Myths and Realities … the Folklore
An ancient legend tells us there were four “thieves” in France that stole valuables from bodies of the plague victims during the 1340’s in France. The Black Death (bubonic plague) ravaged Europe from 1347 - 1351 claiming the lives of 75 to 200 million.
In France, surprisingly, these thieves never caught the plague, even though they regularly handled dead bodies of plague victims. The legend goes on to say the thieves took a concoction of vinegar mixed with several spices and garlic. The garlic was commonly believed to be the ingredient which prevented them from contracting what took the lives of millions.
Although not an herb, garlic is considered a necessary ingredient in every cook’s pantry and kitchen along with a variety of must have herbs. It is readily available at the local supermarket; it is inexpensive and extremely versatile, with multiple uses. Most importantly, it works.
Garlic’s scientific name is allium sativum, which comes from Latin. Allium is the Latin word for garlic and sativum means “cultivated.” Allium describes a group of plants which include onions, leeks, shallots, and chives.
Historically, garlic was called “poor man’s treacle” because people thought it counteracted poison in animals. Garlic was also called “the stinking rose” because of its pungent odor.
Throughout history, garlic has been used extensively in cooking as well as health remedies. Garlic tea with a little cayenne or chicken bouillon helps a sore throat and congestion.
Garlic has a long and colorful history. Historians believe it originated in northwestern Asia, circa 4000 BC. Ancient Egyptians thought that garlic gave one strength. According to folklore, they fed it to the Hebrew slaves in Egypt to improve stamina. Clay figures of garlic were found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.
Interestingly, garlic is mentioned in both the Bible and the Talmud.
For centuries, the Chinese used garlic to treat heart attacks and circulatory problems. The ancient Greeks and Romans also used it. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, prescribed garlic for ailments such as leprosy, wounds, digestive complaints, malignant tumors, and heart problems.
The Greeks and Romans believed that garlic had a positive effect on the immune system. Both ancient civilizations provided garlic to their soldiers in wartime.
Galen of Pergamon and Pedanius Dioscorides used garlic for common disorders such as poor digestion and parasites. According to folklore, garlic was good for repelling vampires and evil spirits. During the Middle Ages, it was used to ward off the plague.
Historically, Arab doctors, including Avicenna, used garlic. The medieval medical school in Salerno, Italy, used garlic. St. Hildegard of Bingen referred to the medicinal use of raw garlic in her writings.
Bald’s Leachbook was written by a medieval doctor in England around 900 AD. He used garlic as a remedy for illness. Later, garlic fell out of favor and grew to be disliked by the English. Culpepper, an herbalist from 17th century England, refers to the offensiveness of the garlic smell on one’s breath.
In 1649, the London College of Physicians used garlic as an antidote to bites from venomous beasts. They also believed garlic was good for disorders involving the urinary tract and bowels. Garlic was considered an antidote to the bubonic plague that hit England in the 1600’s and was finally arrested by London’s Great Fire in 1666.
The Chinese used garlic to treat worms in animals. They also used it as a preventive measure against influenza for humans. Garlic was—and still is—used extensively in Eastern Europe for medicinal purposes. Russians use a bulb of garlic soaked in a cup of warm milk for dysentery, seizures, and threadworms.
n the New World, garlic was introduced by European explorers, and quickly found wide usage in various folk medicines.
In 1848, Louis Pasteur studied garlic and documented its antibacterial properties. In both World War I and II, due to shortages of medicines, the British army medics developed a garlic wash to treat wounds. The Russians also used garlic extensively on the battlefield; garlic won the title of “Russian Penicillin”.
Albert Schweitzer was aware of garlic and its antibacterial and antifungal properties. He used it to treat typhus and cholera.
For centuries, the people in northern Europe associated garlic with Mediterranean countries and suggested that they had “hot blood” from all the garlic they ate. Surprisingly, Japan is another country where garlic is not popular.
Some folks love garlic and some folks hate it. Either way, garlic is an exceptionally good resource for both health and flavor purposes that has stood the test of time.