Garlic in Antiquity
Reproduced from the article: The History of Garlic: Nature’s Ancient Superfood
Written by Kirsten Lasinski
Unlike that mysterious Tupperware lurking at the back of your fridge, garlic has been employed in a variety of functions for millennia. Archeologists have discovered clay sculptures of garlic bulbs and paintings of garlic dating about 3200 B.C. in Egyptian tombs in El Mahasna. A recently discovered Egyptian papyrus dating from 1,500 B.C. recommends garlic as a cure all for over 22 common ailments, including lack of stamina, heart disease and tumors, and it’s been said the Egyptians fed garlic to the slaves building the pyramids to increase their strength. Garlic proved itself worthy to peasant and royalty alike as Tutankhamen (Egypt’s youngest pharaoh) was sent into the afterlife with garlic at his side.
In ancient Greece and Rome, garlic enjoyed a variety of uses, from repelling scorpions to treating dog bites and bladder infections to curing leprosy and asthma. It was even left out as an offering to the Greek goddess Hectate. Early Greek military leaders fed garlic to their troops before battles to give them courage and promise victory (and perhaps in an attempt to fell the opposing army with one good whiff.) Even Greek Olympic athletes counted on garlic to stimulate performance. Ancient Transylvania, home of the vampire legend, found garlic to be an effective mosquito repellent as well as a way to ward off toothsome visitors. In the Middle Ages garlic was thought to combat the plague and was hung in braided strands across the entrances of houses to prevent evil spirits from entering. While modern day experience cannot confirm garlic’s effect on evil spirits, it has been proven that garlic, at the least, will prevent a goodnight kiss at the end of a date.
For many years, garlic was shunned by Western cultures such as Britain and America because of the residual stench it left behind. In seventeenth century England, garlic was considered unfit for ladies and anyone who wished to court them, and it was avoided in America even early into the 20th century, when famous chefs would substitute onion for it in recipes. As America experienced a huge influx of immigrants during the 19th century, however, garlic slowly gained a foothold in the American palette.