Garlic has been used for centuries throughout many different cultures for many different reasons. Some are proving to be very effective in modern times and of course, many more studies are being done as you read this. Ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians used it in one form or another give their soldiers or athletes strength and stamina. Today many people swear by a clove of garlic a day to add years and health to their life. Recent studies show this amazing little food may help to combat MRSA and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
This little bulb is full of power, both in flavor and as food as medicine! As I grow and learn food as medicine I usually focus on herbs but garlic, where ever it sits on the spectrum, cannot be overlooked!
Garlic is an easy plant to grow and a must have for both food and healing! Growing garlic requires very little space and very little work. It likes a well-drained soil and a sunny spot!
You should not plant garlic where water doesn’t drain well, it can cause the garlic root to rot. You can plant garlic mid-fall and it will begin to grow in the late fall or early spring. If you have very cold winters you will want to mulch your garlic patch well. You can also plant garlic in very early spring.
You can easily plant any piece of garlic you have, including the kind you’ve purchased from the store if you trust the quality. Simply separate the cloves right before you plant them. Place the cloves, pointy end up, 4-6 inches apart in rows that are about a foot apart. Push each clove down into the soil about two inches deep and press the soil around it. Make sure the area where you are planting is a bit a moist after the garlic is planted. Once the center stock of your garlic is established above ground you can cut back the scapes also known as flower stocks so all the energy will go into growing the bulb. Leave the flat tall leaves when you do this. You can use the scapes in the place of garlic in many recipes so don’t just compost these amazing stalks. When the summer begins, usually in June, remove any mulch and stop watering the garlic. A dryer garlic in the ground will allow for better storage.
Harvesting, Preserving and Storing Garlic
Harvesting Garlic doesn’t require much work at all, it is as simple as digging up the bulbs. The time is right to harvest garlic when the majority of its leaves have turned brown. You don’t want to leave your garlic in the ground too long, the bulbs will begin to separate make them hard to store.
After you have harvested your garlic, lay them out to dry in an area out of direct sunlight that has good airflow, such as on a screen. Leave them lay for 2-3 weeks. You can rub off any dirt, along with the roots when they become brittle but do not clean them with water. You also do not want to break apart the bulbs for storage.
When they are dry you can store them in a cool area with good circulation, possibly on a screen or in baskets. You can also hang them by the leaves. Get creative if you want to and braid the leaves. Don’t forget to set aside some of the larger bulbs for planting in the fall. These are probably the easiest plants to “seed save” from. Check your garlic throughout the winter and use up any of the garlic that looks like it is starting to sprout as soon as possible.
Garlic is readily available in most stores. You can find it powdered, minced, fresh in bulb form and more. However, I prefer finding it at farmers markets or in my garden! You can easily purchase a bulb of garlic anywhere and use that bulb for both cooking and planting!
Whether you’re adding the fresh garlic or powdered garlic I imagine many of your suppers call for it. By adding garlic to your food you are adding many health benefits to each dish. It contains many vitamins and minerals including Manganese, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin C to name a few. Garlic is commonly used in sauces, soups, oils, and vinegars. It is used to flavor meats and roasted vegetables. It can be used fresh in salsas and salads, however, there are few folks out there that will eat it much like an apple. I am not one of those people, but they do exist. Their love for garlic is strong enough that they will eat a whole clove without blinking.
I couldn’t possibly list all the ways to use garlic but I will share with you a few of my favorite ways to preserve garlic to use later. Infusing garlic in oil or vinegar is a great way to preserve garlic and add it to cooking. You’ll have your garlic preserved nicely in an easy to use form for all sorts of cooking when it is infused with your basic ingredients. Another way I’ve used garlic is fermented in vegetable mixtures but my next adventure with garlic will be to ferment it alone. Fermented garlic is said to be not quite as hot as fresh garlic but it still holds all the wonderful benefits and the great taste!
Healing With Garlic
The healing benefits of garlic are far and wide! It is antimicrobial, antiseptic, an immune booster, good for the heart and good for high cholesterol to name a few. It is very powerful when you are fighting off cold or flu symptoms and the oil is fantastic for ear infections. If you have an infected tooth or mouth infection, and you can tolerate chewing on a fresh clove, you can chew the clove and let it sit on the infected area, allowing the antimicrobial and antiseptic properties to do their work.
Creating remedies with garlic is not much different than using garlic for cooking. The garlic oil for ear infections is the same as garlic oil used in cooking. Garlic infused honey is a wonderful remedy to use when you are fighting the cold or flu. When creating a winter tonic for the winter ick, garlic is a very powerful ingredient.
Garlic infused honey can be great for colds and coughs. Honey is an amazing remedy for coughs, much more effective than over the counter cough syrups. Infusing garlic into honey can add even more healing properties to the honey. It also makes taking garlic more tolerable for those not thrilled about chewing on garlic.
You can easily make garlic infused honey at home. Simply take a few bulbs of garlic, peel the paper off of the garlic and separate the cloves making sure all paper-like material is removed and you’re left with only the smooth moist part of the onion clove. Place these in a jar and cover with raw honey. Loosely place a lid on your jar so any gases can escape and let it sit to infuse. It will ferment for a month but it will store much longer than that if you keep it in a cool area. You can begin to use it right after mixing if you’d like. It’s your choice whether you eat the garlic from the honey or just the garlic flavored honey. This is a great cough soother and a wonderful marinade.
Garlic infused oil is fantastic for both food and as a home remedy, especially for ear infections. To infuse garlic in oil prepare the garlic in the same way you would infuse it in honey. Then take the garlic cloves and chop them into much smaller pieces. Place it in a jar and cover it with extra virgin olive oil. The ratio is usually about 2 bulbs to one cup of oil but there are no exacts here. Just make sure the oil covers the garlic. Cover the jar with a lid making sure it is airtight. Set this mixture in a sunny space for 3-4 days to infuse. After it has infused, strain the garlic out of the oil and store your oil in the refrigerator for 1-2 months. This oil can be used to cook in the place of other olive oils. It can also be warmed and used as an oil for ear infections.
After using garlic through many cold and flu seasons I would not be without it. Not to mention it is a staple in most of my favorite recipes. I may not be able to eat it straight like my husband can but I truly love the taste and the benefits of this wonderful food. I hope if you haven’t tried out garlic yet that you will now!