Garlic (Allium sativum L.) is a bulbous herbaceous species belonging to the Amaryllidaceae family.
From the systematic point of view it belongs to the Eukaryota Domain, United Plantae, Magnoliophyta Division, Liliopsida Class, Liliales Order, Amaryllidaceae Family, Allioideae Subfamily and therefore to the Genus Allium and to the A. sativum Species.
The term Allium comes from allium / alium garlic, mentioned by Plautus, Pliny and others; sitratta of a term of uncertain origin, probably from the Greek ἄγλῑς áglis garlic head; the Webster Dictionary, based on the Asian origin, proposes a possible connection with the Sanskrit āluka root edule of Amorphophallus campanulatus; for A. Gentil it would derive from the Celtic to hot, burning, for the characteristic taste.
The specific epithet sativum derives from satum (past participle of sero sow, plant) sown, planted: that is sown or planted, cultivated, domesticated.
Geographical Distribution and Habitat –
The regions of origin of this species are to be found in the temperate zones of the northern hemisphere and, even if cultivated on a large scale, especially in south-western Siberia. However, it has quickly spread to the Mediterranean basin, so much so that it was a plant known since ancient times, so much so that it was already used by the Egyptians in the III millennium BC. and, subsequently, from the Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese and the Indians. Today it is grown on all continents, in Italy it is cultivated especially in Campania, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Sicily.
Allium sativum is a perennial bulbous herbaceous species up to one meter high; as an adult it has 40-60 cordiform and superficial roots, which cover the first 30 centimeters of soil.
The leaves are basal, amplessicauli that unlike those of the onion, do not serve, subsequently, from reserve organs. The outer one wraps around the previous one for about 10 centimeters, a value that increases going inwards.
It has a cylindrical, full flower scape, with a length of 40-80 cm, with at its top an umbrella-shaped inflorescence wrapped in a pointed spade.
The flowers are in variable numbers, they are carried by a long and thin peduncle; these may vary in color from white to rosy, purplish and often mixed with bulbils derived from the metamorphosis of flower buds.
The flowers have 6 tepals, persistent in the fruit, 6 stamens and a trilocular ovary, a straight and filiform stylus and an entire stigma. Following fertilization there is a capsule, which rarely contains seeds.
In garlic the reproductive organs are represented by the cloves (the cloves), which present the convex dorsal face; these, in groups of 5-20, are inserted directly on the stem, reduced to a disk and called corm, and form the bulb or head or head. This is wrapped in a series of metamorphosed leaves, called sterile tunics, with a protective function.
Depending on the variety, the average weight of a garlic bulb can range from a minimum of 20 grams to a maximum of over 150 g.
For the cultivation of garlic it is necessary to choose loose soils, with good fertility, texture and structure, able to guarantee a rapid disposal of rainwater, also in consideration of the period in which it is often cultivated (from autumn to the beginning of summer).
Regarding the cultivated material, rather than variety it is a question of ecotypes, more or less homogeneous, with the exception of the “Rosso di Sulmona”, which seems to be the only Italian variety capable of producing, every year, the floral scapes that go, however, they are eliminated in time to allow the formation of cloves.
The cultivated material is normally divided into “the whites” and “the reds”; to the latter belong, among other things, the aforementioned “Rosso di Sulmona” and the “Rosso francese”, while to the former the “Bianco piacentino”, the most widespread in Italy. The reds, in addition to the different colors, are characterized by a shorter cycle of about three weeks and larger bulbs.
For details of the cultivation technique, see the following sheet.
Uses and Traditions –
Today garlic is used as a condiment but also for therapeutic purposes due to the properties jointly attributed to it by science and popular traditions; the uses of its macerated as an insecticide are also interesting.
The properties of garlic appear to have already been recognized by the Egyptian Hermes Trismegistus, considered the father of all sciences and author of the Tavola Smeraldina. The Pharaohs administered garlic abundantly to the workers assigned to the construction of the Pyramids to preserve them from intestinal diseases and infections, but also to give them greater physical resistance.
Garlic was a staple food for Jews, who were forbidden to consume before noon, biblical texts report that it was one of the most deeply felt deprivations of the chosen people during the crossing of the desert.
The cultivation of garlic, from its area of origin, spread, as mentioned very quickly in the Mediterranean basin. The Greeks used it both for therapeutic and food purposes, reaching the point of flavoring the bread. He was punctually eaten by the soldiers shortly before the battle raged and this strange use can be explained by the widespread belief that he saw garlic as a “concentrate” of power and energy that had the effect of warming souls, arousing the senses.
Alexander the Great dedicated the plant to the gods of war. Aristophanes (4th century BC) writes: “Now swallow these cloves of garlic. Stuffed with garlic you will find greater ardor in fighting ”.
“I’d rather have smelled like garlic! “Exclaimed the Roman emperor Vespasian when, in reviewing his troops, he smelled in the air the sweet perfume that a soldier emanated, in fact, to a rough soldier suited the smell of garlic rather than that of a perfumed essence!
But garlic was a particularly important plant also for the Romans who considered this plant sacred to Ceres (goddess of fertility); they ate so much at banquets, and Pliny recommended it as a sexual stimulant “… pounded together with fresh coriander and taken in pure wine”.
The beliefs that existed around this plant should also not be overlooked. In the ancient world it was in fact also appreciated for its magical and protective faculties. From ancient Egypt, for example, we have received numerous therapeutic and magical prescriptions that use it as the main ingredient. Reading some of them, we realize how garlic was considered very effective against snake venom: once bitten, to stop fever and poison, it was enough to apply a paste of garlic and bread to the wound. In other recipes instead we read that it was enough to sprinkle the body with garlic to avoid being bitten, or to avoid even that the snake came out of the den it was necessary to put a clove outside.
Among the beliefs is that of ancient Egypt where garlic was thought to serve to keep away the shadows of the dead: the Egyptians believed that they could break into homes during the night to take away newborn babies. To protect them from this terrible eventuality the mother prepared a sort of “magic potion” repellent for the dead that had garlic as its main ingredient, she recited the ancient formula: “I made her magical protection against you … with garlic that it hurts you, with honey sweet to men, but bitter to those who are in the beyond ”.
Even the Romans had rituals, in fact they left garlic dishes in front of the temples of the witch goddess Hecate, lady of ghosts and spells.
This common belief in the magical and protective qualities of garlic is most likely to be found in the unpleasant odor it emits: managing to keep people at a safe distance and so also the spirits of the afterlife and poisonous snakes.
Also because its acrid and biting taste closely resembled that of snake venom and since it was homeopathically similar and similar it could also have the power to defeat them.
Moreover the beliefs of the rural civilization judged garlic to be the “spezieria of the peasants” or the “pharmacy of the poor”.
Thus, since ancient times, it was widely used both for external and internal use. In the first case it was reduced to pulp to soften the calluses, if roasted on the embers to rub the chilblains, if in fresh wedges to soothe the sting of insect bites. For internal use it was consumed fresh in order to lower blood pressure, cooked in milk as an antidote against cough. This vegetable was also linked to the cult of San Giovanni, and it was thought that buying it on the day dedicated to him would have kept poverty at bay.
Scientifically the main therapeutic properties of garlic were defined by Pasteur in 1858: antibiotic, antiseptic, balsamic, antihypertensive. However, this true panacea has a disadvantage: the antisocial smell that it leaves to those who take it.
In fact, Horace indicated that he was not alone in eating it, so that the loved one “does not reject kisses and flees far away …”.
Common sense, on the other hand, recommends more prosaically chewing preferably: parsley leaves, coffee beans, anise seeds, cumin or cardamom.
The characteristic smell of garlic is due to numerous organic sulfur compounds including alliin and its derivatives, such as allicin and diallyl disulfide.
The essential oil of garlic contains in fact: allyl bisulphide and allipropyl allicin (substance with antibiotic action), garlicine (with antibiotic action), allin (glucoside), vitamins A, B, C, sugars, phytosterols, lipids, mucilages. The essential oil is mainly eliminated through the respiratory system, performing antiseptic and balsamic activity.
A study conducted by the University of Liverpool revealed that a daily supplement of garlic extract can reduce the risk of heart attacks and although it is of popular origin that garlic lowers the blood pressure of those suffering from hypertension, a study by 2012 of the University of British Columbia revealed that taking large doses of garlic (200 grams 3 times a day) can slightly lower blood pressure.
Regarding the healing properties of garlic is:
– Anthelmintic (helminths are a class of worms that can parasitize the intestine);
– Antioxidant by many compounds, such as the various sulphides, selenium and vitamins of groups B and C;
– Against cold and flu;
– Anticancer (in vitro) by ajoene and disulfide;
– Anti-thrombotic also here due to the ajoene with an anti-platelet aggregation action.
In general, the consumption of garlic gives a general sense of well-being to the body due to its anti-bacterial and anti-infective action.
Preparation Mode –
Allium sativum bulbils are used since ancient times as a condiment for food. These can be used, raw, in salads or added to sauces, stews, fish dishes or vegetables. Very used also in the preparation of sausages (garlic salami) and in the canning industry for starters in oil and vinegar.
To remedy at least in part the discomfort of the consequent “heavy breath” one must deprive the garlic of the small internal green shoot that is easily removable.
From the garlic it is also possible to extract an oil (60 g of 100 kg of bulbs), of yellow-brown color, containing sulphurated compounds among which the most important is the allyl bisulphide from which a bactericide is obtained which is, as mentioned, allicin.
Moreover, being also an excellent digestive and diuretic stimulant, it can be used as an infusion (from 5 to 10 g in a liter of water) while for an antiseptic action from 10-15 g in decoction.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Pharmacy of the Lord, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (edited by), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, do not in any way represent a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is assumed for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.