The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Food & Health

April 26, 2014

There's good garlic and bad garlic

Garlic (Allium stivum) is good for you, or so the experts tell us.

There is evidence that garlic was used more than 5,000 years ago when the Giza pyramids were built. Ancient Greeks and Roman athletes may have used garlic to increase their strength and endurance.

Ancient China and parts of India also discovered and used different forms of garlic independently of other parts of the world before continental trade routes were established.

The National Library of Medicine lists numerous benefits of garlic in one’s diet. The list includes benefiting conditions of high cholesterol, heart attacks and coronary disease, cancers of the lungs, stomach, colon and pancreas just to name a few. Garlic also has antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Garlic belongs to the onion genus, Allium, and is closely related to leek, chives and onions. It can be grown from seed or the division of cloves from a bulb. It needs a well-drained soil and full sun. The bulbs are dug in the fall and can be stored over winter like onions. Garlic flavors and pungency varies with the variety grown and cooking methods.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) smells like garlic but belongs to the Mustard family. It has become a very invasive weed in woodlands, shady and low maintenance areas. A square yard of garlic mustard can produce up to 60,000 seeds, which can stay viable for years. In woodland areas it has overtaken the forest floor, crowding out other woodland flowers, tree seedlings and native plant species, which also upsets the natural life cycle for many insect and animal species.

The first plants were brought to the U.S by European settlers in 1850 to use in cooking and as medicine. The tender spring leaves are edible and were very easy for the early settlers to cultivate. In 150 years the plant has spread naturally and turned into an invasive nightmare from the East coast to the Midwest. One reason it continues to move across the Midwest is that garlic mustard will grow in shade or full sun, tolerate a wide range of soil types and produces such large number of viable seed.

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