If you could only grow ONE herb, what would it be?
Garlic. Many herbalists, when asked, admit that if they could only grow 1 herb in their edible landscape it would be garlic. This is, of course, a hypothetical question that is not based in reality because there’s nowhere in the world you can only grow a single herb. Yet the question is always poised, seemingly giving whatever herb they would theoretically choose added clout. Garlic, however, is absolutely my favorite herb and the reason we start the series with this herb.
There is another reason, however, we start the series with this herb and that is that you can actually plant garlic right now! That’s right! If you are in zone 9, you can plant garlic even this late in the year, although you’ll need to keep an eye on the weather and keep soil temperature fairly warm. We just hit a cold front but once this passes, if you have garlic seed (or cloves) you can plant as soon as this front passes! November would have been ideal, but it’s not too late. If you’re gardening by the moon, December 10-17 would be ideal in our climate, again, watching for weather.
Types of Garlic
There are generally two types of garlic; softneck and hardneck.
Softneck varieties (Allium sativum ssp. sativum) are generally what you will find in the supermarket. They are identified as having many cloves in random patterns, with smaller cloves toward the inside and larger cloves on the outside of the bulbs. They are generally more mild in flavor, are braidable and are generally more easily grown in our climate.
Hardneck varieties (Allium sativum ssp. ophioscorodon) are more closely related to wild garlic. They have more complex flavors and are generally regarded similar to wines in the fact that they have connoisseurs who can pick up on regionally grown garlic based on the subtle differences reflected in altitude and weather patterns.
Hardnecks are also favored in the kitchen, as they are usually more consistent in their clove patterns, generally with only a single band of large, easy to peel cloves. They also produce scapes, which are long hard flower stems that are usually cut off during growth and used in dishes for additional garlic flavor during the growing season. These scapes are the reason they have the name hardneck.
Uses in Medicine
Besides being used as a culinary herb, garlic is a fantastic medicine! Garlic is an anti-microbial, stimulant, diuretic, expectorant, and rubefacient. If you are unsure what these are, please see the 2nd post in this series about herbal actions.
“Since garlic then hath powers to save from death, Bear with it though it makes unsavory breath.”
– Salerno Regimen of Health, 12th Century
Garlic is originally from Serbia but has spread across the globe and has been in cultivation for over 5000 years. It is used for many conditions related to heart and circulatory health, including; high blood pressure, low blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, hardening of the arteries as well as cancers; including colon, rectal, stomach, breast, prostate, lung and bladder cancers. It has been used for treating enlarged prostate, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, osteoarthritis, hayfever, traveler’s diarrhea, yeast infections, and the flu.
Garlic will help prevent tick bites, mosquito bites and for treating and preventing the common cold along with bacterial and fungal infections. It can be used for earaches, chronic fatigue syndrome, menstrual disorders, hepatitis, shortness of breath due to liver disease, stomach ulcers caused by H. pylori, exercise performance, exercise-induced muscle soreness, fibrocystic breast disease, lead toxicity and a skin condition called scleroderma.
Other things it’s used for are the treatment of fever, coughs, headache, stomach ache, sinus congestion, gout, joint pain, hemorrhoids, asthma, bronchitis, snakebites, tuberculosis, bloody urine, diphtheria, whooping cough, tooth sensitivity, gastritis, scalp ringworm, vaginal trichomoniasis and in fighting stress.
Wow! That was a lot of information and uses for garlic! Perhaps this is why so many answers this would be the thing they would grow if they could only grow one!
Let’s take a look at a way to use garlic but first let me give a word on usage. Allicin is the active chemical compound found in garlic that gives most of these wonderful benefits and it oxidizes quickly so if you’d like to use it for medicine, make sure to get the freshest garlic possible and don’t heat it!
A common use for garlic is for earaches and we’ll take a look at how that concoction is made. This recipe comes from WellnessMama, and I highly suggest you check out her sight as it is one of my favorites for go to information, especially recipes.
One word before we get into the making of this concoction. Earaches will usually heal on their own within 24-72 hours without any intervention and it’s a wonder why so many doctors prescribe antibiotics for them when they know it doesn’t help and actually can be detrimental to your gut health. However, even though it will heal on its own, this concoction will ease the pain and expedite healing. It is VERY important to make sure the eardrum is still intact, meaning it has not burst, before proceeding with this treatment.
1 clove garlic
2 Tablespoons high quality olive oil.
There are 2 ways to make this, with heat and without heat. The process is the same, the time is different. To use heat, mince the garlic and put on warmer for about 20 minutes. To use without heat, mince the garlic and let sit for a few hours. The reason you want to use a high quality olive oil is due to the polyphenols in olive oil, which give additional aid to the remedy.
Next, just drop 2 drops of slightly warmed (NOT HOT!!) infused oil into the ear every couple of hours.
If you don’t have oil, you could just wrap a clove of garlic in a sheet of gauze and place over the ear canal. A warmed rice pack or something similar will aid in soothing. This is not as effective but will work in the absence of oil or if you are unsure about the eardrum.
Uses in the Edible Landscape
Garlic is one of the best plants to use in the garden as a companion plant! It has natural anti-fungal and anti-bacterial diseases and its strong, pungent odor helps keeps away all sorts of pests including:
- Fungus gnats
- Codling moths
- Spider mites
- Cabbage loopers
- Japanese beetles
- Onion flies
Garlic can even help deter rabbit and deer! Be cautious with this, though, as to be effective you must have a complete “fedge” of garlic around your garden.
Plants that grow well with garlic include:
- Fruit trees and shrubs
And plants that actually improve garlic are:
- Rue (drives away maggots)
- Chamomile (improves its flavor)
- Summer Savory
Be careful of the anti-companions, as these plants growth will stunt if planted too close to garlic:
How to Grow!
Ok, and finally we are at my favorite part and that is how to grow this in our climate. I’ll admit, garlic is not the easiest to grow in our climate, and most will tell you that we should be growing softneck down here. However, when researching this topic a few years ago, I found a hardneck strain called Metechi and I am super impressed! This garlic will tolerate our heat and humidity and, with proper care, will actually produce true seed, which is almost unheard of in commercial garlic nowadays, where almost all varieties are sterile and must be reproduced by root division (separating cloves). We will not be discussing how to produce true seed in this article but I will say that it is a great way to secure gene diversity and a healthy stock.
Garlic needs a long time to mature. It also needs to go through stratification, which means the seed (in our case, clove) needs to go through a season of cold before it will sprout. In the south, we can accomplish that by putting our seed stock in the fridge for 30-90 days before planting.
The best time to plant is between November 1 and December 15 depending on your exact location in our climate. I usually aim for mid-November but plant on the exact day determined by the moon calendar.
When planting, the root side of the clove goes down and the pointy tip, up. The tip should be about 1 inch below the surface of the soil and they should be spaced about 8-12″ apart. They require a loose, rich, fertile and well drained soil. I add worm castings in the hole before planting and mix in some organic fertilizer after covering. I also fertilize around the time of the last frost to help get the soil organisms going and help get the garlic off to a fast start. After this, fertilizer is not required and can actually produce more greens but smaller bulbs.
There is little care required during growth. They need little water and in our climate, unless we’re going through an extreme drought, should be able to make it on rainfall alone. One thing that should be done to encourage bulb growth and to obtain a yield during the growing season is to cut the scapes. Scapes are long, skinny, curly, hard, flower stalks that are absolutely delicious! Cut and use these during the growing season to increase bulb size.
They will be ready to harvest around mid-July (depending on when you planted them) and will indicate their readiness by the leaves starting to turn brown and die. When about 1/3 – 1/2 of the plant has turned brown, it is time to pull a bulb and check on it. If it’s acceptable, pull the rest.
Post Harvest – Curing & Storage
Garlic can be used right away after pulling. But for great storage and long-term viability, curing is required. Curing is easy. After harvest, brush away as much dirt as possible without damaging bulb or peeling away any paper and DO NOT WASH! Hang by the leaves in a dry, shady location with good ventilation and a breeze if possible. In our climate, this usually means indoors as it is usually pretty humid in summer around here. Curing usually takes around a month – 6 weeks. Once you can cut the stalk and no juices run out, it is ready for storage. Store in a cool, dry place. 50-60 degrees is ideal but we don’t usually have access to a place like that so I just store it in a dark, cool location like under my bed. Store in paper bags that allow air to circulate. Check monthly for white mold, a fungus that can spread during storage.