Making a stink about garlic

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 12:00am

MANY PEOPLE have mixed feelings about garlic. The sometimes pungent smell earns this root crop the oxymoron 'the Stinking Rose'. And like its versatile flavour, the garlic is surrounded by a variety of cures, both myths and facts.

The first garlic

Apart from its common association with vampires, there is a different theory in the Philippines to explain the origins of garlic.

The myth relates to a maiden so beautiful that a suitor kills her fiance. In turn, the suitor is killed for the murder. Distraught because she believes that her beautiful face has caused so many deaths, she asks the god Bathala to remove her from Earth.

One day, her mother finds a white clove sprouting from the ground, and a supernatural voice tells her the clove is her daughter's tooth. The mother is grateful for the miracle, and plants the seeds all over the field. And so the garlic plant was born.

Garlic as a charm

Humans have long believed that garlic possesses energy to ward off evil forces. Each country has its own variation of the garlic versus vampire battle. Ancient Egyptians believed that a wreath of garlic could kill a vampire-like ghost who murdered children while they slept.

In China and Malaysia, parents smear their children's foreheads with crushed garlic as protection from vampires. And in the West Indies, garlic is said to repel witches' and sorcerers' spells. But Romanians seem to depend the most on garlic as a weapon against vampires. Many consume garlic every day to protect themselves. People also smear garlic on windows, doors, gates and even the horns of their cattle. A fresh corpse is also covered with garlic to prevent it from turning into a vampire.

In Central Europe, a garlic bouquet or a chain of garlic flowers is fixed to the head of the bed. Serbians, on the other hand, sleep with a garlic clove under their pillow every night to protect themselves from the evil witches who roam in the dark. However, be careful as one unfortunate Polishman died in 1973 from choking on a piece of garlic which he ate every evening believing it would ward off vampires.

A pungent aroma

The love-hate relationship between garlic and humans relates to its strong aroma. But why does garlic smell so bad sometimes? There is a scientific explanation concerning sulphur to explain its raw, pungent smell. But the main concern for garlic-lovers is, apart from the notorious garlic breath - which can take 20 pieces of chewing gum to get rid of - people who consume large amounts can even begin to emit a garlic odour from their bodies.

Garlic and health

This is the reason we, and our ancestors, love garlic. Old theories credit garlic for being beneficial to our health. In the Middle Ages, monks used garlic to protect against plagues. During World War II, garlic was an effective replacement for antibiotics, which were scarce at the time.

Since then, scientists have found proof that our ancestors' beliefs were indeed quite correct.