Garlic As A Second Language

“Three nickels will get you on the subway, but garlic will get
you a seat.” ~Old New York saying.

Have you ever been curious about why garlic smells the way
it does? Well, wonder no more. Read on about this hearty
and versatile member of the lily family and find out how it
came to be on everyone’s breath everywhere you would
think to look.

If body movements denote their own language and a picture
is worth a thousand words, then how many smells make up
a sentence? Depends on the sentence, you might say. Well,
that’s true. “Jack and Jill went up the hill” doesn’t fare quite
the same with our nostrils as: “The garlic in Grandma’s
carbonara wafted into the dining room, making all of our
mouths water.” “Smells by any other name are still smells”,
as one of my neighbors who was never without her gas
mask used to say. Certainly within the animal kingdom,
smells comprise their very own form of communication. My
contention is that so does garlic; for no matter which country
one calls home and no matter which language is one’s
native tongue, the cuisine of almost every culture recognizes
and utilizes garlic in one form or another. In that sense, it is
a second language for everyone who crosses its wondrous,
smelly path.

A man named Arthur Baer once said that there is no such
thing as a little garlic. Whether this is due to its magical
culinary power or because there can never be enough
protection against vampires hanging in one’s home, is a
matter of opinion. The superstition of garlic as a deterrent
against evil and vampires is deeply rooted in Balkan
folklore. The vampire legend is based partly on a real
homicidal maniac; Vlad Tepes Dracula, whose name
means devil in Romanian. In the fifteenth century, he ruled
Walaachia, which is now part of Romania, as Vlad II and
was affectionately known as Vlad the Impaler to his closest
friends and enemies. (He didn’t have many of either by the
time his reign was finished due to his bloodthirsty
predilections.) Bram Stoker and later Hollywood
romanticized the vampire, transforming him into a lonely,
erotic, tragic figure, seeking lovely damsels to free him from
his curse and to join him in an eternal game of chess within
the chambers of his dark and drafty Transylvanian castle.

The word vampire comes from the Slavic word obyri or obiri,
which evolved into the Bulgarian word vampir. Some say the
Greek word , nosphorosos, meaning plague-carrier, that
evolved into the old Slavonic word nosferatu is a synonym
for the vampire. In our culture the words are interchanged
often. Many of the early myths lumped vampires, witches
and were- wolves together. It was thought that a vampire
could be changed into a wolf. This would occur whenever
the bat form wasn’t in stock and Bela Lugosi was working
on another film. The vampire would enter the house of the
unwary and drink the blood of their children. To protect
themselves, the common people would scatter salt or
seeds around their doors and hang cloves of garlic in their
windows. The vampire was thought to be a compulsive
counter and would have to know exactly how many grains of
salt or seeds there were before he could enter the house.
(This can also be viewed as the beginnings of OCD,
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which will be the topic for
another article, coming soon to your local theatres.)

Warding off vampires along the misty backwoods of
Transylvania is not likely to be one of your biggest concerns
about garlic today. (But then again, who knows?) Garlic has
its own history as well as its own language. Although it is
not certain when it was discovered, it was probably first
dispersed by nomads on the steppes of central Asia several
thousand years ago. As early as the 8th century BC garlic
was growing in the garden of Babylon. Chinese scholars
spoke of it as far back as 3000 BC and there is also a
reference in the Shih Ching (the book of songs), a collection
of ballads said to have been written by Confucius himself.
Garlic was so prized in ceremony and ritual, that lambs
offered for sacrifice in China were seasoned with it to make
them more pleasing to the gods.

Garlic was part of the Sumerian diet in the Middle East over
5,000 years ago. By 1000 AD, it was grown all over the
known world, and was universally recognized as a valuable
plant. It was introduced into France by Godefroy de Bouillon,
not the bouillon cube inventor, but the leader of the First
Crusade, who when he returned to France in 1099, was
declared King of Jerusalem. Many cultures elevated garlic
beyond a dietary staple, and suggested that it had medicinal
and spiritual purposes. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates, the
father of modern medicine, used it for treating infections,
wounds and intestinal disorders. Roman legionnaires
attributed their courage and stamina to garlic and took it with
them as they conquered the world, thus spreading its use
and cultivation like bad rumors everywhere they went.

Ancient Egyptians worshipped garlic as a God, and its
name was often invoked at oath takings. (It is not known
whether the oath takers first rinsed with mouthwash out of
respect for the nostrils of the gods.) During the era of
Egypt’s great pharaohs, according to ancient papyri, garlic
served as food, medicine and offering. It was found in the
tomb of Tutankamen and within the funerary complex of
Saqqarah as well as in inscriptions in the pyramid of Giza.
Garlic was so valuable that 15 pounds of it would purchase
a healthy male slave. It is also written that workers building
the pyramids were given garlic (as well as onions and
radishes) each day to help increase their vitality. It was so
important to their diets that it caused work stoppages when
the workers were deprived of their allotted ration. According
to Charmidas, unfaithful Egyptian husbands relied on
garlic’s unique “scented” properties to hide evidence of
infidelity. They would chew on a clove or two on their way
home from visiting their mistresses so that their whole body
was impregnated with the odor, insuring that a jealous wife
would be unable to detect another woman’s perfume.

Garlic, known by its Latin name, Allium sativum, may very
well be one of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts to man (and
woman of course.) It is a powerful natural antibiotic. It
reduces blood pressure in hypertension and is useful in
lowering “bad cholesterol”. One advantage to using garlic
for its antibiotic properties is that it does not destroy the
body’s natural intestinal bacteria. It is excellent for use in
colds and infections. Garlic oil is often used to treat
earaches and ear infections, especially for infants and
children. During World War I, garlic was used as a field
wound dressing and antiseptic. It has also been shown to
be an effective treatment for fungal infections, such as
Athlete’s Foot. The active ingredient in garlic, allicin, is
destroyed when heated, and is only released from the clove
when crushed or bruised. Thus, for most treatments garlic
needs to be crushed or raw. (Stay away. This means you!)

Garlic has other uses as well. Peeled cloves placed in a
room are said to ward off disease. The whole bulb is hung
in new homes to dispel negativity and evil spirits. A clove
placed under the pillow of sleeping children is said to
protect them. Dreams of eating garlic means that you will
uncover secrets. (Maybe now you will find out who the
mother of your baby really is!) Garlic is mentioned in the
Bible as being used by the Hebrews to increase and
maintain virility. Early travelers across the Rocky Mountains
inserted garlic into the nostrils of their horses and mules to
prevent them from collapsing due to the lack of oxygen.
Explorers in the mountains of South America chewed wild
garlic to relieve altitude sickness. Native American tribes
treated many ailments with wild garlic, although they were
helpless against the forces of Manifest Destiny and the
eventual demise of their garlicky birthright.

For culinary purposes, one rule of thumb to remember
regarding the potency of garlic is: the smaller you cut it, the
stronger the flavor. One raw clove finely minced or pressed
releases more flavor than a dozen cooked whole cloves.
Chopping finely and/or pressing a clove exposes more
surfaces to the air, causing a chemical reaction that
produces that strong aroma. When cloves are cooked or
baked whole, the flavor mellows into a sweet, almost nutty
flavor which makes a surprisingly nice addition to desserts,
such as ice cream or brownies. Whole, unpierced cloves
barely have any aroma at all, while raw garlic is the
strongest in flavor. When saut