Published: 17th April 2012
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Garlic Heaven
Eat leeks in March and garlic in May, then the rest of the year your doctor can play. Thatís an ancient Welsh rhyme that says a lot about the therapeutic properties of garlic - botanical name allium sativum and sometimes called the stinking rose owing to its strong and pungent smell. A native of central Asia and an integral feature of the Mediterranean region itís closely related to the onion, shallot, chive, rakkyo and leek.
Known in many cultures for over 6,000 years as a key culinary component in a variety of dishes and as a medicinal remedy, garlic is a bulb that can grow to a height of two feet and produces hermaphrodite flowers. An easily grown plant itís capable of being produced all the year round in mild climatic conditions. China leads the world in the cultivation of garlic Ė indeed it harvests the sticky juice within the cloves as an adhesive to mend porcelain and glass - followed closely by India and South Korea with Egypt, Russia and the USA snapping at their heels.
Next time youíre revolted by the garlicky bad breath or the garlicky smell clinging to your fellow passenger on a bus blame the sulphur compounds in the plump cloves of garlic that, when crushed, sliced or chewed, release a chemical, allicin. This canít be processed by the digestive system but passes into the bloodstream where it races to the lungs, mouth and skin. Drinking milk when consuming garlic significantly counteracts the odour whilst chewing fresh parsley, once thought to be an effective antidote, provides only short-term salvation.
Enjoying enormous cult and celebrity status in the vegetable kingdom, garlic revels in the weird and wonderful medicinal and magical properties attributed to it. High in vitamins and minerals and low in saturated fat, itís credited with an ability to lower cholesterol, fight heart disease and the common cold, to treat impotence and AIDS, protect against parasites, strokes, high blood pressure and beriberi and to enhance energy levels in humans and testosterone levels in rats. Itís used to combat infection due to its antiseptic nature and was chosen as an antibiotic to prevent the formation of gangrene during both World Wars. On the other hand, however, the application of raw garlic to the skin and body cavities is reported to have caused serious burns. It also thins the blood and is best avoided before an operation or childbirth because it may increase the risk of bleeding and interfere with blood clotting.
Reputed to be a force for good and evil, thereís a host of widely held myths and superstitions surrounding garlic. In ancient Korean culture, chewing the six-clove garlic endowed women with immortality and supernatural powers and, before embarking on a journey into the mountains, Koreans ate pickled garlic because they thought that this would ward off marauding tigers. According to Palestinian tradition, a clove of garlic secreted in a bridegroomís pocket stimulated sexual prowess and a successful bedding of the bride; in European folklore cloves of garlic were hung in birthing rooms to evict evil spirits and, in order to repel vampires, werewolves and mosquitoes, garlic was worn on oneís person, rubbed inside chimneys and keyholes and hung round window frames. The warriors of ancient Greece consumed garlic in large measure before going into battle trusting it would inspire them to victory; food rations of the slaves of ancient Egypt who built the pyramids included portions of garlic and when they threatened to down tools and leave the pyramids uncompleted only the promise of more garlic lured them back to work Ė indeed the going price for a strapping male slave was fifteen pounds of garlic. Nicholas Culpepper, an English apothecary (1614 -1654) who translated medical books from Latin into English, linked Mars, the fiery red planet, to garlic owing to its association with blood. And Pliny the Elder observed that the ancients invoked onions and garlic as gods when they swore an oath of office. Last but not least, a religious sect believed that when Satan was banished from the Garden of Eden garlic immediately sprouted from his left foot print and an onion from the right and in India today thereís an abiding belief that a garland of red chillies, garlic and lemons draped over a doorway guards against all manner of bad luck and evil..

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