Grandma’s Home Remedies – Garlic
By Jessica Snow
GARLIC (Allium sativum L.)
Without a doubt, the most potent medicine in Grama’s kitchen was just plain old garlic, or the stinking rose as Grampa called it. The nettle has its sting, and garlic its lingering odor. But garlic is the poster child herb for food being your medicine. As Hippocrates famously espoused, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Or in Grama’s words, “Everyone needs lots and lots of garlic. Where you find garlic, you find good health!” Grampa, with his quirky sense of humor, advised us to “eat lots of garlic to keep the vampire bats away”. Knowing how we liked to ride horses after dark in the moonlight, he used this clever tactic to keep us in compliance with Grama’s strategies to safeguard our good health. Today, garlic is a staple ingredient in our kitchen all year round, for good health and good cooking!
Before the age of modern medicine, thousands of lives were saved by using garlic. It has been called “Russian penicillin,” perhaps because it originated in Siberia, according to some historians, although others maintain it had its beginnings in Central Asia. Wild garlic may have been harvested in areas from China to India to Egypt and to the Ukraine. It was also the main ingredient in Four Thieves Vinegar, which supposedly allowed certain miscreants to rob dying victims of the bubonic plague without being infected themselves.
As our world becomes more and more shaky and uncertain, it is increasingly important to be able to care for the health of our loved ones in alternative ways and by using diet and lifestyle to prevent disease. Garlic continues to gain in reputation for being a powerful and effective natural herbal remedy. It has become famous as a prophylactic, as well as a therapeutic medicinal plant. Eating garlic supports immune function because garlic is antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal. It is used for fighting colds, flu, sore throat, and ear infections. It is also well known for its benefits to heart health, such as lowering blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. People have used garlic to thin the blood, expel worms, increase bile flow, and much more. By being aware of these facts and putting them into practical applications for our own situations, we are another step ahead in maintaining good health, both now and in the event of TEOTWAWKI.
Garlic can be safely used as a preventative or to resolve an existing illness. Pharmaceutical antibiotics only work for bacterial infections, but the antimicrobial properties of allicin in garlic will stop infections in their tracks, whether the problem is bacterial, viral, or fungal. Whenever Grampa felt like he was catching a cold, he would take his “garlic pills”. He chopped a clove up into small pieces and swallowed them with his coffee or tea. For most people, raw garlic can feel a bit rough on the stomach, in which case a half clove at a time can be used. Some like to swallow the chopped garlic with a smoothie, kefir, or other drink of thick consistency to help coat the stomach.
Grama also taught us to hold a small, whole clove of garlic between our upper and lower molars for any kind of infection involving the throat, mouth, nose, or ears. This method is EXTREMELY effective! Gently bite down on the garlic clove just enough to slightly crack it. As the garlic is crushed, the organosulfur compounds of allicin are released, and the juices flow down the side of the throat whenever you swallow. Don’t chew it, unless you’re like Grampa and you don’t mind feeling the burn on your tongue. For the younger kids or anyone who didn’t want to “suck on garlic”, Grama would finely dice a clove or two and add it to a few teaspoons of melted butter. Then she poured it onto a slice of her wonderful freshly baked bread. Such wisdom on her part, because who could resist the savory aroma of fresh bread and garlic!
One of our favorite treats at Grama’s house was garlic chips, made just like potato chips, but with Grama’s own home-grown garlic. She would sit all of us kids and cousins down at her big oval kitchen table and put us to work peeling garlic. We were each given an entire bulb of garlic and a jar or heavy glass to gently pound the papery skins off. Once that was accomplished (not without a lot of noisy chitter chatter, fun and games, and silliness), Grama would collect the cloves and slice them into 1/4 in. thick pieces, toss them into her giant cast iron pan with butter and a little salt, and stir fry them until they were golden brown. Next, she spooned them into a bowl and we all watched them quickly disappear as they were devoured like some kind of gourmet delicacy.
Another one of our favorite dishes at Grama’s house was her “garlic sauce”, sort of a variation of garlic chips, only with more “sauce” and smaller pieces of garlic. Melt 1/2 cup of butter and add the finely-chopped cloves of two whole medium-sized bulbs. Stir fry for about a minute or two, until garlic is lightly browned. Add a little salt and a teaspoon or two of olive oil for extra nutrition and flavor. Pour over mashed or baked potatoes, vegetables, or anything else that needs a touch of garlic. Amounts can be increased or decreased according to individual preferences. Grampa liked to add more butter and pour it on his popcorn! Garlic can also be roasted whole on the grill or baked in the oven with skins on, and then used as a spread with butter on bread. If you want to add a mild garlic flavor to food, cook the fresh cloves whole. If a stronger flavor is needed, garlic cloves can be crushed or ground and added to the dish after cooking or baking.
Grama used Four Thieves Vinegar for cooking as well as cleaning! There are as many variations of ingredients for Four Thieves Vinegar as there are people who make it. Possible combinations of herbs include, but are not limited to: mint, sage, basil, thyme, marjoram, cinnamon, eucalyptus, lemon, anise, hyssop, sweet orange peel, lemon zest …. the only limit is your imagination! Grama used dried herbs harvested from her garden, but they can also be purchased online if you can’t find them locally. We have found Mountain Rose Herbs to be a reputable company for sourcing organic herbs and supplies:
If you would like to stick to a basic, traditional version, here is the one she has passed down to her family:
2 Tablespoons Rosemary
2 Tablespoons Thyme
2 Tablespoons Sage
2 Tablespoons Mint
8-12 cloves of minced garlic
One 32-ounce bottle of organic Apple Cider Vinegar with “the Mother”
Place dried herbs and garlic into a half gallon jar.
Pour vinegar over the herbs and garlic and seal tightly. Use plastic wrap or a plastic bag before putting the lid on if you are using a metal one, to prevent the vinegar from reacting with the metal.
Leave the jar in a cool, dark place for 6 to 8 weeks. It is best to shake it daily during this time.
After 6 to 8 weeks, strain the herbs out and store vinegar in smaller jars.
This vinegar makes a very effective insect repellent. Put 1/4 cup of the vinegar in an 8-ounce spray bottle and fill the rest with water. Spray it on skin, clothes, etc. when in infested areas. You can keep this insect spray in the fridge to tone down the vinegar smell.
Four Thieves Vinegar promotes a very quick recovery for someone already infected with a cold or flu. Adults can take one tablespoon diluted in water several times a day, and for kids, one teaspoon well-diluted in water several times a day. It may be necessary to add a spoonful of honey “to make the medicine go down”.
For a potent disinfectant, especially if someone in your household is sick, dilute the vinegar with one part water and pour into a spray bottle. Use it on surfaces or spray it in the air.
It makes an effective natural disinfectant spray to be used for general house cleaning, as Grama used to do. We add lavender and other essential oils to mask the strong odor of garlic and vinegar!
One of the most important reasons to grow our own garlic even now, is to avoid toxic chemicals and irradiation. Much of the garlic we see in many supermarkets is imported and sprayed with chemicals after harvesting to keep it from sprouting, not to mention whatever was sprayed on the crops during the growing season. It is best to purchase it from a local farmer’s market or other source where you can verify its purity. Better yet, grow your own – the results are totally worth it! Plant one clove of garlic for every bulb you want to harvest for your own family, plus extra for planting next season, and enough to give away or sell.
Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated crops, is grown literally all over the world, and is super easy to cultivate. It is part of the lily (Liliaceae) family and related to onions, leeks, chives, and shallots, which grow from mature bulbs. These plants require a stretch of relatively cold weather for bulb formation.
For companion planting, garlic is friendly with strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, lettuce, beets, and roses. It helps improve their growth and overall health. On the other hand, garlic and peas or beans do not fare well together. They compete with each other, and will not be good friends.
Types of Garlic
There are many types of garlic, but they are all separated into two main categories: hardneck and softneck. The bulbs of hardneck types contain four to 12 cloves, and are milder tasting. They do not store well because they have fewer layers of skin around the bulb, so they are best used quickly. The mature bulbs of softneck garlic are larger, with several layers of 10 to 40 cloves, and store longer than other types of garlic. If you live in a warm climate, you may have the highest degree of success with softneck varieties, as they are more heat tolerant than the hardneck.
Elephant garlic is actually a variant of the leek, grown as an annual, but the flavor is more similar to garlic than it is to leeks. Because of its milder flavor, many people consider it to be more palatable than garlic, especially when used raw in salads. It can produce mature bulbs weighing more than a pound. Elephant garlic can be used in recipes wherever you would use true garlic varieties, but will have less pungency. Its extract has been found to be as effective as garlic in terms of antibiotic activity, so for those who don’t care for the strong flavor of garlic, this would be the perfect substitute.
Where to Buy
Locally grown organic garlic from farmer’s markets or organic growers is the best way to source garlic suited for your climate. If that is not possible, look for non-GMO varieties online. Here are a couple of websites that will give you some idea of the many varieties that are available.
Selecting Garlic Bulbs
If you are purchasing from a store or farmer’s market, choose the largest garlic bulbs of each variety you plan to grow. The size of the cloves you plant will determine the size of the bulbs that you harvest. Use the smaller internal cloves of the bulb for cooking rather than planting. The quality of the clove matters, so make sure there are no signs of disease, marks, or soft spots.
Preparing Soil For Planting
Plan ahead for when and where you want to grow garlic. Garlic likes well-drained, humus-rich soil in full sun. You can add homemade compost to further enrich the soil. Remember to fluff the soil – you should be able to easily push your hand into the soil. Garlic is a root crop, so soil should be soft and fluffy on the top 12 to 18 inches. It is extremely important to have well draining soil, as the cloves will rot in the ground if planted in a poor draining area. Keep the soil moist, but not too wet. Garlic likes mulch to prevent weeds and maintain soil moisture. Mulching also keeps the soil cool during warmer weather, and protects the bulbs from freezing in the winter. The colder your winter, the deeper the mulch should be. Very cold areas might need four to six inches of mulch.
When, Where, and How to Plant
Garlic grows in all climate zones. For the largest cloves and highest yields, the best time to plant is in the Fall if you live in the northern hemisphere, and in the Spring for the southern hemisphere. Planting earlier in the season allows the bulb more time to develop a good root system before winter sets in. If you live in a high rainfall area, avoid harvesting garlic in the wet season, so the bulbs do not rot. They will need a few weeks to dry out and harden before harvesting. Most garlic types require at least 40 days with temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for a clove to form a bulb. Without this necessary time, the plants form green stalks and leaves, but no bulb. Garlic also will not form bulbs if it is exposed to high temperatures before planting. Cloves should be refrigerated before planting if temperatures are warmer than 75 degrees. To help bulbs develop and grow larger, you can chill the cloves in the fridge for a few weeks before planting – not necessary, but fun to see how big they will grow !
Good crop rotation practices help prevent diseases, so avoid planting garlic where you’ve grown members of the Allium family in the last couple of years. If you have to reuse a pot, add fresh potting mix
Handle garlic gently to avoid bruising. Cuts and bruises can provide entry points for disease. Plant each clove, with the pointed end facing up, by making a hole about twice the depth of the clove (usually about 2 inches deep), and spaced about 4 inches apart. As you fill the hole with soil, press down firmly to keep the cloves from pushing themselves out of the ground as the roots start to develop. Different varieties of garlic mature at various rates, although most will be ready for harvest in six to seven months. If you plant in October or November, your crop will usually be ready by May or June. Early and later plantings help stagger the harvest.
After the requirement of cold days is met, the planted cloves then split into multiple new cloves to form another bulb. When the shoots are about two inches high, add mulch to suppress weeds. Garlic has a big appetite for up-taking nutrients and doesn’t appreciate competition! Water about once a week, unless it rains, and fertilize regularly. Stop watering about one month before harvest to allow bulbs to dry out and harden.
If you have limited space, you can grow garlic in flower pots on the porch like Grama used to do! She understood the added benefit of using garlic for pest management for her potted flowers, and it doesn’t take up much personal space itself. Urban gardeners can grow a lot of garlic in a small space by “micro gardening”. Consider container planting, placing garlic cloves in the middle of a pot, with lettuce and other leafy greens around the outside. Pot depth should be at least 6 inches. Use healthy, living soil for high productivity of nutrient-dense foods.
Garlic is ready to reap when the leaves at the bottom of the stalks dry out and fall over. Dig or gently pull up the entire plants from the ground. Be careful if you use a garden fork so you don’t accidentally spear your bulb. The papery skins around the bulbs should not be damaged, as they will help protect the cloves during storage. For a basic guideline, hard neck garlic should be harvested when about 1/3 to 1/2 of the leaves are brown and wilted. Soft neck varieties should be harvested when the long green stalks fall over and turn yellow or brown. You can test one bulb to see if it is fully formed before you harvest the whole crop. Pull it out and check to make sure the cloves and papery wrapping are formed. If they are still firm like the layers of an onion, they are not yet ready to harvest. You will know if you’re a bit late if you find the cloves and outer paper are already splitting apart, which will reduce storage life. If you see cloves that have begun to produce little green sprouts, you can plant them individually for your next crop, or use them just as you would any fresh garlic. Leave soil on the bulbs you harvest until after they have completely dried.
Curing and Storing Garlic
Garlic can be eaten as soon as you harvest it, but for storage, bulbs must first be cured. Bundle the bulbs with their foliage and hang in a dry, well-ventilate area in the shade. They can also be spread out on a rack or table. Dry the bulbs for two to four weeks, or longer if your climate is cooler. Well cured garlic will have a protective outer papery skin. To test to see if garlic is fully dried, press hard on the bulb. If it doesn’t feel soft and there is no resistance, the garlic is ready for storage for six months or longer. Trim the stalks to 12 inches above the bulb, and trim the roots close to the bulb. Use a toothbrush to gently remove any loose soil, trying to keep the wrapper layers intact. Store bulbs in a well-ventilated, dark area. Remember to set aside the biggest bulbs for planting in the Fall.
Whether you like your garlic raw or cooked, it’s all beneficial to your health, and an excellent addition to your preparations for future times of trouble. If you need garlic before it is ready to harvest, you can always use the immature bulbs, which are just as effective as they are when fully developed, for preventing and treating illnesses. Happy gardening and stay safe out there!
For an in-depth analysis of garlic and its medicinal qualities, you might find this article of interest:
From the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine,
Garlic: a review of potential therapeutic effects
(Required disclaimer – Information in this article is not treating, diagnosing, or prescribing, it is simply information that has been handed down from one generation to another. No comments in this article have been approved by the FDA)