Garlic comes from the onion family (which includes leeks, chives, and shallots). Its scientific name is Allium sativum. Historically, garlic originated in middle Asia and spread along trade routes to become one of the most popular food flavorings in the world.

Cloves of Garlic

Garlic grows to be about two feet high. It has grass-like leaves which sprout from an underground bulb. Roots spread from the bottom of the bulb into the soil to gather nutrients and moisture. The bulb is comprised of from five to twenty cloves. The cloves are the part of the plant that is usually eaten. There are two major varieties of garlic, softneck and hardneck. The hardneck garlic gets a hard stem in the late spring and early summer that produces tiny bulbs on the head. The cloves cluster around the stem. The softneck garlic does not usually get this stem. Softnecks are the type of garlic that is normally braided.

Botanical Drawing of Garlic (Woodwill - 1793)

Garlic will grow under most soil and climate conditions. Nevertheless, plant and grow quality garlic in well-drained and composted soil in the autumn. Cloves can be planted about 3 inches in the ground (pointy-side-up) and 3 inches apart. For easy cultivation, rows should be 18 to 24 inches apart. However, in smaller gardens, they can be planted closer together to save space. Keep soil moist. Harvest garlic in early to midsummer as the leaves begin to die back. They can be pulled directly from loose soil, or raised in stiffer soil with a pitch-fork.

Garlic can be stored in a paper bag in a dark moderately cool place. Keeping it in the refrigerator can make it sprout.

Extremely versatile in the kitchen, garlic is one of the most popular flavorings used in foods today. Cooking with garlic can be a rewarding experience. Using a garlic press allows the cook to easily crush and add the herb to a variety of recipes. Besides fresh, it can be found in the grocery spice rack and purchased as a powder, in blends, and even in dried chopped portions. Garlic has a very pungent flavor when eaten raw. The flavor mellows considerably with cooking. Perhaps its most popular use is in garlic bread.

As one of the most healthy aspects of the "Mediterranean Diet", garlic has been shown to be beneficial for the cardio-vascular system. It acts as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory. It is believed to be effective in preventing the common cold, and exhibits properties that help to fight cancer.

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