Garlic Oil

Get 15 cloves of garlic and blanch for a good minute. Drain, then pound in a mortar until they become a fine paste. Add one and a third cups of rice bran or olive oil (I prefer Rice bran because it's tasteless and darker so the garlic flavour is stronger and it cannot be mistaken for olive oil, which most people use). Strain through a fine sieve or muslin cloth. If you are using this to make garlic bread, halve the quantity of oil and do not strain the mashed cloves out.

Growing Garlic

If you are only going to grow one crop, then garlic should be near to the top of the list of crops to consider. It takes up very little space, does not require rich soil, is expensive to buy in the supermarket(which means a good return if you want to sell it), is delicious and healthy, and is very easy to grow. It's also one of those winter crops you can grow when nothing much is happening in the garden. In addition, when you have tasted your own home-grown garlic, you will never want to eat commercially grown garlic again. It's flavour is much stronger.

To grow consistent and good sized bulbs, it can be a challenging crop to get right every season and the weather can have a real influence on the outcome but rest assured you will always end up with far more than you planted. It is great fun to grow and in most seasons you will be rewarded with fine fresh garlic, free of some of the chemical treatments that is present on the imported products. Much of the garlic you buy in the supermarket comes from countries like China, where they have lax food laws, so it's nice to know yours is contaminant free.

Preparing the soil

In cooler climates, plant in winter, although some growers like to plant earlier to get some growth before the cold weather sets in. In warmer climates like Northern NSW, plant in March or early April. Dig compost or well aged manure into the soil prior to planting.

Planting

You can buy seed and plant it like you would, onions, however the simplest way is to break up a bulb of garlic into cloves and plant these directly. Garlic is often imported, which means it was grown in a very different climate. If you plant this you may be disappointed. It is best to order some from a local seed supplier however if you know the garlic was grown locally then prepare it for planting by breaking the garlic bulbs into cloves. For Yunan garlic you will need to plant a whole bulb for each plant.

Plant each clove a few centimetres below surface in well draining raised beds. Space them 8-10 cm apart with the pointy end facing up. Ensure ground is often moist (especially in spring).

Give the plants some fertilizer, 2 or 3 times throughout the growing season. Some young shoots can be cut off for a garnish. Some people even harvest young garlic and eat the 'green' garlic leaves and all - sort of like spring onions.

Harvesting

Garlic can be harvested at various stages of growth. The young shoots make a great addition to summer salads and taste only slightly of garlic. The flowering varieties send up a tall stalk with a white to pale mauve flower. The stalk is also a delicacy Here's some growing inside on a windowsill in a small flat in Canada. The owners used the greens to add to a salad. When the weather warmed up they planted them all in a container on their landing outside and had a crop of garlic bulbs as well.

Garlic cloves growing in stubbies

Garlic cloves growing in stubbies on the windowsill.

Reduce water at end of Spring (4 weeks prior to harvesting) and harvest your garlic in summer, when plants turn 90% yellowy brown. Ease the bulbs out of the soil with a fork, careful not to damage bulbs. If good weather let them dry in the sun for a few days.

Hang to dry for 4 weeks in a warm place with good ventilation. You can plait the long stalks to form a rope of bulbs, an ideal way to store your garlic Store in a cool airy place. This will prevent the bulbs from rotting. Bulbs will comfortably keep for 9 months.

Rope of Garlic
A rope of garlic, made by plaiting the stalks, is the traditional way of storing garlic.

Varieties

Most garlic varieties are named after their place of origin. Like onions, there are early, mid and late season varieties available. Give careful consideration to which variety suits your climate. Queensland varieties suit hot climates. NSW grown varieties suit damp humid climates and NZ varieties like wet cool climates.

Yunan or Pearl varieties are native to China and resemble a small white and purple onion with a much harder skin.The bulb is a single large garlic with no cloves. Ideal for catering where a large quantity is required with minimum peeling. It can be a problem at home because only a quarter of the bulb is required for most dishes and the remaining three quarters on the bulb will fumigate the fridge. Simply store the rest in a plastic bag in the fridge and it will keep for up to two weeks.

Generally from the growing aspect the clove garlics can be split into two categories: softneck and hardneck. This refers to the portion of the bulb at ground level. Hard necks have a firm top which develops into a tall stem supporting a ball shaped cluster of flowers, similar to an onion.

  • Softneck are the most common commercial types of garlic grown. They generally don't form a flower head and have a longer shelf life (up to 9 months).

  • Hardneck varieties form attractive flowerheads (usually a pale mauve) like onions, and generally have less but larger cloves. They will not have as good a shelf life as the softnecks and prefer cooler winters.

There is an artichoke type with small cloves that overlap each other like an artichoke.There can be up to 4 layers. Unless you have your Mother-in-law staying and you want to keep her occupied peeling garlic, I wouldn't grow this variety.

There is also the extra large garlic called Elephant or Giant Russian garlic and has a milder flavour but is great for roasting. This type looks like the pearl garlic when it is harvested but when peeled, the round bulb separates into 3 or 4 huge cloves. This variety has a large mauve flower that looks attractive in any flower garden.

Varieties of Garlic

Glenlarge – an early season variety developed in Queensland with a purple tinge.

Southern Glen - also a Qld variety suitable for warmer climates.

Creole - soft neck more suited to hot dry climate

Printanor - mid season soft neck of French origin - main variety grown in Australia & New Zealand

Mouliner - mid season with symmetrical bulbs

Simonetti - soft neck originating from Republic of Georgia

Californian Early - mid season in temperate climates

Californian Late - small dark pin skinned cloves - late variety for cooler regions - excellent storage

Australian White - also a Californian type, selected in Sth Australia

Rojo del Pais Baza - Spanish heirloom with a small bulb that has big flavour

Italian White - stores well, grown in temperate climates

New Zealand Purple - small high quality bulbs with purple tips

Yunan pearl - a pearl variety (single bulb without cloves) has flowers on high stems. Stems make excellent salad greens.

Swiftlet nests

Very expensive bird saliva
One of the most expensive dishes in the world is birds nest soup - a gelatinous delicacy in Chinese Cuisine. The edible cup shaped nest of the cave swiftlet is made entirely from the bird's saliva and disolves into a gelatinous mush with water. The nests are are traditionally believed to provide health benefits including aiding digestion, raising libido, improving the voice, alleviating asthma, improving focus, and an improving the immune system. They have high levels of calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. In Hong Kong a kilogram of these birds nests can sell for $10,000 USD.

 

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Bar - Gold bar with Granny Smith Apple

Garlic – Medicinal uses

For thousands of years, garlic had been used for the treatment and prevention of disease. So there has to be something there. Its medicinal value has been understood by herbalists for at least 2000 years.

While modern research is confirming this ancient tradition, don't expect to hear much about it from the pharmaceutical companies or their allopathic doctors (i.e. "conventional medical doctors"). Garlic cannot be patented and exploited as such. The best they can do is attempt to find an "active ingredient," derive a drug from it, patent and promote it as an achievement of modern science. Vitamin and supplement companies, on the other hand, are extolling some of the virtues of garlic and promoting their "deodorized" products. But these products are not nearly as effective as raw garlic. Once again, the best source for proper nutrition comes from food itself.

Apothicary Bottles

Garlic contains hundreds of minerals and nutrients. It is very likely that no one ingredient is the "single active ingredient", rather several ingredients working in synergy. Thus if any particular ingredient should be found more potent than the others and was concentrated into a medicine, it would probably have powerful negative side effects like many other modern day pharmaceuticals in use today.

From epidemiological studies of cancer in China and Italy to clinical trials in high blood pressure and high cholesterol in the United States, Europe, and Japan, garlic has come under intense scientific scrutiny in the last ten years as a potential "wonder drug." Much of this research has investigated the effects of garlic on cardiovascular disease. This priority of research is probably inspired by the prominence of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke, the leading causes of death in the industrialized world.

In 1994, scientists reviewing a collection of previous clinical trials of garlic concluded that it lowers both cholesterol and blood pressure, two important risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Notably, normal dietary amounts of garlic did this without any side effects more serious than a garlic odour in a small percentage of participants. Conventional drugs for these diseases cause side effects such as dry mouth, insomnia, drowsiness, depression, and impotence. In a head-to-head trial comparing garlic against the cholesterol-lowering drug bezafibrate, garlic was just as effective. This is good news for the 25 percent of men and women aged twenty-five to fifty-nine in the United States who have high cholesterol levels.

Garlic has been used since the dawn of written history in medicine, and its main uses have remained virtually unchanged, meaning they have been verified by one generation after another. In contemporary systems of traditional medicine, such as Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, modern naturopathic medicine, British herbalism, and others, garlic remains in use as a therapeutic agent. A summary of these uses shows that garlic is like a medicine chest in itself:

  • Respiratory conditions: Cold, flu, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, tuberculosis

  • Digestive disorders: Stomach ulcer, diarrhoea, amoebic dysentery, worms, parasites

  • Cardiovascular disease: Atherosclerosis, post-heart attack therapy, post-stroke therapy, claudication

  • Skin problems: Acne, boils, eczema, fungal infections, insect bites and stings

Garlic Rope

Bar - Gold bar with Granny Smith Apple


Basket of Fresh herbs

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