A Garlic has more purposes than warding off vampires: It was one of the earliest known foods that humans used to treat and manage diseases; it was found in Egyptian pyramids and mentioned in ancient texts; and WWI and WWII soldiers ate garlic to prevent gangrene and rubbed garlic on wounds as an antiseptic to prevent bacterial infections..
Garlic is a good source of probiotics, a special type of fiber that our intestinal bacteria need to grow and function. The gut is the body’s first line of defense against disease-causing germs—keeping our normal gut bacteria healthy keeps us healthy. Prebiotics can be beneficial for human health and wellbeing. When gut bacteria eat prebiotic foods, like garlic, they release byproducts that may help to decrease risk for colon cancer.
There are two main types of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck garlic tends to be more flavorful than softneck garlic; some people say it is more “garlicky” or spicy. Hardneck garlic, not surprisingly, has a hard woody stalk and has about 4–12 cloves. Types of hardneck garlic include purple stripes, porcelain and Rocambole. Softneck garlic generally has more cloves and is more common in grocery stores. Many people choose softneck garlic when they want to eat garlic raw or only lightly cook it.
For best results, plant garlic in the fall, about four to six weeks before the ground freezes. Garlics that grow best in warmer climates like Tennessee’s are softneck garlics and Creole (hardneck) garlics. To begin, break apart the head of your chosen garlic. Plant the biggest clove with the pointed end facing up and the wider bottom facing down. Push the clove about two inches into the soil and place the cloves at least four inches apart. Shoots will begin to emerge in the spring but you will harvest in late spring or early summer. Each green leaf represents a papery layer enclosing the garlic head; you will lose some layers when you harvest and clean the garlic, so it’s important to harvest when about five or six green leaves are present. Garlic that will be stored should be hung and dried for a couple of weeks. Clean the bulbs with a toothbrush and enjoy!
It's garlic season in Middle Tennessee, so check out your local farmers’ market for the freshest and tastiest.
Emily McGovern is a dietetic intern at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She is from Grand Junction, Colorado, and graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. Emily plans to become a Registered Dietitian with an emphasis in integrative and interdisciplinary health care.