Garlic (Allium sativum) is a bulbous plant member of the lily (Liliaceae) family, which is closely related to chives (A. schoenoprasum), onions (A. cepa), shallots (A. cepa var. aggregatum), French shallot (A. oschaninii) and scallions (various Allium species).
Garlic is part of the genus Allium, which is abundant in areas with temperate environment. From the Old English word garleac, which means “spear leek”, the word garlic is derived. This is in reference to the long spear shaped leaves of the plant. The plant may grow up to 60 cm tall.
As a root crop, the leaves of the garlic plant shoots in the air while its bulb grows underground. And this bulb may contain up to twenty cloves. As the plant garlic matures, its leaves will turn to brown which signals the right time for harvest. After harvesting, the dirt is slightly brushed off the bulbs then it is dried under the sun. After the garlic is dried properly, it is hung and stored in a cool dry place. The bulb under the ground is covered with papery skin or parchments and is usually off-white in color.
Garlic is known for its wonderful aroma and pungent flavor. Ultimately, garlic is loved by many and despised by some. It is also known as the “stinking rose” due to the strong smell it brings and the bulb is shaped like a rose. Indeed, a single clove of garlic can enhance the flavor of dishes. But garlic has so many uses, which is why it is one of the most favorite ingredients in the kitchen. Today, garlic is renowned worldwide for its distinctive strong flavor and medicinal properties.
Garlic is believed to be first used as food flavoring and seasoning over 6,000 years ago in Central Asia. In ancient Egypt, the Egyptians worship garlic. In the tomb of Tutankhamen, there were 6 clay models of garlic found. It also played a vital role in building the great pyramids of Egypt. The laborers and slaves were given garlic to them to boost their stamina and protect them from diseases during work. As for the ancient Romans and Greeks, garlic made their legions more courageous. It was the voyagers from Spain, Portugal and France that introduced garlic to the New World. In the Middle Ages, during the time of plague in Europe, many ate garlic daily in attempt to battle the plague. During World War I and World War II, garlic is used to prevent infection and gangrene for the wounded soldiers due to the shortage of penicillin.
Today in Asia, garlic is one of the most important bulb crop grown besides onion. Garlic is widely used all over South Asia for food flavoring and seasoning, for pickles and sauces. Garlic is produced in huge amounts in China and India wherein up to 500,000 metric tonnes are harvested and produced in India alone.
Historical uses and recent research findings prove that garlic has powerful antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral properties. Generally considered as a condiment and food, garlic is dubbed nowadays as one of “nature’s wonder drug”.