Garlic - history
OriginsGarlic is only found in cultivation, but researchers consider Central Asia to be its place of origin which is also home to Allium longicuspis. Some believe this plant to be a wild ancestor while others believe it to be the same species. It was probably used in Central Asia since Neolithic times as a food flavouring and seasoning.
As a culinary and medicinal plant, garlic spread in ancient times to the Mediterranean region and beyond. It was used in Egypt by 3000 BC. It was also known by the advanced ancient civilisations of the Indus Valley, in what today is Pakistan and western India. From here it spread to China. The Spanish, Portuguese and French introduced it to the New World.
|Common garlic bulb and Egyptian gum arabic, 1842.|
Today, garlic is currently grown in temperate and tropical regions all over the world, and many different cultivated types have been developed to suit different climates.
HistoryThe ancient Indians valued the medicinal properties of garlic and thought it to be an aphrodisiac. But it was not considered to be suitable food for the upper classes who despised its strong odour. It was also forbidden by monks who believed it to be a stimulant which aroused passions. Widows, adolescents and those who had taken up a vow or were fasting could not eat garlic because of its stimulant quality.
It appears in the Sanskrit medical treatise, the Charaka Samhita dating from around the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD. Its medicinal properties were also described in the Navanitaka text written in the 4th century AD by Buddhists. This is a literature is written in a mixture of Sanskrit and Prakrit languages and forms part of the Bower Manuscripts found by Lt. H. Bower in Chinese Turkestan in the late 19th century. It was believed to cure several illnesses and promote a long life.
Garlic also has a history of use in Ayurvedic medicine. It was thought to possess five of the six rasas or tastes defined in the Ayurvedic system, only missing the sour taste. This gave it its Sanskrit name, lasuna (or rasuna). It was thought that hanging garlic bulbs on doors would check the spread of diseases such as smallpox.
Although highly regarded as a medicine, garlic was avoided in cookery. The Buddhists and Jains avoided eating it as did high-born Hindus and Brahmins. The Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang visiting the sub-continent in the 7th century AD, stated that the food use of garlic was unknown, which would have been particularly true of the Buddhist circles in which he moved.
This attitude changed with the centuries and by the period of Muslim rule, garlic, ginger and onion were, and continue to be, an indispensable trio of flavours in cuisines of South Asia.