Today, believe it or not, is National Garlic Day. And since garlic is irrevocably linked in most people’s minds with France, well, I had to blog about it.

Garlic, Allium Sativum, is originally from Asia. China is still the world’s biggest garlic grower, producing more than 12 million tonnes of it a year! Garlic is something of a wonder plant, because not only does it have the blood cleansing properties most of us know about it, it’s also anti-bacterial. Surgeons who ran out of anti-septic during the First World War would use garlic instead.

The allyl sulphur compounds in garlic are currently being investigated since they can slow down or even prevent the growth of tumours. But don’t put yourself on a high-garlic anti-cancer diet. More than a couple of cloves a day will give you diarrhoea and decrease your calcium levels. And possibly also lose you all your friends.

Garlic keeps vampires away and stops you getting the plague. Or so it’s alleged. The belief that it helped prevent the plague stems from its medicinal qualities, which were discovered by the Egyptians. The vampire business is less clear cut. One theory is that garlic is a natural mosquito repellant, and since mossies are little bloodsuckers, then this is where the idea that it could also see off larger bloodsucking critters came from. Another explanation comes from eastern Europe. In Romania and other Slavic countries it was used to ward off demonic spirits. As recently as the 1970s, it was believed in that part of the world that anyone who refused to eat garlic was probably a vampire in hiding. Seriously. In China and Malaysia people smear garlic on their foreheads to keep vampires at bay, and in the Philippines they wipe it under their armpits for the same reason.

Bram Stoker really spread the vampire and garlic association in Dracula. This is the famous passage:

Sarkula from €!

We went into the room, taking the [garlic] with us. The Professor’s actions were certainly odd and not to be found in any pharmacopeia that I ever heard of. First he fastened up the windows and latched them securely. Next, taking a handful of the flowers, he rubbed them all over the sashes, as though to ensure that every whiff of air that might get in would be laden with the garlic smell. Then with the wisp he rubbed all over the jamb of the door, above, below, and at each side, and round the fireplace in the same way.

It all seemed grotesque to me, and presently I said, “Well, Professor, I know you always have a reason for what you do, but this certainly puzzles me. It is well we have no sceptic here, or he would say that you were working some spell to keep out an evil spirit.”

“Perhaps I am!” He answered quietly as began to make the wreath which Lucy was to wear round her neck.

French cooking tends to use plenty of garlic which is why the country is so firmly associated with it. It was probably introduced here by Roman soldiers.

Garlic grows throughout the country and is often to be found growing wild in woods. There are three special strains that have the prestigious Protected Geographical Indication mark. These are:

Ail blanc de Lomagne from Lomagne in the Gascony area of France (PGI)

Ail de la Drôme from Drôme in France (PGI)

Ail rose de Lautrec a rose/pink garlic from Lautrec in France (PGI)

It’s extremely easy to grow garlic. Just stick a clove into the ground or a pot of compost and before long you’ll have lovely, fresh homegrown garlic to use. Apparently garlic is a mole repellant so that’s more good news for the gardener.

So there we are – a few facts about garlic for its special day. And here’s a recipe link for you adventurous souls out there. If you think you’d like chocolate garlic cheesecake truffles, then click here!

To finish, a few French dictons (sayings) about ail (garlic).

Ail et pain, repas de paysan. Garlic and bread, the peasant’s meal.

Ail est l’épice du paysan. Garlic is the peasant’s spice.

Ail et oignon font du poison. Garlic and onion make poison.

_Il faut planter les ails ronds à la pleine lune de mars. _You must plant garlic bulbs under a full March moon.

Quand les gousses d’ails sont dures à peler et que les oignons ont sept pelures c’est signe de mauvais hivers. When garlic is hard to peel, and onions have seven skins, then it’s going to be a bad winter.

Ail mince de peau, hiver court et beau. A thin skinned garlic means a short, fine winter.