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Garlic: food, flavor and folklore

By DEBORAH HAGGETT - Garden Club of Cape Coral | Oct 21, 2021

Halloween is approaching, sparking thoughts of ghosts, goblins, ghouls and yes, garlic. Garlic has long been associated with folklore touting its ability to ward off evil spirits, especially vampires. Legend has told of garlic hung on doors, windows and even worn around one’s neck to protect from these dreaded demons.

Not only did garlic protect from evil spirits, it was also credited in ancient Egyptian and Chinese texts for its medicinal and nutritional value. Many cultures, including Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman and Asian, used garlic for healing, strength and courage.

Fast forward to modern times … as early as 1858, Louis Pasteur noted garlic killed bacteria. Numerous studies followed identifying specific nutritional and medicinal components of garlic. “Because of allicin and other sulfur compounds, garlic has antibiotic, antibacterial and antimycotic action.” (Petrovska & Cekovska, 2010).

Given these properties, the beauty of the garlic plant, and its culinary value, it is no wonder many home gardeners include garlic in their foodscapes. There are three types of garlic found in the home garden: Garlic, Allium sativum, commonly found in most grocery stores; Society Garlic, Tulbaghia violacea; and Elephant Garlic, Allium ampeloprasum. Common garlic is considered an annual while Society Garlic and Elephant Garlic are perennials. Garlic and Society Garlic are both in the onion family. Elephant Garlic is a member of the leek family and is not considered a “true” garlic.

All emerge as clumping ground cover with flat, green, grass-like leaves growing to about 12 inches tall. Once established they send up shoots called scapes which are edible and are similar to garlic-flavored chives. If left alone, white, pink or purple star-shaped flower clusters will form at the end of the scapes. These flowers are edible as well. Some gardeners will harvest the scapes and flowers to allow the bulbs to develop more fully.

Although garlic is said to be easy to grow, it can be more challenging in our Southwest Florida climate. Consider choosing varieties adapted to our climate. If you are planting common garlic, look for Artichoke or Silverskin, known as soft-necked varieties.

Tulbaghia violacea is nicknamed Society Garlic for its more “civilized” properties of garlic flavor, without the need for after dinner mints. It has two recommended varieties for our climate, Silver Lace and Tricolor. Elephant Garlic, a mildly flavored garlic which can be eaten raw, is considered the easiest garlic to grow in our area.

All varieties prefer full sun, sandy, well-draining soil and regular irrigation until dormant. They also need a few weeks of cold temperatures to produce. According to Sarasota County Agriculture Agent Sarah Bostick, gardeners can “trick” the “seed” garlic by storing it in the refrigerator for a few months before planting it. The optimal time for planting garlic in Zone 8 to 10 is November to February. Bostick also notes that garlic from the supermarket does not grow well. She suggests buying certified disease-free starters from a reputable seed company.

Plant the garlic starters 3 to 4 inches deep about 6 inches apart with the pointy side up. Once established, the garlic plant will go dormant in the winter and begin growing again in spring. It will take 6 to 9 months to mature. Harvest the garlic when the leaves begin to turn brown and wilt. Cure the garlic by allowing it to dry in a well-ventilated warm area for a few days. Then store it in a cool, dark pantry preferably in a mesh bag for up to six months. Do not store whole, unpeeled bulbs in the refrigerator as they will not stay fresh. Peeled cloves of garlic will last longer if refrigerated. More importantly, peeled garlic stored in oil must be refrigerated to prevent spoiling.

Although a slow grower, garlic adds such a rich, pungent, unique flavor to so many culturally diverse dishes that it is a welcomed addition to any home garden. For a simple recipe, take a cured garlic bulb from your garden, slice off the top of the bulb, drizzle the exposed cloves with olive oil, salt and pepper, and wrap it in foil. Roast it on the grill or in your oven at 350º for about an hour to create a creamy, caramelized and delicious flavor to add to roasted vegetables, humus or a number of savory dishes.

Whether growing garlic for culinary or medicinal purposes or for warding off evil spirits this Halloween, you will be charmed by your efforts.

Happy gardening & bon appétit!

Deborah Haggett is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral. Visit us at www.gardenclubofcapecoral.com


Bostick, S. (2021, February 26). Edible Gardening Series: Question of the Week – garlic. UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/sarasotaco/2021/02/26/edible-gardening-series-question-of-the-week-garlic/

Petrovska, B. B., & Cekovska, S. (2010, January). Extracts from the history and medical properties of garlic. PubMed Central (PMC). Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249897/

Society Garlic – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. (2021, September 20). Ifas.Ufl.Edu. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/society-garlic.html

Stephens, J. M. (2018a, October 28). Garlic, Elephant–Allium ampeloprasum L. Edis.Ifas.Ufl.Edu. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/MV065

Stephens, J. M. (2018b, October 28). Garlic–Allium sativum L. Edis.Ifas.Ufl.Edu. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/mv064