Because it belongs to the allium family, garlic (Allium sativum) is a popular vegetable owing to the classic taste the plant adds to so many dishes. But what the garlic plant is? Although garlic is botanically a vegetable, people use it more like a herb or spice in their dishes. Unlike other vegetables, it’s rarely the main ingredient of a dish or eaten raw. It has a strong taste that adds an appealing flavor to almost all your everyday recipes.
Just like onions, it’s the bulb that we’re after when cultivating garlic. The bulb has almost the same pungent smell as onions do and a strong flavor as well. The plant is usually sauteed before adding to dishes but rarely eaten raw. Continue reading, and you’ll find out all about this unique vegetable.
|Botanical Name||Allium Sativum|
|Plant Type||A Perennial But Generally Grown As An Annual|
|Size (Fully Grown)||18 To 24 Inches (About 45 To 61 cm) Tall|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun|
|Soil Type||Loose Soil That Is Rich In Nutrients And Drains Well|
|Soil pH||From 6.0 To 7.5|
|Flower Color||Green, Brown, Pink, Red, Or White|
|U.S. Hardiness Zones||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, And 8|
|Native Area||Middle Asia|
How Many Garlic Varieties Are There?
With worldwide popularity, garlic has evolved into tons of different varieties. There are more than 120 varieties that come from central Asia alone.
They differ slightly in their size, taste, and other properties. Depending on whether you want a frost-tolerant species, stronger flavor, or one that will last longer in storage, there will be a variety for your needs.
The plant is categorized into two types based on its “neck.” In this context, the “neck” is the stalk that emerges from the garlic bulb and shoots upwards.
The “neck” of a Softneck garlic is made of leaves rather than the stem. It will stay soft even when the plant reaches maturity. They mature faster, produce many small cloves per bulb, and are preferred for long-term storage over hardneck garlic. Here are a few softneck garlic varieties:
- Italian Late
- French Red
- Silver White
- Corsican Red
- Italian Purple
- California Late
- California Early
- Early Red Italian
Hardneck garlic produces a rigid flowering stem originating from the bulb. They’ll usually make fewer, larger cloves per bulb as compared to softneck. They’re also hardier than their counterpart and better suited for Northern growing zones. Here are a few examples:
- Persian Star
- German Red
- Purple Stripe
- Chesnok Red
- Calabrian Red
- German White
- Middle Eastern
- Brown Tempest
- Polish Hardneck
Where Did Garlic Originate From?
Native to Middle Asia, garlic has a long history because it is one of the oldest vegetables we have cultivated. It has been used for several thousand years as food, medicine, money, and even as an essential ingredient in magic potions!
In medieval times, people hung garlic on their doors and around the neck to ward off evil forces. The name garlic originated from “garleac,” in Old English, which means “spear leek.” It highlights the unique shape of garlic cloves.
According to Missouri Environment & Garden, garlic was used by ancient Egyptians to feed laborers who built the pyramids. It was believed to build strength and stamina.
In ancient China, it was consumed to help with digestive problems. In India, it was recommended for treating heart diseases and arthritis long before it became an essential ingredient in local dishes.
Today, people mostly use it for other purposes than as a herbal medicine for heart diseases, blood pressure, and the immune system. It is an essential seasoning ingredient for most recipes. Many households across the world cannot even imagine cooking without garlic.
How To Recognize Garlic?
Garlic is a flowering plant that grows from a bulb. The tall flowering stem grows upright to about 3 feet (about 91 cm) above the ground. The part of the stem shooting above the ground is called a scrape, and it produces flowers between July and September for the plants growing in the Northern Hemisphere.
The scrapes, leaves, and flowers are edible too, but we generally cultivate the plant for their powerfully flavored bulbs.
The bulb packs a cluster of cloves, usually arranged symmetrically around the stem. The individual cloves are enclosed in a protective sheath and can be over 10 to 20 in each bulb.
A hardneck varieties usually grow smaller than softneck ones but comprise of more extensive and fewer cloves. Depending on the type of garlic, the bulbs can be stored for months. Some varieties stay fresh for an entire year.
And as mentioned in the image above, you can use garlic to make glue! The reason for this is because it is a natural adhesive. For example, you can close your old envelopes with it or even fix small window cracks.
The garlic stem originates underground and grows both leaves and roots. As it progresses above the ground, it branches out into leaves and a central flowering stalk, the scrape.
The scrape is usually only present in hardneck varieties and is very rare for softneck garlic. You can harvest garlic once the stem withers and dies.
Upright, long, blade-like leaves branch out of the underground stem. They will slightly vary in their shape, size, and number according to the variety grown. But, most cultivars have around 10-12 leaves per plant. They turn brown and wither as the harvest approaches.
Only hardneck varieties produce a woody flowering stalk that has bulbils at the tips. They differ in their shape, size, and color depending on the type but are usually purple. These small cloves growing from the stalk are edible too, and you can also use them to grow garlic.
Most gardeners still prefer planting cloves from the bulb rather than bulbils since they’re tiny and will take 2 to 3 years to grow large enough to be used as seed.
Don’t forget the smell because the strong, onion-like fragrance is powerful feature garlic has. The flowers are fragrant too. Most gardeners prefer garlic plants in the vegetable garden to ward off pests with its strong, pungent smell.
What Growth Conditions Are Best For Garlic?
Garlic is generally relatively easy to grow and doesn’t take much space either. Since it’s a pretty straightforward crop, it makes an ideal gardening project to start with your children too. But, there are certain things you should know about before planting garlic in your home garden.
Garlic takes a long growing season, which is why timing is crucial when planting the cloves. It requires cooler temperatures, between 32°F to 50°F (about 0 to 10°C), during the first few months of growth.
Growers usually plant in late autumn so that the roots and bulb can start developing over the fall and winter months, but before the ground freezes over.
Once the roots have been established, garlic won’t mind higher temperatures. Foliage starts developing in early spring and harvest season arrives around summertime.
Garlic is well suited to most growing zones, provided it’s timed correctly. In cooler growing zones, the plant is started around late September to early October. For growing zones 5 to 10, it should be planted between late October to December.
Choose a sunny spot for growing garlic, with loose, fertile, well-draining soil. Sandy soil will need to be amended with large compost or manure quantities to make it suitable for growing garlic.
Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Garlic?
Garlic is a healthy vegetable that people have used for medicinal purposes besides as a seasoning agent. But, is it safe for everyone? Are there any side effects of excessive consumption? Here is everything you should know before consuming garlic.
Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women
Consumption in food amounts is most likely safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women unless they suffer from acid reflux or similar problems. But, avoid using excessive amounts during this time.
It’s safe for children as long as it’s consumed in food amounts. Excessive consumption is deemed unsafe by most experts, although the exact reason for this isn’t known. It also causes severe irritation when applied to the skin. Remember to store it where kids can’t reach it.
People With Allergies
The first thing you should know whether you are already allergic to plants like onion, chives, or other plants in the allium family. If you are, there is a big chance that you are allergic to garlic as well.
Some of these allergy symptoms include hives, sneezing, breathing difficulties, and skin inflammation, to name a few.
People With Diabetes
Consumption of garlic in controlled amounts is beneficial for people with diabetes since it can help regulate their blood sugar levels.
People with acid reflux should avoid consuming garlic. Acid reflux irritates the esophagus lining, and the effects are more pronounced with certain foods like garlic.
You should also avoid garlic supplements if you’re taking any blood-thinning medications. You should also not take these before or after major surgery.
Possible Side Effects
It can also sometimes result in heartburn or stomach problems. But, these minor side effects are more familiar with raw garlic rather than its cooked form. Bad odor is another thing you should be keeping in mind when consuming garlic.
If you love eating garlic, would your pets like it too? No! Keep your pets away from this plant. Garlic is poisonous to cats and dogs! Cats are especially susceptible to the plant, resulting in anemia, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and drooling. Contact your vet in case of an emergency.