Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, is a bulbous plant of Asian origin belonging to the Amaryllidaceae family. A peculiar characteristic of this family of plants is the underground bulbous formation, used to store nutrients.
Since ancient times the cultivation spread from its eastern cradle to almost the entire globe, reaching the Mediterranean basin with extraordinary rapidity: testimonies on the cultivation and use of this type of plant were, in fact, already present in ancient Egypt where they were already known its beneficial properties in the treatment of mild pains.
There are many varieties, each with specific characteristics related to growth zones.
The most widespread cultivars differ in the aromatic profile, more or less intense between one variety and the other, and for the coloring of the protective tunics that typically goes from white, to rosé, to red. Some Italian varieties, such as the red garlic of Nubia and that of Vessalico, are a Slowfood presidium (international association for the promotion of food and wine excellence).
The plant consists of a bulbous part and a smooth stem with green leaves that rises from the ground up to a height of 80 cm, on whose top a corolla of white-red flowers appears, which however almost never reaches the flowering, still aborting in the bud phase. The part we use is the bulb (or head) that can contain from 6 to 14 bulbils, improperly defined segments, wrapped and held together by two membranes (or tunics) similar to a film.
In popular traditions the allium sativum is usually associated with the image of witches and vampires. It was believed that he kept these evil creatures away and it was customary to wear it in a bag around his neck. These beliefs were justified by the bland knowledge that they had at the time of the plant's antiparasitic and antibacterial properties, now scientifically proven.
Very appreciated for its curative properties, the allium sativum is used in the medical field as a natural adjuvant. In ancient times it was widely consumed to prevent and combat many types of disorders. It was believed, in fact, that it had a powerful purifying and restorative action. Today we know that garlic contains numerous substances essential for the balance of our body, including mineral salts, proteins, vitamins (A, B1, B2, PP and C) and trace elements. It contains a sulphurous compound known as Allicin which, in addition to giving the characteristic odor, has a scientifically proven antibiotic efficacy. It is also used as an antioxidant, depending on its protective action on cellular tissues that prevents premature aging, as an antiseptic and antibacterial, as an antihypertensive and as an anti-flu. It has beneficial effects on the cardio-circulatory system: it tones the heart muscles, thins the blood, performs a purifying and anti-obstructive action. It carries out an interesting antinicotin action, absorbing the excess substance present in the body.
Finally, recent clinical studies have demonstrated its antitumor efficacy; regular consumption of garlic can play a protective role against the disease, acting as an inhibitor of the cancerous processes of the cells.
Obviously garlic maintains its properties and its curative efficacy only if consumed raw, since cooking alters all its nutritive compounds. Furthermore, despite widespread beliefs, it acts as a stimulant in the digestive processes.
How to cultivate
This is a ubiquitous plant, it grows almost everywhere adapting to the most diverse climatic conditions, without requiring special care. The only care in cultivating this plant must be reserved for the soil that must be well drained. Garlic, like all bulbous plants, does not tolerate stagnant water that could cause rotting. It is therefore suitable also for not particularly fertile soils, partially sandy.
The bulbils, to be planted, must be kept at temperatures above 7 ° C in sufficiently humid environments, detached from the bulb. They must be placed in the ground at a depth of about 3 cm on rows, with 10-15 cm of distance between one bulbilus and another, and the apex turned upwards. The most favorable period to start cultivation goes from November to March in areas with a mild climate and in springs in areas with harsh climate. The bulbil planted serves as a nourishment for the development of the plant, therefore the larger its size the faster the growth . The irrigations should be limited to the initial periods, interrupting them completely when the leaves of the stem begin to bend and dry up, or when the bulbillo has reached maturity. At this point, when the leaves are completely dry, the plant is removed from the soil and left to dry. Often the dry upper parts are joined in tresses, which form the typical necklaces.
Because it is a really undemanding plant it is possible to have a reserve of its own even in the absence of a real land. With the aid of a plastic or wooden box, the plant can also be cultivated on the balcony of the house, having the foresight to dispose of the draining material at the bottom of the ground to avoid water stagnation.
Garlic is used in organic cultivation techniques as a natural pesticide.
It has a repellent effect on many organisms that are harmful to plants, thus saving insects useful to plant life. Moreover, due to the antibacterial properties described above it acts as a natural defense against diseases that affect plants. It is used both underground and for aerial spraying in the form of an infusion.
Use in the kitchen
Widely used as a condiment in kitchens around the world, it has a very special aroma that gives rise to conflicting opinions. Unpleasant for some, sublime for others, the pungent and decisive smell is due to the sulphurous compounds present in the bulb.
In the kitchen, bulbils (cloves) are used. They are used in different ways to give flavor to sauces or sauces, raw or cooked. Generally after extracting the aroma in cooking to flavor the dish is eliminated and not consumed. However, there are traditional preparations that involve the use of raw and its direct consumption, such as bagna cauda (traditional Piedmontese sauce made with garlic, butter and anchovies used to accompany boiled vegetables) and tzatziki sauce (Greek based sauce of allium, yogurt and cucumber used to season meat and vegetables). Some find this type of plant less digestible, which is why it is advisable to eliminate the internal green petiole before eating it, especially if eaten raw.