Helpful Herbs: Garlic
You might not think of garlic as your typical herb, but with all of its benefits and its hardy qualities, it can be included in the medicinal garden of any aspiring herbalist. With minimal effort you can get enough garlic back from your garden to cook for the rest of the year, and the inclusion of garlic in your recipes isn’t just tasty, it’s good for you too.
Garlic can be purchased at a gardening or seed store. I would recommend using seed garlic instead of the kitchen variety simply because you don’t know what preservatives or chemicals might be in the grocery store bulbs. Garlic can be planted in the early spring, as soon as the ground can be worked, but it thrives if planted in the autumn about a month before the ground freezes. This is usually is September/October in our area.
Garlic is fairly hardy but prefers loose, loamy soil and plenty of sunlight. To plant, break the cloves apart and leave the husks around each clove. Plant with the flat, root side facing down and the pointed end facing up. Garlic shoots will often sprout in the fall, and should be covered with a thick layer of mulch for the winter months. In the spring, clear away the mulch and let the bright green sprouts grow.
In June or early July you should see flower shoots, known as scapes. These should be removed to increase the bulb size of your garlic, and the scapes from hardneck garlic varieties can be enjoyed in many delicious seasonal recipes. Scapes have many of the same health benefits as garlic bulbs, and have a fresh, spicy flavor to them.
Garlic will thrive if fertilized and watered regularly, but is hardy enough to survive with minimal attention. Garlic bulbs will be ready to harvest in August. Plants can be carefully lifted from the soil and cleaned, then stored in a cool, dry place. Many people braid the tops and hang their garlic to dry, but you can also trim the greens off and lay them out on a screen to dry. The flavor of the garlic will increase as the bulbs dry out.
Ready for drying.
In addition to adding spice and depth to many recipes, eating garlic regularly will give you a number of health advantages. It is packed with vitamins including immune boosting vitamin C, so it will help your body combat infections like the common cold. Garlic also has properties that help to reduce blood pressure and lower your risk of heart disease. The antioxidants in garlic will help to improve your long term memory and protect against cell damage, which will increase your lifespan and reduce the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Since garlic has been cultivated for over 7,000 years, it has been part of herbal folklore and a staple of our diets for many centuries. Not only will it help to ward off vampires, but during World Wars I and II it was used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene. Today it is not only used in the kitchen, but is also a common ingredient in homemade flysprays because of its strong odor, and is used to help preserve fish and meat.
Taking the time to start a garlic patch will reward you with bulbs of savory cloves that can be easily added to nearly any recipe, resulting in a healthy addition to your regular diet.
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