1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Garlic

GARLIC (O. Eng. gárleác, i.e. “spear-leek”; Gr. σκόροδον; Lat. allium; Ital. aglio; Fr. ail; Ger. Knoblauch), Allium sativum, a bulbous perennial plant of the natural order Liliaceae, indigenous apparently to south-west Siberia. It has long, narrow, flat, obscurely keeled leaves, a deciduous spathe, and a globose umbel of whitish flowers, among which are small bulbils. The bulb, which is the only part eaten, has membranous scales, in the axils of which are 10 or 12 cloves, or smaller bulbs. From these new bulbs can be procured by planting out in February or March. The bulbs are best preserved hung in a dry place. If of fair size, twenty of them weigh about 1 ℔. To prevent the plant from running to leaf, Pliny (Nat. Hist. xix. 34) advises to bend the stalk downward and cover with earth; seeding, he observes, may be prevented by twisting the stalk.

Garlic is cultivated in the same manner as the shallot (q.v.). It is stated to have been grown in England before the year 1548. The percentage composition of the bulbs is given by E. Solly (Trans. Hort. Soc. Lond., new ser., iii. p. 60) as water 84.09, organic matter 13.38, and inorganic matter 1.53—that of the leaves being water 87.14, organic matter 11.27 and inorganic matter 1.59. The bulb has a strong and characteristic odour and an acrid taste, and yields an offensively smelling oil, essence of garlic, identical with allyl sulphide (C3H5)2S (see Hofmann and Cahours, Journ. Chem. Soc. x. p. 320). This, when garlic has been eaten, is evolved by the excretory organs, the activity of which it promotes. From the earliest times garlic has been used as an article of diet. It formed part of the food of the Israelites in Egypt (Numb. xi. 5) and of the labourers employed by Cheops in the construction of his pyramid, and is still grown in Egypt, where, however, the Syrian is the kind most esteemed (see Rawlinson’s Herodotus, ii. 125). It was largely consumed by the ancient Greek and Roman soldiers, sailors and rural classes (cf. Virg. Ecl. ii. 11), and, as Pliny tells us (N.H. xix. 32), by the African peasantry. Galen eulogizes it as the rustic’s theriac (see F. Adams’s Paulus Aegineta, p. 99), and Alexander Neckam, a writer of the 12th century (see Wright’s edition of his works, p. 473, 1863), recommends it as a palliative of the heat of the sun in field labour. “The people in places where the simoon is frequent,” says Mountstuart Elphinstone (An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, p. 140, 1815), “eat garlic, and rub their lips and noses with it, when they go out in the heat of the summer, to prevent their suffering by the simoon.” “O dura messorum ilia,” exclaims Horace (Epod. iii.), as he records his detestation of the popular esculent, to smell of which was accounted a sign of vulgarity (cf. Shakespeare, Coriol. iv. 6, and Meas. for Meas. iii. 2). In England garlic is seldom used except as a seasoning, but in the southern countries of Europe it is a common ingredient in dishes, and is largely consumed by the agricultural population. Garlic was placed by the ancient Greeks on the piles of stones at cross-roads, as a supper for Hecate (Theophrastus, Characters, Δεισιδαιμονίας); and according to Pliny garlic and onions were invocated as deities by the Egyptians at the taking of oaths. The inhabitants of Pelusium in lower Egypt, who worshipped the onion, are said to have held both it and garlic in aversion as food. Garlic possesses stimulant and stomachic properties, and was of old, as still sometimes now, employed as a medicinal remedy. Pliny (N.H. xx. 23) gives an exceedingly long list of complaints in which it was considered beneficial. Dr T. Sydenham valued it as an application in confluent smallpox, and, says Cullen (Mat. Med. ii. p. 174, 1789), found some dropsies cured by it alone. In the United States the bulb is given in doses of 1/2-2 drachms in cases of bronchiectasis and phthisis pulmonalis. Garlic may also be prescribed as an extract consisting of the inspissated juice, in doses of 5-10 grains, and as the syrupus allii aceticus, in doses of 1-4 drachms. This last preparation has recently been much extolled in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis or phthisis.

The wild “crow garlic” and “field garlic” of Britain are the species Allium vineale and A. oleraceum respectively.