Garlic, how do I love thee?
In so many dishes and so many ways. I use garlic in nearly every food I eat. It is my favorite of spices. I love to “pickle” it in honey and tamari, though I have to restrain myself from having an entire jar of garlic when it is done that way. I am not the only lover of garlic, there are so many it is beyond counting for me. If you were to do an internet search for Garlic festivals, there are pages of them. Each one in a different locale.
Garlic got its start as a beloved part of so many lives in very early history. It was written about in some of humanities earliest medical texts. Documents from Greece, China, India, Italy and Egypt all write about medicinal uses for this plant. Cultures that never made contact with each other often had found the same uses for it. Even modern science is working at confirming many historical uses.
The Egyptians thought garlic as part of the daily food intake was a great way to maintain and increase strength and productivity as well. It was used for all, be they Kings or Jewish slaves. Garlic was prescribed in Egyptian medical codex as medicine for parasites, insects, circulatory issues, and general malaise.
The Greeks and Romans
The Greeks found garlic to be a provider of extra courage and so fed their military with garlic as part of their daily diet. The Romans felt along the same lines as the Greeks about garlic and fed it to their militia as well. Even those who participated in the first Olympic games ate garlic before a performance to enhance it.
The Ayurvedic medical text, Charaka Samhita, mentions it as part of a treatment for arthritis and for heart disease. Many ancient medical texts refer to it for heart disease as well as having mention of its use during great plagues. The physics gardens of the Renaissance period often included garlic. The plant attained such renown that it is even mentioned in the bible. Numbers 11:5 talks of how “We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic.” Vikings held the humble garlic in high esteem as well, taking healthy supplies of it on every voyage. A fantastic way to aid in health maintenance of the crew on a long journey.
Stories of Garlic
I have found two stories to accompany the history of garlic.
This particular legend comes from the Phillipines and likens the cloves of garlic to teeth.
“The legend of the first garlic says that once upon a time, there was a maiden with beauty such as had never seen before. When she was old enough, her mother arranged for her to marry one of the richest princes in the village. She was so beautiful that a few men were after her, and one of them murdered her fiance. The murderer was caught by the fiance’s loyal slave and killed by the slave for the murder of his master.
When the maiden heard of these deaths she ran to the very top of the Sacred Mountain. There she prayed to Bathala, pouring out her broken heart to the God and begging to be taken to Bathala; so that her beauty might not be the cause for any more deaths. Bathala heard her prayers and called her forth; killing her at once with a single strike of lightning.
Her mother had her buried, and watered her grave site daily with her tears. Then one day the Mother notices some grass-like plants growing on her daughter’s grave. Trying to tidy the grave site, she pulls the weeds out and realizes that the seeds look much like her daughter’s teeth. While she was admiring them, a voice out of no where said to her:
“Those are your daughter’s teeth”
In her heart, the mother knew it was Bathala giving her a memento to remind her of her daughter. The next day the mother began planting the seeds all over the land, as a memorial to her daughter.
And this is the Legend of the Garlic.”
The second legend hails from Korea. Garlic is part of one of their creation myths.
“Once upon a time, a heavenly prince, Hwangun looked down to the earth and wanted it for himself. To be the ruler of all men. He went to his father, the Ruler of Heaven Hwanin. Hwanin knew that his son would bring happiness to the people on earth. So looking down to earth, he chose Mount Taebak as a suitable place for his son to go to earth.
Hwangun arrived beneath a sandalwood tree where he created a holy city. Along with Hwangun, came three heavenly seals of a somewhat mysterious nature, and 3000 loyal subjects from heaven.
Hwangun also brought three ministers;
the Earl of Wind, the Master of Rain, and the Master of Clouds. As soon they arrived on earth, Hwangun taught to humans 360 skills, such as medicine and agriculture.
Time passed by and everything was happiness on earth. One day, a bear and tiger, seeinng how happy humans were, desired to become humans. Hwangun set them task of shunning sunlight and eating only food given to them by Hwangun. The food given consisted of mugwort and 20 cloves of garlic. The bear was strong and faithful, she succeeded in earning the approval of Hwangun. The tiger failed, and he fled into the forest to hide his shame.
The bear was transformed into a beautiful woman called Ungyo. She became the first wife of Hwangun. Soon they had a son, and they named him Tangun, the King of Sandalwood. Tangun became the first King of Korea and called his country Choson. Tangun ruled for 1500 years. After so many years he went to Taebak-san and became a mountain god.”
The Koreans must have considered it to be a potent medicine of transformation, to include it here in their creation myth. While I see it as transformative, I am happy with it just transforming my food into an even tastier creation.