Garlic has been part of our diet for thousands of years. It is believed that garlic was first cultivated by Sumerians on the shores of the Mediterranean over 5,000 years ago. Other sources claim that it came from the eastern plains of the Caspian sea, from where it later spread to Asia. The most probable explanation is that garlic came from the plains of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and spread from there to China, and later on to countries in the Mediterranean.
In Egypt, under the reign of the pharaohs, garlic was known for its nutritional properties. Herodotus, the Greek historian, claimed that the workers who built the pyramids received a daily ration of garlic to give them the strength they needed to accomplish their exhausting task. Garlic was in fact a sacred plant in those days. Cheops even had effigies of garlic engraved inside his tomb! Garlic was also used for mummification and as a remedy for snake bites, and even accompanied the dead on their last trip to the world beyond.
The Greeks also believed in the healing properties of garlic. During the Olympic games, athletes would eat a clove of garlic to boost their physical performance.
According to Virgil, garlic was used by Roman farmers as a food for strength. These farmers introduced the plant to Italy, France, Spain and even England.
The Gauls also enjoyed garlic. Louis le Pieux, the son of Charlemagne, ordered that garlic be grown in the royal gardens. However, it wasn’t until the reign of Henry IV (1553-1610) that garlic became a truly popular plant. When the royal baby was born, its grandfather rubbed its lips with a clove of garlic to protect it against the evil eye, and give the future king the power to lead the nation, thereby perpetuating an ancient tradition of the Bearn!
In Mediterranean countries, people would hang up garlic and garlic braids to protect their homes. Harvested at the end of June, garlic was one of the traditional Midsummer Night herbs.
To this day many traditional festivals go on celebrating garlic. During these celebrations, garlic is braided in all sorts of fancy shapes.