Garlic – a brief history

Circe drinking wine laced with moly

Garlic has a long and peculiar history, its use in modern cooking is however been brief. In Victorian Britain garlic was absent from its use, except of course in foreign cooking such as Indian curries. It was only till the start of the 20th century when the bohemian Bloomsbury Group started to use garlic to flavour their food.

Garlics antiseptic properties has led our ancient ancestors to associate as a magical tool to ward off evil. This evil perhaps being ill-health. ‘Garlic’ the word has its etymological roots in the Anglo-Saxon word ‘gar’ meaning spear. This would be a reference to the ovate and spear-shaped leaves, and ‘lac’, meaning pot herb. The shape of the wild garlic fits this description as well. As a substitute for garlic cloves, wild garlic leaves make an excellent substitute. I experimented with this last night in my tomato sauce and found that three large leaves is a descent amount for garlic flavour. If you happen to spot wild garlic but are unsure if it is or not. Break off a leaf and crush i with your hands, you should be able to smell the pungent oder that repels so many vampires.

It’s no surprise that Bram Stoker used it in Dracula as a form of protection against vampires. Its charm was used by german miners to ward away evil spirits, sailors carried a clove to protect them from shipwrecks and bullfighters took it with them to stop the bull from charging at them.

Out of these tales, Stoker must have realised the potential of garlic as protection from vampires in his stories. He has been credited as the originator of garlic as a vampire charm. I would recommend Montigue Summers ‘Vampire, His Kith and Kin’ for further folk history of vampires. In more recent years, Richard Matheson’s ‘I am Legend’ popularised the garlic charm with a scientific validation for its ability to ward of the undead.

The overpowering smell is a sulphide compound, when a clove is consumed the allicin (the active agent in garlic) creates hydrogen sulphide. This relaxes the blood vessels and allows red blood cells to travel more freely around the body. This decreases the risk of heart disease and blood pressure. Although there is a lot of findings detailing the benefits of garlic, Dr Robert Beck reported some of its negative side effects. One being the danger of direct garlic juices in the blood stream, apparently the Italians in WW2 covered their bullets in a garlic paste to ensure the death of their enemy. Dr. Beck also detailed the effects of garlic consumption on people using an EEG machine, or neurolingustic feedback, garlic acts as an inhibitor for allowing feedback to the EEG machine. There is little to no information that I could find that detailed any of Dr Becks research.

Perhaps the origin of a lot of the history about garlic can be found in Homer’s Odyssey. On Odysseus way home from Troy, his men were turned into pigs by the witch Circe. Who fed them cheese and wine. To get his revenge, Hermes gave Odysseus moly,(a drug reputed by scholars to be garlic) and gave it to Circe in a bottle of wine. Odysseus was able to resist Circe’s charms, which resulted in Circe falling in love with him. She released Odysseus’ men shortly after and they feasted and partied for a whole year.


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