Since garlic was the International Herb of the Year for 2004, it seemed appropriate to plant as much of it as possible this fall, not just for its culinary uses, but also for its diverse medicinal uses. The American Botanical Council (ABC) is grateful to Gourmet Garlic Gardens for the generous donation of 22 varieties of garlic for planting in ABC’s medicinal demonstration gardens. Gourmet Garlic Gardens, located in Bangs, Texas, and owned by the “garlicmeister” Bob Anderson, is a supplier of unusual garlics. Its website (www.gourmetgarlicgardens.com) is packed full of helpful and detailed garlic information for both the sophisticated and inexperienced garlic enthusiast.
From a medicinal perspective, the German Commission E acknowledges garlic as a support to dietary measures for elevated blood lipid (cholesterol) levels (hyperlipidemia) and as a preventative for age-dependent vascular changes, such as atherosclerosis.1 Other potential medicinal uses include treatment of decreased platelet function, mild hypertension, peripheral arterial occlusive disease, and prevention of stomach and colon cancer.2
Part of the internship program at ABC includes working in the many theme gardens on the property, including the human systems gardens and regional cuisine gardens that classify herbs by their medicinal and culinary uses. The 22 different varieties of garlic were planted in late October 2004 and will be harvested in late spring or early summer 2005. The ABC gardens in which the many varieties of garlic were planted include the antioxidant, circulatory, excretory, respiratory and first aid, as well as the Chinese, French, Indian, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian gardens.
When planting varietal garlic, the issue of which type is better for a specific gardening climate arises. There are two subspecies of garlic. Hard-necked garlics (Allium ophioscorodon [Link] Doell, Alliaceae), the original strain, generally have a deeper flavor and store for a shorter amount of time. Soft-necked garlics (A. sativum) were hybridized from the hard-necked type and generally have a milder taste but store for longer periods.
Plant garlic in the fall (October or November) to produce the highest yield in spring or early summer. Prepare the top six inches of the soil by loosening and mixing with compost or manure. Mix one gallon of water and one heaping tablespoon of baking soda. Break the cloves of the garlic apart and soak them in the mixture for at least two hours; this helps inhibit fungal growth. Remove the garlic from the mixture and peel the papery skin off the cloves; then soak them in rubbing alcohol for 3 to 5 minutes. This destroys any remaining pathogens to eliminate possible problems before they begin. Once removed from the alcohol, immediately plant the cloves. They should be planted with the pointed end up, six inches apart and two inches deep in the very southern states of the U.S., four inches deep in the very northern states, and three inches deep in the rest of the U.S. The garlic will sprout within 1-2 weeks in the South. In the North, it will lie dormant throughout the winter and sprout when the weather warms in the spring.
Once planted, the garlic should be watered weekly or just enough to keep the soil moist at root depth. Dig to bulb depth occasionally to see how the garlic bulbs are developing. Garlic does not need much fertilizer, but some compost should be added in early spring or if the bulbs are not developing well. Harvesting should be performed in the spring or summer when most of the leaves have died down and only the top five or six leaves remain green. To harvest, dig up the bulbs carefully and place them in a shady, dry location for about a month. Allow the necks of the garlic to completely dry out; when the tops are cut off there should be no lingering garlicky smell. Trim the rootlets and leaves from the bulbs and store the bulbs at room temperature away from direct sunlight. For more information on growing and harvesting garlic, visit the Gourmet Garlic Gardens Web site at www.gourmetgarlicgardens.com.
Amy Floerke is a PharmD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin who interned at ABC in September and October of 2004.
1. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, editors. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Newton (MA): Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
2. Blumenthal M, Hall T, Goldberg A, Kunz T, Dinda K, Brinckmann J, et al, editors. The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 2003.