There are exactly 3 foods I can’t live without – potatoes, onions, and garlic. It wouldn’t make for an ideal diet but as far as flavors go, these are essential. There’s nothing more satisfying than a potato dish, regardless of how you choose to cook it, and onions add depth to everything. But garlic, along with being delicious, is also powerful beyond the kitchen.
My Brazilian great-grandmother was a kind of local herb woman. People would come to her for anything from balms and tinctures to special prayers. I have vague memories of her snowy white hair and the little saint altar she kept behind the house – a strange and interesting mix of Brazilian Catholicism and plant medicine that still fascinates me to this day.
Unfortunately, even though she had 13 children (yes, 13) not one of them took after her herbalism. Randomly my grandmother would give us a recipe for something she remembered her mother doing, like soaking a blue egg in alcohol and keeping it in a glass to smell will apparently clear headaches. But some of them made more sense, like fighting a cold with garlic.
As I started gardening and planting garlic, these recipes kept popping up as remedies for everything from pest control to oral health. Although some claims sound iffy to me (if every plant fought cancer like the internet thinks it does, no one would ever die of it) there are some tried and true uses for the herb. It’s a great source of vitamin B6 and vitamin C, and the minerals Manganese, Phosphorus, Calcium, Iron, and Zinc.
My sister swears by her cold-fighting garlic munching. Whenever she feels a cold coming she’ll pop over to the kitchen, peel a garlic clove, and eat it raw. My mother also uses garlic for colds but in a tea sweetened with honey, which seems much more palatable to me. Beyond the common cold, garlic has also been linked to helping with acne, removing splinters, repelling mosquitoes, and treating fungal diseases like athlete’s foot.
As amazing as it all sounds my favorite use of garlic is in the garden. Trying to garden by organic means only is difficult when it feels like nature doesn’t want you to win. There are bugs, animals, and tiny microbes who are all as fond of your veggies as you are and who will do whatever they can to get it. Last season I found this out the hard way when I noticed my row of carrots disappearing seedling by seedling and later found out that the culprits were late season grasshoppers and crickets who found the tender leaves delicious.
As I waited for my row cover to arrive from Amazon, I relied on some advice from an employee at the Home Depot who also happened to be a gardener. Turns out grasshoppers, and most garden bugs, are not very fond of garlic. I ran home, grabbed the can of garlic powder out of the kitchen and sprinkled away all over my garden bed. The air in the garden was definitely garlic scented for a few days but my seedlings stopped disappearing (or at least as not quickly as they were before).
After the garlic powder miracle, I saw garlic recipes popping up everywhere. Garlic sprays are one of the top organic pest repellents used by gardeners everywhere. The mix varies by gardener but most involve garlic, water, dish soap, and often chili peppers. They can be used both as preventive measures since the soap, or sometimes cooking oil, will smother insect larvae and eggs before they get the chance to nibble at your plants, and also as pesticides during an attack on your garden. If you are using soap, it’s recommended to only spray if you have a serious pest problem because it may also harm beneficial insects in your garden. I know I’ve accidentally killed aphid killing wasps before and gone on to regret it.
Along with neem oil, garlic sprays are some of the most helpful and easy organic gardening solutions to incorporate into your gardening routine. As I move into my new house and begin my garden all over again, I’m looking forward to replanting some garlic along with my other crops to help with pests, and because it is, after all, delicious on everything.