By Garrison Hammontree

“Garlic is divine. Few food items can taste so many distinct ways, handled correctly.”  Anthony Bourdain

Garlic, nicknamed the sticking rose, may be one of the most versatile superfoods for cooking and supporting good health. Garlic is used raw, roasted, as a powder, as an extract, and as concentrated oil. Each form has many uses. And lucky for us, garlic can grow in East Alabama. 

While its bud-like appearance and pungent smell may have earned garlic its nickname as the stinking rose, its ability to elevate any culinary dish lends to this plant’s superpowers

Freshness is critical to the taste of garlic. Peel off all the outer layers of the protective paper-like covering, and your raw garlic is ready for use.  There are suggested ways to best enhance your food when cooking with garlic. First, cut your garlic into thin slivers to use in pasta; small pieces are best used in soups and sauces. Smashed or sliver garlic is fantastic when used with oil and eaten with many of your favorite breads. Larger pieces are perfect for canning; whole cloves are delicious and eaten singularly, roasted, or spread on toast.

“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian. Wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream adds a Russian flair. Cinnamon and lemon make it Greek, and cardamom and cumin make it Middle Eastern. Soy sauce makes it Chinese. Garlic makes everything taste good. ” Alice May Brock

In many international dishes, garlic enhances sauces, pasta, and bread and is excellent as smashed garlic and baked till golden, shaved over Greek salads, and used extensively in French cooking. Many Chinese dishes are heavy with garlic, such as Garlic Chicken and Garlic Shrimp. In this country, garlic is used extensively in every ethnic community. Garlic mashed potatoes, garlic sliced on a ham sandwich, garlic with fresh tomatoes, in soups and stews. Garlic is a must in any kitchen unless you’re the Queen of England. She forbids it.
80% of all garlic comes from China. 5% from India and 4% from Iran. It grows best where the temperature ranges from 54 to 75 degrees F. year-round. Once harvested and allowed to dry for a few days, it is best stored at 40 to 50 degrees F.

There are two main types of garlic, hardneck and softneck. The main difference between hardneck and softneck garlic is the orientation and number of cloves. Hardneck garlic produces fewer cloves, aligned in a concentric manner around a woody stem, and grows a scape. Softneck produces numerous cloves arranged in no particular order and is missing the central stem. Hardneck is typically grown in cooler climates, and softneck grows closer to the equator. 

  Hardneck garlic is a perennial plant that flowers in late spring and, if left unharvested, can flower into late summer. The flower sits atop a long stalk called a scape. The scape is removed before harvesting the garlic to allow the energy to boost the size of the bulb. Scapes are edible and may be cut up and used similarly to chives or leeks. Bees, moths, and other insects help to pollinate garlic. It requires minimal attention, is drought-hardy, and requires little watering. However, too much water may lead to bulb rot.
As a plant, it is relatively easy to grow and very insect and disease resistant. This perennial plant prefers loose sand soil with a 12″ to 18″ root base. It can grow up to 3 feet tall, and the leaves provide water and nutrients to the growing bulb, where 90% of moisture and nutrients are stored. Hardneck garlic is typically planted in late August to early September and is harvested in late spring, usually May or June, once the leaf stalks turn brown and dry out.
Historically it has been used for at least 5000 years in India, 4500 years in Babylonia, and 2000 years in China. It is a close cousin to leeks, shallots, onions, chives, and elephant garlic.
In East Alabama, the Witten Farm has success growing elephant garlic. Elephant garlic is in the leek, chive, and shallot family. It is more closely related to leeks. Elephant garlic is not true garlic. The mature bulbs are the size of a fist and only produce 4-5 cloves, whereas typical garlic has 10-20 cloves. As with regular garlic, each elephant garlic clove can grow into a mature plant or bulb.

Kate Witten, co-owner of Witten Farm and my granddaughter, explains that their harvest in June of 2022 produced over 300 mature plants and about a hundred immature plants that will only have one or possibly two cloves. These immature cloves will be replanted and grow into mature plants next year. “Our farm’s goal is to grow our production yearly to become a commercial crop eventually,” stated Witten. She and her family started in 2018 with only about 30 cloves or seeds.

  The Witten Farm’s elephant garlic is grown in raised beds with rich soil from the farm, hay to help retain water, and other organic matter as needed. Garlic prefers loamy soil; the red clay of Alabama is challenging for garlic to grow appropriately. The garlic is left to cure for about 6-8 weeks in a cool, dry place. 

In cooking, elephant garlic may be used just as garlic. However, it is milder and, in my opinion, not as harsh as some commercial garlic; whether using regular garlic or elephant garlic, happy cooking.

Don’t let the pungent aroma of garlic deter you from its health benefits. There are numerous benefits of garlic and your health. Experts now understand that sulfur compounds in garlic are the primary cause of its beneficial effects on health.

Garlic contains allicin. Allicin is a bioactive antibiotic that can help fight infections and bacteria in sliced, squashed, or diced cloves. Garlic extracts have been shown to suppress the growth of fungi elements, viral infections, and numerous bacteria, for example, Salmonella. Allicin is believed to provide viable antibiotic support. It also assists when used in conjunction with conventional prescribed antibiotics.

Your body’s immunity keeps it from getting sick in the first place, and it also aids in the fight against illness when the situation calls for it. Garlic offers an immune system boost to help prevent colds and the flu. Eating raw garlic can protect against cough, fever, and cold illnesses. Eating two chopped garlic cloves every day is the best way to benefit. 

Such a fantastic spice to include in your diet for those suffering from high blood pressure or hypertension. However, even if you are not a lover of garlic, taking garlic supplements may still give you the health benefits such as lowering high blood pressure, treating fever, and many more. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you start taking any supplements.  

One benefit has been shown to lower total cholesterol and LDL levels by 10 to 15 percent. Furthermore, eating garlic does not influence your HDL or good cholesterol levels. If you have a family history of heart disease or suffer from heart disease, you should consider adding garlic to your diet. 

The range of health benefits does not end with the heart. So here is another reason why your body can benefit from an extra dose of this onion family member.

According to research, consuming fresh garlic can help lessen the risk of colon cancer. According to the Iowa Women’s Health Study, women who regularly ate garlic with other vegetables and fruits had a 35% lower chance of colon cancer. 

Being high in antioxidants prevents any oxidative damage from occurring in your body. These antioxidant properties may help prevent certain cognitive diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. However, take this one with a pinch of garlic. Taking high doses of garlic supplements does not mean you will be immune to the disease. The medicinal properties of garlic can only improve health to a certain point.

I encourage you to explore garlic’s superpowers. Start by growing a few seeds, aka cloves, this fall. Use it to boost the flavors of your favorite recipe. Introduce it into your daily health regimen. You will be amazed at this small but mighty vegetable. 

Health Benefits of Garlic

  1. Aids in digestion
  2. Aids in weight loss
  3. Boosts immune system
  4. Cold and flu prevention
  5. Reduces blood pressure
  6. Anti-inflammatory properties
  7. Combats allergies 
  8. Inhibits cancer
  9. Prevents acne
  10. Strengthens the heart