Facts About Garlic

Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, is a species in the onion genus, Allium. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, chive, and rakkyo. Dating back over 6,000 years, garlic is native to central Asia, and has long been a staple in the Mediterranean region, as well as a frequent seasoning in Asia, Africa, and Europe. It was known to Ancient Egyptians, and has been used throughout its history for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Within the species, Allium sativum, there are also two main subspecies or varieties. Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon, called Ophioscorodon, or hard necked garlic, includes porcelain garlics, rocambole garlic, and purple stripe garlics. It is sometimes considered to be a separate species, Allium ophioscorodon. Allium sativum var. sativum, or soft-necked garlic, includes artichoke garlic, silverskin garlic, and creole garlic. 1


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Quotes About Garlic

“My final, considered judgment is that the hardy bulb [garlic] blesses and ennobles everything it touches – with the possible exception of ice cream and pie.” Angelo Pellegrini, ‘The Unprejudiced Palate’ (1948) 

“Garlic is as good as ten mothers.” Les Blank

“Shallots are for babies; Onions are for men; garlic is for heroes.” unknown

“Garlic is the catsup of intellectuals.” unknown 

“The human body, when it freezes in eternal silence, is said to be worth about ninety-eight cents. The body of an ordinary south European, if we could devise the means for extracting the garlic from it, would be worth a bushel of gold.”  Angelo Pellegrini, ‘The Unprejudiced Palate’ (1948)

“There is no such thing as a little garlic.” Arthur Baer

“Garlic lost some of its popularity during the 17th century: “We absolutely forbid it entrance into our Salleting [salad], by reason of its intolerable Rankness, and which made it so detested of old, that the eating of it was . . . part of the Punishment of such as had committed the horrid’st Crimes. To be sure, ’tis not for Ladies Palats, nor those who court them, farther than to permit a light touch on the Dish, with a Clove thereof.” John Evelyn (1699) ‘Acetaria’

“A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat.” New York expression (Yiddish or Jewish?)

“Oh, that miracle clove! Not only does garlic taste good, it cures baldness and tennis elbow, too.”  Laurie Burrows Grad

Garlick maketh a man wynke, drynke, and stynke.” Thomas Nash (16th Century)

“Garlic used as it should be used is the soul, the divine essence, of cookery. The cook who can employ it successfully will be found to possess the delicacy of perception, the accuracy of judgment, and the dexterity of hand which go to the formation of a great artist.” Mrs. W. G. Waters in ‘The Cook’s Decameron,’ 1920

“What garlic is to salad, insanity is to art.” Augustus Saint-Gaudens, ‘Reminiscences’

“There are many miracles in the world to be celebrated and, for me, garlic is the most deserving.” Felice Leonardo (Leo) Buscaglia (1924-1998)

“There are five elements: earth, air, fire, water and garlic.” Louis Diat

“And there was a cut of some roast….which was borne on Pegasus-wings of garlic beyond mundane speculation.” C.S. Forester (1899-1966) 

“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” Alice May Brock (of ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ fame) 

“Oh, better no doubt is a dinner of herbs, When season’d with love, which no rancour disturbs And sweeten’d by all that is sweetest in life Than turbot, bisque, ortolans, eaten in strife! But if, out of humour, and hungry, alone A man should sit down to dinner, each one Of the dishes which the cook chooses to spoil With a horrible mixture of garlic and oil, The chances are ten against one, I must own, He gets up as ill-tempered as when he sat down.” Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1831-1891) Lucile (1860)

“A little garlic, judiciously used, won’t seriously affect your social life and will tone up more dull dishes than any commodity discovered to date.” Alexander Wright, ‘How to Live Without a Woman’ (1937)

“Provençal cooking is based on garlic. The air in Provence is impregnated with the aroma of garlic, which makes it very healthful to breathe. Garlic is the main seasoning in bouillabaisse and in the principal sauces of the region. A sort of mayonnaise is made with it by crushing it in oil, and this is eaten with fish and snails. The lower classes in Provence often lunch on a crust of bread sprinkled with oil and rubbed with garlic.” Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) ‘Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine’

“Garlics, tho’ used by the French. are better adapted to the uses of medicine than cookery.” Amelia Simmons. ‘American Cookery’ (1796)

“A garlic caress is stimulating. A garlic excess soporific.” Curnonsky (1872-1956)

“Another article of cuisine that offends the bowels of unused Britons is garlic. Not uncommonly in southern climes an egg with a shell on is the only procurable animal food without garlic in it. Flatulence and looseness are the frequent results.” Dr. T. K. Chambers ‘A Manuel of Diet In Health and Disease’ (1875)

“Of the many smells of Athens two seem to me the most characteristic – that of garlic, bold and deadly like acetylene gas. and that of dust, soft and warm and caressing like tweed.” Evelyn Waugh. ‘When the Going was Good’ (1946)

“He added that a Frenchman in the train had given him a great sandwich that so stank of garlic that he had been inclined to throw it at the fellow’s head.” Ford Madox Ford. ‘Provence’ (1935)

“And more than all, how many of us have dined at the Réserve at Marseille, that famous restaurant on the Mediterranean shore, where the brothers Roubion have acquired immortal fame? There is but one word in English which describes the sensation of the traveller who eats there for the first time — that word is revelation. New truths seem to be imparted to you as you swallow, new objects and new theories of life seem to float around you. Strange ideas come to you across the sea: and when it all is over, when with a calm-bringing cigar, your legs stretched out, you silently digest and think, with the Chateau d’If and the flickering waves before you in the moonlight. you gratefully thank Providence for having led you there. All this is the effect of garlic, which works upon you like haschisch.”  ‘French Home Life’ (1873)

“Well loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes. And for to drinken strong wyn, reed as blood.” Geoffrey Chaucer (1340 ? – 1400) ‘Canterbury Tales’

“If ever son a parent’s aged throat with impious hand has strangled, his food be garlic.” Horace (65-8 B.C.)

“Garlick, Allium; dry towards Excess; and tho’ both by Spaniards and Italians, and the more Southern People, familiarly eaten, with almost everything, and esteem’d of such singular Vertue to help Concoction, and thought a Charm against all Infection and Poyson (by which it has obtain’d the Name of the Country man’s Theriacle) …we absolutely forbid it entrance into our Salleting, by reason of its intolerable Rankness, and which made it so detested of old; that the eating of it was (as we read) part of the Punishment for such as had committed the horrid’st Crimes. To be sure, ’tis not for Ladies Palats. nor those who court them. farther than to permit a light touch on the dish. with a Clove thereof. much better supply’d by the gentler Roccombo combo.” John Evelyn, ‘Acetaria’ (1699)

“Much more of Garlick would be used for its wholesomeness, were it not for the offensive smell it gives to the by-Standers.” John Woolridge, ‘The Art of Gardening’ (1688)

“Without garlic I simply would not care to live.” Louis Diat (1885-1958)

“Some hours after eating this dish [lièvre à la royale, which contains 20 cloves of garlic and twice that quantity of shallots], there is a peculiar sensation of liberation in the head. and it is sensation of smell.” Patience Gray, ‘Plats du Jour’ (1957)

“There are two Italies…. The one is the most sublime and lovely contemplation that can be conceived by the imagination of man; the other is the most degraded, disgusting, and odious. What do you think? Young women of rank actually eat — you will never guess what — garlick! Our poor friend Lord Byron is quite corrupted by living among these people, and in fact, is going on in a way not worthy of him.” Percy Bysshe Shelley, in a letter from Naples (22 December 1818)

“I have read in one of the Marseille newspapers that if certain people find aioli indigestible, it is simply because too little garlic has been included in its confection, a minimum of four cloves per person being necessary.” Richard Olney, ‘Simple French Food’ (1974)

“No cook who has attained mastery over her craft ever apologizes for the presence of garlic in her productions.” Ruth Gottfried, ‘The Questing Cook’ (1927)

“Since garlic then hath powers to save from death, Bear with it though it makes unsavory breath.” Salerno Regimen of Health (12th century) 

“And, most dear actors, eat no onions nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath.” William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

“It is not really an exaggeration to say that peace and happiness begin, geographically, where garlic is used in cooking.”  X. Marcel Boulestin (1878-1943)

“To dream that you are eating garlic denotes that you will discover hidden secrets and meet with some domestic jar. To dream that there is garlic in the house is lucky.” Richard Folkard in ‘Plant Lore’ (1884)


(Ed. Here’s the short version, to get you started: “Crack” the garlic bulbs into individual cloves, making sure to leave the skin intact on each clove. Plant each clove, pointy end facing up, at a depth of two to three times the length of the clove. Distance of 6″  between each clove. Pat soil firmly. Plant in straight rows, as this makes it easier to weed in the spring if using a hoe or any kind of mechanical weeder.Cover with mulch, either straw (weed seed free!), leaves, or newspaper. If straw, should be a depth of 12″ to 18″.  Newspaper or leaves, although more readily available for some growers, will need to be removed in the spring as they may form a thick mat and can impede garlic from sprouting)

Garlic is a perennial plant that requires a cold period to initiate growth. In Ontario, garlic is grown as a winter annual – planted in the fall and harvested the following summer. Although fall planting is recommended, it is possible to plant in the spring. Place planting stock in cold storage prior to planting to allow proper bulb development. It is critical that garlic not be planted too early or too late in the fall. Planting depth is also important. If planted too early or not deep enough, there is a risk that shoots will emerge above the soil surface and be prone to winter injury. If planted too late, there is a risk that cloves will not develop adequate root systems and will not be winter hardy. It is also important that cloves are planted with the pointed side up. Although cloves planted upside down will develop, they often have a curved shoot and misshapen bulbs. A strong, well-established overwintering plant will rapidly develop shoot growth during spring as soil and air temperatures increase. With adequate moisture and nutrition, a large plant will develop before bulbing takes place. Store healthy seed stock as whole bulbs until shortly before planting, since cloves separated from the parent bulb deteriorate more rapidly than whole bulbs. Dry bulbs are more easily broken apart into cloves than damp bulbs. Garlic can be cracked by hand or mechanical devices. However, there is greater potential for physical damage to cloves when mechanically cracked. Some mechanical planting equipment requires that cloves be graded into sizes or weight ranges for improved planting efficiency. The amount of planting material required will vary from 700-1,000 kg/ha, depending upon the weight of individual cloves planted and the spacing used. Space plants 7-12 cm apart in the row. Cloves of small-bulbed strains (e.g., Artichoke) may be planted as close as 7 cm apart, while large-bulbed strains (e.g., Porcelain) can require as much as 12 cm between plants. Spacing between rows will depend on the method of planting and available equipment for cultivation. Single or multiple rows of plants are commonly used with spacing of at least 20 cm between rows.

Figure 3. Asiatic garlic bulbil capsules.

Figure 1. Garlic bulbils

Over the past few years, some Ontario growers have experimented with planting bulbils. Bulbils, or aerial cloves, are contained within a capsule within the top portion of the scape. Depending on variety, capsules may contain from four to a few hundred bulbils (Figures 1). The main advantage of planting bulbils is that it allows growers to increase their planting stock very quickly and to produce seed stock free of soil-borne diseases. The disadvantage is that it can take several years of successive plantings to achieve good-sized bulbs from the initial bulbil planting stock.Similar to garlic, bulbil capsules should be broken open and individual bulbils removed for planting just prior to planting. Planting densities for bulbils are not well established, primarily due to size variation among varieties. Planting bulbils closer together allows for easier management but take care to provide adequate space for bulb growth. Growers in other parts of Canada have found that regular irrigation is critical for bulbil plantings due to their shallow root systems.


Planting Location and Soil Preparation

Garlic can be grown successfully in a wide range of soil types and is grown in most cultivated areas of Ontario. Soils with high organic matter content are preferred, due to their increased moisture- and nutrient-holding capacity. Soils containing sufficient organic matter are also less prone to crusting and compaction. Very heavy soil types hinder bulb expansion, especially if allowed to dry out, resulting in rough and irregular shaped bulbs. Intensive soil management practices are required on light sandy soils due to their low moisture-holding capacity. Garlic grows well on fertile soils, however, fertilizer recommendations for garlic in Ontario have not been fully determined. Verify the soil phosphorus and potassium levels with a soil test. Broadcast any required phosphorus or potassium followed by shallow incorporation into the soil before fall planting. The amount of nitrogen required will vary with soil type, the previous crop grown, the amount of organic matter present and the climatic conditions during the growing season. Depending on soil type and organic matter content, it is generally accepted that garlic requires between 56-110 kg N/ha. With a small amount applied in the fall, apply half the nitrogen as soon as the garlic begins to grow in early spring and the remainder split into two to three applications at 3-week intervals. Complete the application of nitrogen within 4-6 weeks of harvest. Do not plant garlic in soils that are prone to excessive frost heaving. Choose fields where good snow cover occurs to enhance plant survival. Choose fields that provide ample wind protection, especially where garlic is planted in lighter soils. In Eastern Ontario, many growers mulch for the winter. Mulching helps moderate soil temperatures, and protects roots and shoots from fluctuating temperatures. While several different mulches are commercially available, it is important to ensure you don’t mulch with materials that could be contaminated with garlic pests, such as bulb and stem nematode, bulb mites, diseases or weed seed. The most commonly used mulch is straw, applied 10-15 cm deep directly over the planted garlic rows . In the spring, some growers remove the mulch completely once the threat of frost is over, while others leave it on throughout the season to help maintain moisture and provide weed control.



Garlic is sensitive to moisture stress throughout the growing season. Periods of dry soil conditions, especially during bulbing, will result in yield reductions. For most soils, approximately 2.5 cm of water per week is required during the growing season. In sandy soils, however, 5.0 cm or more of water may be required during hot, dry weather conditions. The preferred time of irrigation is morning to mid-afternoon, thus allowing sufficient time for the plant foliage to dry before nightfall. Stop irrigating when garlic becomes mature and ready to harvest. This will increase harvesting ease and reduce the potential deterioration and staining of exterior bulb sheath leaves.


Scape Removal

Figure 5. Scape ready for removal.

Removing the scape

Hardneck varieties produce a scape. Research has shown that when the scape is left on the plant, bulb yields can be decreased by as much as 30%, because energy is diverted to bulbil production rather than bulb sizing. Remove scapes by pulling, breaking or cutting just after curling but before they straighten out (Figure 5).



Bulbs continue to size during late spring and summer until the leaves of the plant begin to dry, turning tan brown from the tips toward the base of the leaves. Begin harvesting when 30%-50% of the leaves have died back. Garlic bulbs harvested too early may be immature and tend to shrivel when cured, while late harvested bulbs may have stained, partially decayed wrapper leaves and/or exposed cloves. Small plantings of garlic are often hand harvested with the aid of a fork to loosen the soil and facilitate lifting. Larger plantings are normally mechanically harvested using a tractor drawn blade that loosens the soil under the bulbs. A mechanized system can be used to lift the bulbs, remove the tops and separate the dirt and trash. Cure garlic once harvested. Curing is the process of drying the bulb to help increase storage life by minimizing microbial and fungal infection and water loss. Leave harvested garlic in the field to cure for a couple of days or remove it from the field immediately and cure it in storage. To cure garlic in the field, place plants in covered, slotted vegetable bins and allow natural air drying. To cure in storage, tie 10-15 plants into a bundle and hang to dry in a well-ventilated area or use forced air to dry the bulbs. Once cured, trim or remove garlic tops and roots and place the bulbs in slotted bins, on wired racks, or on open trays in a well-ventilated building. Similar to bulbs, bulbils must be cured prior to storage. Harvest scapes with the bulbil capsule intact just prior to garlic bulb harvest. Once harvested, bunch, tie and hang scapes to dry for a few weeks. Once dried, remove the bulbil capsules and store them in a dry location until time of planting.



Storage conditions depend on the end use. Garlic for consumption (table stock) can be stored differently than garlic for planting stock. Garlic for table stock is best stored at 0°C-4°C with a relative humidity of 60%-70%. Avoid storing in higher humidity, as it creates an excellent environment for penicillium mould and root growth. Table stock stored at room temperature may dehydrate faster. Store garlic intended for planting stock at anywhere from 10°C to room temperature with 60%-70% relative humidity. At room temperature, hardneck varieties can be stored up to 4 months; softneck varieties up to 8 months. In temperature and humidity controlled conditions, storage life can be increased to 6-7 months for Rocamboles, 8-10 months for Porcelains and over 12 months for softneck types. 2



  1. Courtesy The Garlic News.
  2. Planting, harvest and storage information, and photos, Courtesy of Ontario Ministry of Agriculure, Food and Rural Affairs.