Garlic (Allium sativum) is a bulbous plant native to central Asia whose cultivation started more than 5,000 years and is popular in cuisines around the world. It is closely related to onions, leeks, and shallots—all of which share the same genus: Allium.
The ancient cultivation and use of garlic both as food and medicine has been widespread and well documented. Garlic was commonly used in ancient China, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Garlic is rich in sulfur-containing compounds that give garlic its strong odor and are also the source of its many health benefits. These compounds have been proven to decrease the synthesis of cholesterol, inhibit inflammation, and act as an antioxidant. Research suggests that these compounds help prevent cardiovascular diseases. Garlic also has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.
In Northern Arizona, garlic is planted in the fall—between September and November, and left to grow all winter and spring. In addition to the mature “cured” garlic found in stores, other parts of the plant are also edible. Farmers may choose to pull immature garlic to sell as “green garlic.” Green garlic looks similar to green onions and has the same taste as mature garlic, but with less spiciness. As garlic plants approach summer, they often send up stalks in order to produce seeds. These “scapes” are harvested in order to allow the plant to put all of its energy into the bulb below the soil and can be added to dishes for flavor. Mature garlic is harvested in June and requires a few weeks of curing before the bulb is ready to be broken into cloves for cooking.
Garlic is a fantastic addition to meals of all kinds and is a key ingredient in dishes around the world. Freshly harvested garlic has the best health benefits and the best taste. July is the best time to find fresh garlic, so take advantage of this peak season.