Considering all of the incredible health benefits there are of garlic, how fun garlic is to grow, never mind how fantastic it is for your garden, it is hard to know where to start when talking about garlic and its benefits. For thousands of years, cultures all over the planet have been using garlic as medicine. There are many kinds of garlic, each adapted to different climates and growing conditions. The culinary uses could, and probably do, fill pages and pages of books.

Making the Most of Garlic’s Many Health Benefits

Let’s start with the health benefits. There is a component in garlic, that when crushed and eaten raw, exudes an extraordinary amount of health benefits. It is called allicin and it is found in many plants of the allium family including onions, leeks, shallots, and of course, garlic.

Eating raw garlic has been tested to show that garlic may help us to lose weight, lower high blood pressure, lower blood sugar, reduce cholesterol, cleanse the liver, help the kidneys, clear infection, keep skin glowing, keep our brain healthy, help fight the signs of aging, and help prevent many kinds of cancer. The list goes on to include many antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, and antifungal properties in garlic and these may be some of the actions which contribute to the above mentioned benefits as well as contributing to the well-known cold fighting attributes of garlic.

Most of the evidence points to eating garlic raw. Fortunately, there is still some allicin present in cooked garlic, up to 30% in roasted garlic[1], which is excellent news because raw garlic can be a little difficult to stomach. You wouldn’t want to meet the love of your life right after eating a lot of fresh raw garlic, unless they just did too. Might be a good match.

There are some ways to minimize the odorous effects of eating raw garlic. Using garlic in salad dressing, for example, may help to increase the palatability of raw garlic. Yogurt-based dips such as tzatziki or raita is another way to get more raw garlic into your diet. Check out the recipes below.

Tzatziki

Tzatziki sauce with ingredients cucumber, garlic, dill, lemon, mint. Food background

  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • ½ cucumber, peeled, deseeded, grated, and excess moisture pressed out
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill weed, or 1 tablespoon dry dill weed
  • 2 cups plain natural or Greek-style yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Garlicky Salad Dressing

salad sauce with mustard, oil, garlic

  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar

Mix these three ingredients until honey is diluted in vinegar, then add:

  • 2 tablespoons chopped oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • 1¼ cup extra virgin olive oil or your favorite salad oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste. Mustard is often a nice touch in this recipe also.

Garlic in liquids and beverages

Another way that has piqued my interest in using garlic is in drinking garlic water in the morning. Since I’m visiting my lovely dentist tomorrow, I’ll start experimenting with this the next day, just in case. Simply, it is a clove of crushed garlic, exposed to air for about 15 minutes to let the allicin react with oxygen, and then placed in a glass of warm water that you drink, first thing in the morning. I’m picturing eyes closed and nose pinched but I have some ideas that might make it a little more appealing.

I’m going to experiment with using honey lemon water, and then adding the garlic before drinking. The other idea will be to take the crushed clove that has been exposed to air and submerging it in apple cider vinegar before adding the 1 to 2 cups of warm water. I’ve done the lemon water thing in the morning, and I’ve always wanted to try the apple cider vinegar in the morning as both of these have many health benefits in themselves. I love combining things to maximize effect.

Chasing raw garlic with milk or yogurt may help reduce the smell also. Other ideas might be to drink with peppermint tea. Of course, brushing and flossing can do a lot for your breath.

Garlic seems to have the ability to push toxins out of our bodies which may initially give us some body odor also. A healthy way to approach this issue may be to make sure to have some sweat-inspiring exercise before a shower to help our body push out the garlic-flavored toxins.

All About Growing Garlic

Planting garlic

There can be a bit of mystery about growing your own garlic. There are two main kinds of garlic to choose from. Hardneck garlic is what I grow because it is hardier, surviving the harsh, cold winters where I live. I have not been successful at growing softneck varieties, so I will mostly talk about hardneck garlic.

Other reasons to choose hardneck garlics are:

  • There are hundreds of varieties to choose from.
  • They make lovely large cloves that are easy to peel.
  • They produce a long flower stem called a scape which is delicious.
  • Softneck varieties are an excellent choice if:
  • You live in a warmer climate without freezing winters.
  • You like your garlic more subtle in flavor.
  • You like smaller, plentiful cloves with fine papery skin that store for a long time.
  • You want to have a soft flexible stem to braid your garlics together.

I love garlic. I plant a lot of garlic. Yesterday, we had a brief window of good weather and we planted 144 garlic cloves that we had harvested back in August. Normally, this would have happened a couple of weeks ago, but we had a burst of early cold temperatures to -10 degrees Celsius, so we couldn’t dig them in. In warmer places, garlic could probably be planted 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) deep. Up here, I’ve had great success planting over 4 inches (10 cm) deep with a thick layer of straw mulch on top, which also keeps the weeds down throughout the summer.

We grow 8 hardneck varieties, Red Russian, Susan Delafield, Music, Leningrad, French Rocambole, Dan’s Italian, Spanish Roja, and Mountain Top. I could tell you a lot about each one, but I’ll let you become an obsessed garlic collector on your own. In Canada, these varieties came from an organic garlic seed farm called Norwegian Creek Organic Garlic Seed Farm. I’m not sure if they can sell garlic internationally, but I hope there are organic garlic seed farms like this one in most countries.

Garlic Care

We plant in the fall as described above, at least 4 inches (10 cm) apart on a plot about 10 feet by 10 feet. The garlic is one of the first things to come up in the spring. In June, we harvest the scapes, before they bloom, eating as much as we can but they freeze quite well also. The garlic is watered and grows in very good quality soil but fertilizing with an organic fertilizer is an option. Keeping it mulched and weeded, it is easy to take care of. In August we harvest when the top parts of the plants have almost died with most of the plant being brown. We pull the bulbs and let them dry on mesh racks in the shed for two weeks. Then we clean them by trimming off the tops and roots, leaving ½ inch (1 cm) of stem and roots, and removing the outer, dirty skins. We are careful to not break the nice clean skin so that the garlic will store well. Then we dry them in the shed for two more weeks to cure the bulbs. They are then moved to the root cellar where they will last almost until next year’s harvest. The best ones are sorted for planting where each clove planted will become one garlic bulb. Any damaged ones are eaten right away.

Garlic Helps the Garden Too!

Garlic helps the garden by repelling pest insects like cabbage moth, so they are an excellent companion plant for cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. Nematodes are also reduced in the soil in areas where garlic grows. For this reason, we grow garlic in rotation where it is followed the next season by root vegetables such as carrots, beets, and parsnips.

With the garlic planted and the rest stored safely in the root cellar, we have an entire winter of meals ahead with the various garlicky flavors to enhance the other crops from the garden. I’ll be trying out variations of the morning garlic water, hopefully without too many problems and all of the incredible benefits.

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