Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Garlic – The Magical Bulb.

Used as currency by the Egyptians, essential in classical Greek and Roman cooking, a vital flavour of the Mediterranean, yet often hated by the British, garlic is one of the most valuable medicinal plants.

Garlic was brought to Britain by Roman centurions who wedged fresh cloves between their toes to prevent foot rot. Some of the discarded garlic took root and this wonderful wild plant soon became established. How right they were, as the best cure for athlete's foot is to put two crushed cloves of garlic and two tablespoons of cider vinegar into a bowl of hot water and soak the foot for 15 minutes a day.

For centuries, garlic has been used for the treatment of coughs, colds, chest infections and sinus problems. Herbalists have known since the Middle Ages that it could help with asthma, digestive problems, stomach upsets and all sorts of fungal infections, so it's not surprising that modern science has proved that garlic has powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties. What is surprising is the link between garlic and heart disease.

During the last 30 years a mass of evidence has emerged to show that the natural chemicals in this bulb help the body to get rid of cholesterol, reduces the level of bad cholesterol in the blood, makes the blood less sticky so it's less likely to clot and even helps lower blood pressure. It's no coincidence that in countries where most garlic is eaten fewer people die of heart attacks than in the UK and America.

You may think that you don't like the taste or the smell of this powerful health protective bulb, but don't knock it till you've tried it.

It may also come as a surprise that the humble beetroot is one of the best of all the Superfood tonics.

For recipes and tips to help you grow your own crop of garlic . . . read on


My first efforts at growing garlic were pretty miserable and I ended up with cloves that looked like emaciated spring onions. I'd been saving a few cloves of French or Italian garlic and sticking it in the garden. For successful crops in the UK the first essential is the right variety and for many years now I've planted a selection of garlic from the Isle of Wight where it is specially bred for our climate and seasons.

It's the easiest and most satisfying crop to grow as with a bit of practice you need never buy another bulb of garlic. My stored bulbs easily last until the new crop is ready and leave enough to plant for next year. Bulbs are normally available from September onwards so order now to make sure you get what you want. The Garlic Lovers Planting Selection provides five varieties from Early Wight to harvest in June through to Giant Elephant Garlic, ready in July. Order from The Garlic Farm, at www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk tel 01983 865378. The variety Printanor is available from The Organic Gardening Catalogue www.organiccatalog.com , tel 0845 130 1304


Garlic prefers a light, free draining soil and sunshine but will grow even on heavy clay soil like mine. It likes potash so I save all the ash from our log fires and bonfires and rake it in to the soil before planting. Most varieties do better if they have a couple of months of cold weather – below 10˚C. Plant the earliest varieties in October/November but use these first when they mature as they won't store as well as the later ones which should be planted December or February/March.

Separate the bulbs into cloves, make a 2 inch deep hole with a dibber and plant flat end down. Plant 6 inches apart with 12 inches between rows. If your soil is very heavy put a handful of mixed coarse sand and soil improver at the bottom of each hole. Apart from a bit of weeding and watering if very dry, you can leave garlic to fend for itself.

As soon as the leaves begin turning yellow it's time to lift your bulbs. Be gentle as bruised bulbs tend to rot. It's best to dry your garlic in the fresh air, off the ground. In wet weather put them under a lean-to roof or in a very airy garage or shed with windows open. After about a week I tie them in bunches and hang them on nails in the garage. Rather than risk damage I tend to leave the dirt on the bulbs till they're used.

It's very important to rotate your garlic and not plant them in the same place or where onions have grown for at least three or four years, as they are subject to some forms of rot. They resist and repel most pests which is why companion planting with lettuce, the cabbage family, beetroots and roses protects these plants too, making garlic a great crop for the organic gardener.


Ajo Blanco – Spanish Garlic Soup With Garlic Puree Bruschetta

Sally's Garlic Lamb

Baked Fish Provencale


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