Garlic is a culinary delight and provides amazing medicinal benefits.  Since most garlic that you find at grocery stores is shipped in from China why not try growing some for yourself!

Garlic is a perennial that is hardy to USDA zones 3-9, it belongs to the genus Allium and the species sativum in the Alliaceae family.  The species is then divided into hardneck var. ophioscorodon and softneck var. sativum.  There are over 600 cultivated sub-varieties of garlic throughout the world. The hardneck variety, which evolved from wild garlic and is a close relative to onion and leeks, prefer cold winters and damp springs based on its origination climate in central Asia.  This makes it the ideal variety for those in northern climates.  The softneck variety was developed from the hardnecks and can be grown in warmer climates.  Softneck has two types; Artichoke and Silverskins.  On our farm, we grow the hardneck variety because it is the preferred medicinal and culinary variety and we are in a northern climate.  Hardneck includes three distinct varieties; Rocambole, Purple Striped and Porcelain.   Most of our crop is comprised of our favorite sub-variety; Music which is a Porcelain variety.  This variety boasts plump bulbs with a few fat cloves that are extremely hardy, flavourful, and medicinal plus they are covered in a very thick outer skin which makes them a good choice for storing.  We also grow lesser amounts of sub-varieties from the Rocombole and Purple Striped varieties.  We have found these to be thin skinned; so, they don’t store long but they do peel easily, have great flavours and are best for roasting.   

Garlic is planted in the fall between mid-October to early November as this allows the roots to develop but not enough that the plant will grow, which would take away from the energy it needs for winter protection and spring growth.

Garlic will grow in a variety of soils, but it does seem to prefer to be planted in soil that is well-drained and loamy with a preferred pH of 6.0-7.0.  To prepare our beds for garlic we plant a field of oats and red clover, this combination of cover crops produces biomass, fixes nitrogen and smothers weeds.  The oats are a valuable crop as well, so this planting serves a dual purpose.  We harvest the milky oats in early-mid August, then this bed is turned over and left to sit for a couple of weeks.  Garlic is a heavy feeder so a week before planting we add in plenty of organic matter including crab meal, lime and manure. We find it beneficial to top dress but only in the spring because applying later in the summer can damage the bulbs.  

‘Seed garlic’, which produces a bulb within one growing season, is the mature bulbs that are broken apart into individual cloves which are then planted.  Choose garlic from good seed stock, preferably local and organic, to ensure a disease free, healthy crop.  Breaking the bulbs apart should be done no more than 48 hours before planting to prevent them from drying out or encountering any diseases.  When its time to get the garlic in the ground holes can be punched with a marking dibbler, a handle from an old tool, a sturdy stick from the woods or as another option, rows can be made.  Garlic does well when planted in triple rows with 8-inch spacing in the row and 14 inches between the rows. [1]  Cloves need to be planted with the pointy side up, root down at a 1-3 inch depth.  After the garlic is under the soil it should be mulched with 4-6 inches of straw to lessen weed pressure, retain moisture and to keep the garlic protected during the cold days. 

In early spring, the tips of the garlic leaves emerge which develop into long, slender leaves.  Weeding is an important task that needs to be done regularly to ensure good, healthy bulbs.  When there is too much weed pressure there it too much competition for nutrients and not enough airflow.  Some agricultural publications report that poor weeding can result in up to 50 percent reduction in yields. [2] 

By mid-June to early July the garlic plants will have developed flower-bearing stems called scapes.  The scapes grow in loops that are tender and this is the time when they should be cut.  Now the plant will put all its energy into creating a larger garlic bulb rather than the flower.  The harvested scapes can be used as a culinary vegetable prepared in a variety of ways including pickled, added to stir-fries, or made into a delicious pesto.   If the scapes are not removed, they will straighten out and become woody with eventual production of the bubil capsule or flowering head.  The bubil capsule may contain up to 100 bubils that can be planted to produce a larger bulb after a 2-3-year growing cycle.

The timing of the harvest will vary depending on the Zone it is growing in.  For us, in Zone 5a, the Garlic harvest begins in late July – early August.  The garlic is ready to harvest when about 30-60 percent of all the leaves are turning brown.  This indicates that the plant has cut back on the nutrients and moisture that is being supplied to the leaves.  Gathering the garlic when the soils are dry is ideal as wet soil increases the chance of fungal disease forming during the curing process.  Gentle handling of the garlic bulbs when harvesting is essential as they can easily be bruised. 

The curing process is important to maintain the flavour and medicinal properties as well as ensuring long-term storage.  All garlic growers have their own way of navigating the curing process dependent on crop size, space for curing, etc.  The procedure that we have developed over the years starts with cleaning the bulbs after pulling them out of the ground then peeling off the first leaf/outer skin.  The next step is to go through all the garlic bulbs to cut off the roots; this will prevent the bulbs from absorbing any moisture during the curing process.  The aerial tops are left on to allow nutrients and medicinal compounds to transfer to the bulbs. The garlic is then ready to move inside to be placed on racks. The area is well ventilated with fans and climate controlled to temperatures between 75 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  They stay in this space for three weeks at which time we will cut the necks down to a length of half an inch and remove any dried soil that may have been missed during the initial cleaning.  The bulbs are then placed in mesh bags in an area that has good airflow with a temperature of 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  Under these conditions the garlic should store between 6-8 months or longer. 

The bulbs can experience fungal and viral diseases which will cause them to rot.  There are three explanations for this; soil was too moist when bulbs matured, bulbs were not cured properly after harvest, or a virus contaminated the crop via sick seed cloves.  Most often it is the last cause that is the culprit therefore it is important to purchase your bulbs from a reputable grower and inspect all bulbs before planting. Garlic can also be susceptible to soilborne diseases and pests, in order to minimize this risk crop rotation and management is important.   Garlic should not be planted in the same spot for at least four years. 

Garlic is a great companion plant for many vegetables, flowers and herbs.  Companion vegetables that do well when planted with garlic include; beets, kale, spinach, potatoes, carrots, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kohlrabi.  The flowers that grow well with garlic include; roses, geraniums, marigolds, and nasturtiums.  The herbs that grow well with garlic include; rue (will drive away maggots), chamomile (will improve its flavour), yarrow and summer savory.  There are a few plants that do suffer when planted near garlic and they are asparagus, peas, beans, sage and parsley.[3]

Garlic can be used to create a fungicide as well as an insect repellent.  To make a fungicide that can be used against gray mold you will need to soak 4 chopped garlic cloves in about 2 liters of cold water for a few days.  Then strain and spray without diluting. To create an insect repellent that will be effective against aphids, moths and to deter snails and slugs you will need to crush 2 cloves of garlic and macerate in a cup of olive oil for 2 days.  Decant the oil into a bottle of warm water to emulsify out the garlic and shake well.  Keep it out of direct sunlight for 2 days.  To use, dilute 1-part garlic in 20 parts water and stir for 20 minutes before spraying the leaves of the affected plants and surrounding soils.[4]

For Biodynamic gardeners, during a descending moon, the evening before planting you will want to spray the soil with horn manure 500.  Save some of the 500 and soak your cloves in it overnight to encourage better rooting.[5]  During the growing season, if the weather has been very dry for an extended period you will want to water the garlic and add some chamomile spray.  This will promote healthy growth in the bulbs and will act against fungal diseases.  If your growing season experiences humid weather, you can spray Equisteum as a fresh tea to prevent mildew.  As for harvesting, you will want to do so when the moon is descending on a root day. 

Garlic provides us with many medicinal benefits including its ability to relieve symptoms experienced during colds and flus, support the heart, improve digestion and act as an anti-microbial that directly benefits the immune system.  The chemical constituents and nutrient content in garlic are organosufur compounds (alliin, which is converted to allicin in the presence of the enzyme alliinase), allyl disulfides, calcium, copper, essential oils, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, phytoncides, potassium, selenium, sulfur, unsaturated aldehydes, zinc, vitamins A, B1, B2, C, and flavonoids.  The actions of garlic are that it is antimicrobial, diaphoretic, hypocholesteremic, cholagogue, hypotensive and antispasmodic. 

Garlic is hot, pungent and spicy making it great to use for colds and any stagnant conditions where the body needs to be warmed up to get the stagnation moving.  It also works as a stimulating diaphoretic that will support the fever process especially if chills or being cold are symptoms.  The spicy quality of raw garlic can be used to relieve congestion in the lungs and sinuses by stimulating mucous flow while helping to thin and expel it from the body.  It is effective internally and externally as an infused oil rubbed on the chest or feet.  For a bronchial infection and cough, garlic can be combined with cayenne, pleurisy root, elderberry or bergamot.[6]  If there is congestion or infection in the ears a garlic infused oil can address this by slightly warming the oil and putting 1-2 drops in the infected ear canal.  The garlic infused oil is effective on its own or it can be used in combination with mullein flower infused oil.    

 Garlic supports heart health especially regarding optimization of cholesterol levels and reducing atherosclerosis.  The best results have been found when using fresh garlic or aged garlic extracts, not the powder.  It reduces serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels while raising levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL).  It can act as an effective inhibitor of platelet-activating factor[7]  and has also shown to decrease arterial stiffness which is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular mortality.[8]  It has the ability to reduce lipid content in the cells of arteries and even to prevent this lipid, or fatty cell, accumulation.[9]  Garlic may be a possible ally in guarding against thrombosis or blood clots in the blood vessels based on studies that have shown it to reduce hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and thrombosis formation.[10]  Garlic can be combined with motherwort or hawthorn for hypertension and for atherosclerosis it can be combined with prickly ash or milky oat tops.[11]

As mentioned previously garlic is spicy and stimulating, these attributes benefit the digestive system by increasing appetite and addressing stagnant digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, or a heavy feeling in the stomach.  Garlic is high in inulin, a prebiotic that feeds and consequently, increases the friendly bacteria in the gut.  Prebiotics boost the immune system and help with various digestive problems.  Garlic has been used as a vermifuge or anti-parasitic and shown to be quite effective against a wide range of diarrheal pathogens such as E.coli, Shigella and Salmonella.[12]

Garlic has anti-microbial properties which means it is effective against a wide range of pathogens including bacteria, fungi and amoebas.  Historically, due to this action, it was used to prevent infections in wounds.  Garlic increases the immune system activity; studies have shown that it increases the natural killer cells of the immune system and reduces inflammatory cytokines (chemical messengers of the immune system).[13]

It’s best to eat cooked garlic daily to support heart health and promote healthy digestion.  If you are using garlic for its anti-microbial properties, then raw is the best way to consume it; 6-15gms.  To get the most potency, crush a garlic clove and let it sit for 10-15 minutes.  While it sits the enzyme alliinase converts alliin into allicin, which is responsible for the aroma and activity of the fresh garlic.  In a sensitive person, if too much garlic is eaten it can cause some digestive discomfort such as excessive gas.  Therefore, it may be wise to start off eating small amounts of garlic and slowly increase the amount eaten.  Garlic can be prepared as an oil, syrup or juice; 1 tsp. every hour, made into a tincture; 30-60 drops, 1-4 times per day or dehydrated slices. 

Fermented honey is an easy and tasty way to get the benefits from both garlic and honey.  Simply peel about 1 cup of garlic cloves, put them in a glass jar, cover with raw honey and put the lid on loosely so air can escape.  It’s a good idea to turn your jar over every few days to ensure the honey is coating the garlic just make sure to put the lid on tightly!  Bubbles will begin to form which means fermentation is happening.  It should ferment for about a month and then last stored for about a year.  You can start enjoying the benefits of the fermented garlic within the first few days of fermentation! 

Therapeutic doses (not dietary) of garlic may potentiate the activity of anticoagulant medications and the antithrombotic actions of anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin.  Caution is advised both before and after surgical procedures.[14]


[1] Carpenter, J &M. (2015).  The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer. White River Junction, Vermont. Chelsea Green Publishing.

[2] Carpenter, J &M. (2015).  The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer. White River Junction, Vermont. Chelsea Green Publishing.

[3] Baessler,L. (2018).  Garlic Companion Planting: Plant Companions for Garlic.

[4] Waldin, M. (2015). Biodynamic Gardening. New York, New York.  Penguin Random House. 

[5] Waldin, M. (2015). Biodynamic Gardening. New York, New York.  Penguin Random House. 

[6] Bellebuono, H. (2012). The Authentic Herbal Healer. Bloomington, Indiana. Baloba Press

[7] Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.               

[8] De la Foret, Rosalee. Garlic Monograph. Herb Mentor.

[9] Bellebuono, H. (2012). The Authentic Herbal Healer. Bloomington, Indiana. Baloba Press

[10] Bellebuono, H. (2012). The Authentic Herbal Healer. Bloomington, Indiana. Baloba Press

[11] Bellebuono, H. (2012). The Authentic Herbal Healer. Bloomington, Indiana. Baloba Press            

[12] De la Foret, Rosalee. Garlic Monograph. Herb Mentor.

[13] De la Foret, Rosalee. Garlic Monograph. Herb Mentor.

[14] Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.

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