Lifestyle: Food – Garlic (Allium Sattivum)

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    With the fall equinox right around the corner and as we enter cooler weather, I thought, why not post on something new that I’ve attempted this year -just because it’s kind of that of time year when we start reflecting more. Trying something new adds dimension, experience, happiness as we celebrate the small victories and a kind of wisdom to our being as we learn from our mistakes. So with the hopes of spreading warmth and inspiration, here goes.

    As a child, I remember pushing big cloves of garlic found in delicious curries amma (mom in Tamil) made to the edge of my plate. Like most, I wasn’t so fond of our strong-smelling friend. Into adulthood however, I developed quite a liking for what is often referred to as “the poor man’s gold” in India because it is a treasure trove of medicinal benefits, especially considering its ability to strengthen the body and boost immunity. Interestingly enough, I noticed that when my youngest daughter started crawling and then walking last year, she’d make frequent visits into the lower level cupboard where we kept our garlic and onions. She often came out chewing on her personally curated bunch of shallots and garlic cloves. I never stopped her because I knew that it was good for her, for one thing. I just didn’t know the exact benefits. My curiosity eventually led me to researching about and planting, harvesting, curing and braiding our very own organic garlic in our backyard garden. I can’t stress how rewarding the experience has been. I’m doing it again and highly recommend that you try it too.

    A bit on our strong-smelling friend

    Garlic is a part of the allium family, which includes other vegetables like onions and leeks, and is used mainly in cooking. There are two major types of garlic. These are the 1) soft-neck and 2) hard-neck varieties. The hard stem persists in bulbs of the latter varieties and are withered or absent in the former. There is also another type known as elephant garlic. It’s similar to the soft-neck varieties with the exception that its bulbs and cloves are huge. Garlic contains a large amount of a sulfur compound known as Allicin, which is responsible for most of its health benefits.

    Here are just some of the health perks that garlic gives us:

    -low in calories and high in Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Manganese
    -its supplementation helps prevent and alleviate the symptoms associated with the common cold and flu such as cough, sore throat and fever
    -in high doses it may improve blood pressure of those with hypertension
    -can reduce total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, particularly in those who have high cholesterol. HDL (“good”) cholesterol and triglycerides do not seem to be affected.
    -contains antioxidants that protect against cell damage and ageing, and may thereby reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
    -by having known beneficial effects on common causes of chronic disease, it can help you live longer
    -garlic can improve physical performance in lab animals and people with heart disease. It was used in ancient cultures to reduce fatigue and enhance the work capacity of labourers, and was given to Olympic athletes in ancient Greece
    – can detoxify heavy metals in the body and has been shown in a study to significantly reduce lead toxicity
    -benefits female bone health by increasing estrogen levels, and helps heal fractured bones

    I’ve enjoyed garlic on homemade pizza, in curries and gravies, salads, pesto and even raw. Actually, the best way to consume garlic is raw, or to crush and cut it, allowing it “aerate” for a while before you add it to cooked and raw dishes. The reason for this being that garlic contains a compound called allin. When garlic is crushed or chewed, this compound turns into allicin, the main active ingredient in garlic. Allicin is unstable, so it quickly converts to other sulphur-containing compounds that give garlic its medicinal properties.


     

    THE EASTERN PERSPECTIVE

    Ayurveda is a system of medicine which was developed by the sages of India, and literally means science of life. According to this sophisticated health system, garlic has five different tastes. These are sweet, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. In Ayurveda, it is highly recommended that we eat all six tastes with every meal. So for a single food item, like garlic to have five tastes is exceptional! Garlic has a hot potency or Virya. This means upon consumption, it provides heat to the body and mind. It’s post-digestive effect or Vipaka is pungent. So it can flush out toxins and dry up excess fluid. The qualities or gunas of garlic are oily, sharp, slimy and heavy. It keeps the Vata and Kapha doshas balanced (I’ll explain more on this in another post).

    More Benefits

    In addition to the abovementioned benefits, garlic is used in Ayurvedic treatments such as patra poultice by rubbing it on the body to reduce joint pain, muscle pain, stiffness, arthritis and to extract excess fatty tissues. It also purifies the blood of toxins.

    So why do so many of those on the eastern spiritual path avoid garlic?

    Those on the spiritual path avoid consuming onion and garlic because it is believed that although onion and garlic have various physical health benefits, they stimulate the central nervous systems and are believed to agitate the mind and increase libido. For certain spiritual adherents, this means that it can contribute to breaking vows of celibacy. It is a natural aphrodisiac and stimulates sexual desire and can thereby increase sorrow and suffering via attachment.

    According to Yogic philosophy, there are three qualities in everything in the universe, including foods. These are:
    Sattva (purity)
    Rajas (stiulation, passion)
    Tamas (inertia)

     

    Dr. Robert E. Svoboda, a writer and Ayurvedic doctor has said,
    “Garlic and onions are both rajasic and tamasic, and are forbidden to yogis because they root the consciousness more firmly in the body.”

    So, avoiding onion and garlic will provide those on the spiritual path with a little extra support. That said, those who have exceptionally low libido can benefit from the effects of garlic. Also, you can transcend some of the rajasic qualities of garlic by using the purification methods below, which enhance its sattvic quality. Even if you don’t “purify” garlic, its rasayana or anti-aging or properties are still very high.

    Garlic purification steps:

    1. Take out the inner, green sprout and discard—this is the most important step.
    2. Sautee the garlic in ghee
    3. Soak it in plain yoghourt (bonus purification step)

    After following these steps, your garlic is now sattvic and its medicinal properties have been enhanced, so that it can to be eaten by itself or used in cooking.
    Whether taking an eastern or western perspective on garlic, one thing remains certain. Garlic is highly beneficial for the human physiology. Its medicinal properties and expansive health benefits can be unlocked through certain purification procedures as well as chopping and crushing it before cooking with it or consuming it as is.
    Now that you’ve read about garlic and its benefits, let’s get to the hands-on stuff – how to grow your own garlic!

    Garlic Growing Instructions

    Garlic is very robust and easy to grow. Allocating just a small portion of your garden to grow garlic can be very rewarding.

    Soil and Sun Needs

    Garlic requires rich soil with plenty of moisture and sun. If the soil is too sandy, the garlic may not reach its full size. Mix in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost to enrich the soil. I’ve found that preparing raised beds of soil helps.

    Planting

    1. If you are not planting the cloves immediately, store the bulbs in the fridge (not freezer).
    2. Fall is the best time to plant. It gives it a head start on the next growing season. Garlic is hardy enough to withstand winter in most areas of southern Canada. Winter mulching with dead leaves or straw prevents frost from heaving the cloves out of the ground.
    3. Separate the bulbs into individual cloves before planting. Each bulb can yield 8-20 cloves, depending on the variety. Discard cloves that are less than 5mm (1/4”) thick. The larger the clove planted, the larger the bulb at harvest.
    4. Plant the cloves 15 cm (6”) apart and 5 cm (2”) deep. Because elephant garlic cloves are larger, plant them 20 cm (8”) apart. The smaller, more pointed end of the cloves should point upward when planting and the tops of the cloves should be 5 cm below the soils surface.
    5. Water well after planting, and keep the soil most until the plants are established. Thereafter, water during dry weather.
    6. Cut the garlic scapes, which are the flower bud of the garlic plant, off early summer. You can also leave them on the plant. However, doing so directs the energy back into the growth of the bulb. Garlic scapes also make for a deelish stir-fry and tastes just like garlic.
    7. The leaves will start to turn yellow mid-summer into early autumn. When most, but not all the leaves have turned yellow, the garlic is ready to be harvested. This is typically around mid to late august for those living in the Greater Toronto Area, but could be a little later or earlier depending on your location.
    8. When the time has to harvest, dig and expose the garlic to the sun for several days.
    9. Cure the garlic by storing or hanging in a well-ventilated place.
    10. Braid the garlic together and hang in your pantry. Badda-bing! Beauty and practicality all in one.

    Happy planting!