One of the most powerful foods on earth is the humble garlic. It is a member of the allium (onion) family and is closely related to onions, shallots, and leeks. Used by cuisines throughout history and around the globe, garlic is easy to grow and prepare and is intensely flavorful. It also has a wide variety of health benefits.
Let’s start with the growing. If you love plants that are self-sufficient, then garlic is a rockstar. You plant a clove, wait several months, and get both delicious scapes and a new bulb with SEVERAL cloves. My favorite eating variety is a hardneck variety called Musica, and I save my best cloves from year to year so that they get more and more accustomed to my soil and microclimate. Musica is an aromatic, slightly spicy, incredibly flavorful garlic. Each Musica bulb produces between 4-7 large, easy to peel cloves per bulb, with shiny-white sheaths and pink-tinged clove skins. The plants are easy to grow and very cold hardy (usually good in U.S. zones 3-10), and they store well. In fact, we roast the last cloves in the spring so that we can continue to use our own garlic until the new crop is ready. Hardneck varieties can grow just about anywhere, whereas softneck varieties grow best in southern and western (U.S.) gardens.
Garlic is usually planted in the fall and harvested in late spring through mid-summer depending on where you live. Depending on your zone, you may also be able to plant them in the spring for a fall harvest. Place each clove 4-6” away from other cloves, about an inch down with the pointed end up, and cover with soil. Each plant needs full sun and loose, rich soil. Depending on the winter, I have seen the sprouts break through as early as February (zone 6). I always mulch them well through the winter in case there are periods of freezing and thawing and mulch again in the spring. Straw works very well as a mulch as does a good layer of wood chips. Garlic plants need a generous amount of water from spring through early summer. Clip off the thick stalks that have flower bulbs at the end so that the plant’s energy continues to go into the bulb. Chop those stalks and use like scallions (they can be frozen after chopping to use throughout the rest of the year – if you haven’t eaten them all! Garlic bulbs are ready to harvest when most of the leaves have turned brown. I usually try to harvest them after a couple of days of warm, dry weather. Don’t wait more than a couple of weeks to harvest them after the leaves have turned brown or you risk deteriorating ability to store well. If you are not sure what best dates to plant are for your area, ask a neighbor who grows them successfully or a local greenhouse.
Gardener hint: Garlic is a wonderful bug repellent and can be planted just about anywhere in the garlic except near beans and peas (it stunts their growth).
Once the bulbs are harvested, tie them up in bundles or use another arrangement to cure them in a dark, warm, dry location for a couple of weeks. Once they are thoroughly dried out, you can braid the stalks and hang the plants whole, or you can cut the stalks off and hang the bulbs in mesh bags or store them in porcelain garlic containers. In either case, keep the bulbs in a room temperature, well-ventilated place until you are ready to use them. I keep mine in a dark storage area. You can also pickle the cloves if you have room for cold storage of the jarred cloves.
Garlic can be used raw, pickled, baked/roasted, or sliced/minced and cooked in soups, stews, and other dishes. When using them in a cooked dish, I always mash each clove with the side of a large knife or cleaver and let it sit for 10 minutes before further cutting. If I am using it together with onions in a cooked dish, I sauté the onions in extra virgin olive oil until translucent and then add the garlic and continue the sautéing until the garlic is soft – a wonderful kitchen perfume!!!
Chef hints: To peel large amounts of garlic, place whole bulbs in the oven and bake at 300 degrees F. until the individual cloves open. Remove from the oven and pick out the individual cloves. If you are not in love with the smell of garlic (or onions or fish…you get the idea), doTERRA’s Purify essential oil blend in a diffuser will make short work of clearing up cooking odors.
Old fashioned cold and flu relief: Although I use essential oils these days for protection and support during cold and flu season, I can tell you that liquid garlic is a gentle, easy alternative home remedy. To prepare, fill a pint jar half full of thinly sliced garlic cloves. Cover with vegetable glycerin, as much as you prefer. I cup of garlic and 1 cup of glycerin make a strong finished product. Cover the jar and let set at room temperature for 3 weeks or longer, shaking every couple of days. Strain off and bottle the liquid. Use this when your little ones have been exposed to the flu, have a cold, or are sick. When sick, take every hour.
Garlic and Germanium: This trace mineral is considered essential for optimal health. Germanium-rich foods help to combat rheumatoid arthritis, food allergies, fungal overgrowth, viral infections, and cancer. Garlic is one of the foods that will concentrate germanium if the mineral is found in the growing soil.
More health hints: The health benefits from eating garlic are largely due to the sulfur compounds formed when a garlic clove is chopped, crushed or chewed (this is why I always crush the raw garlic and let it sit for a few minutes before adding it to anything). Garlic is highly nutritious with very few calories per serving. It has been shown to lower blood pressure and overall + LDL cholesterol levels without lowering HDL levels. It provides antioxidant support to the cells, may help you live longer, may improve athletic performance, may help to detoxify heavy metals in the body, and may improve bone health.
I eat garlic often. Why? THE TASTE!!! The fact that I may get some health benefits is a huge bonus. Let me know how I can help you to eat (and grow, if possible) more garlic.
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