While often known for its addition to Italian foods, garlic seems to be used in virtually all cuisines as a strong flavoring agent. The bulbs are also sometimes used for medicinal purposes, to ease health conditions while preventing chronic health problems.
Learn more about the ins and outs of this popular spice and see how it could fit into your own diet and lifestyle.
What Is Garlic Exactly and Where Does It Come From?
Garlic (Allium sativum) is an age-old spice that’s made from a bulbous plant. But before it became the cooking staple it’s known as today, garlic had a rich history of cultivation, medicinal benefits, and consumption. It’s thought that garlic originated in India and Egypt around 5,000 years ago, and some historical documents suggest it was used in China about 4,000 years ago. The species of garlic found in this region are often referred to as “wild garlic” because of their indigenous nature. (1) Garlic was also mentioned in Biblical texts, as well as ancient Greek materials, according to an article published in the Journal of Nutrition. (2)
Historically, garlic was used primarily for its medicinal components. In ancient civilizations, people used it in hopes of increasing their strength. Indeed, some historical documents note that ancient Greeks used garlic as a performance-enhancing drug for the Olympics. (2)
What’s particularly interesting about garlic is that it was concurrently used by different civilizations and cultures for similar benefits, all without contact between these cultures. (2) Still, the garlic grown in the United States isn’t like the “wild garlic” found in Asia and the Middle East. It most closely resembles the varieties first harvested in Europe nearly 1,000 years ago. (1) But garlic was also found to grow in the wild by indigenous civilizations in North America, where it was used in teas for medicinal purposes. (2) At the same time, garlic was introduced to Great Britain in 1548, according to an article published in the journal Pharmacognosy Review. (3) The bulbs became popular in American culture by the late 19th century. (2)
Today, an estimated 10 million tons of garlic are produced worldwide. (1) While used as a food-flavoring agent, garlic is still considered as a “natural antibiotic” by many cultures. (3) In the 21st century, garlic continues to be a common seasoning in foods and packaged goods, but its potential medicinal properties are also gaining more appreciation in Western cultures.