Garlic

(Allium sativum) When the devil's left foot touched soil outside the Garden of Eden, garlic sprang up, and his right foot produced onions (Emboden). Naturally, with an offensive smell like garlic has (it is said applying it to the soles of the feet will still result in smelling it on the breath), it must be associated with the devil, but taken by and large, garlic is a protector, for all ages and for all purposes. Greek midwives made sure that, at the birth of a child, the whole room smelled of it, and a few cloves of garlic had to be fastened round the baby's neck either at birth or immediately after baptism (Lawson). Palestinian mothers and new born babies had to be protected from Lilith with garlic cloves, for she would otherwise strangle the babies, and frighten the mother into madness (Hanauer).

It is for charms against the evil eye that garlic is most used, whether it is stitched to the cap of a new-born baby, or hung outside a house, or from the branches of a fruit-tree (Abbott). Boats too can be protected from envious eyes - long bunches of it used to be hung over the stern of Greek and Turkish ships in order to intercept any ill-wishing (Gifford). When a Greek sea-captain first went aboard his new ship, he hung garlic and laurel about it, and it could protect boats from storms, as well as from any ill-wishing (Bas-sett). A Greek mother or nurse walking out with her children would often take a clove in her pocket, and the formula "garlic before your eyes", or simply the exclamation "Garlic!" was a common expression used by a mother to someone who looks at a baby without using the traditional antidotes (Rodd).

Witches are held at bay with it, by putting some under a child's pillow, as was the Polish custom (Leland), while the Bosnian belief was that everyone should taste garlic before going to bed. Every member of a Serbian household would rub garlic on himself, on the chest, the soles of the feet and the armpits at times when it was reckoned that witches would be most active. It was also Serbian practice to put a garlic bulb (or a juniper twig) on the windowsill on the evening of St Thomas's Day (19 October in that calendar). That would keep witches away from that house all the year (Vukanovic). Garlic tied in bundles over a house door will keep out a vampire, and, stuffed into the mouth of a corpse, it would keep the vampire (if there were any suspicions that the deceased might be one)

quiet in his grave (Gifford). A Roumanian practice was to anoint door locks and window casements with it, to keep out vampires (Miles). No wonder that throughout eastern Europe anyone who does not eat garlic is liable to come under immediate suspicion! At a gypsy funeral, according to one description, five bulbs of garlic were among the articles placed beside the body in its coffin (Sanderson).

Garlic is recognized in Morocco as one of the charms against the evil eye, but at the same time it is conceded, at least in Tangier, that anyone who eats it will be forsaken by his guardian angels as long as the smell remains in his mouth (Westermarck). On the other hand, according to Thomas Hill, it is the very smell that saves the lives of poultry, for "... neither the Weasel, or Squirrel, will after the tasting of Garlicke, presume to bite any Fowles, by which practice, Pullets and other fowles in the night being sprinkled over with the liquor of the Garlicke, may be defended from harm of either these". Similarly in France, it used to be said that a wolf would not harm the sheep if a clove of garlic had been tied round the neck of the leading ewe (Sebillot). Perhaps in a good many cases of protection mentioned above, it is the smell alone that puts to flight any evil tendency, just as, in Greek mythology, garlic was the herb given by Mercury to Ulysses/ Odysseus to protect him from Circe's enchantment (Leland). That smell is useful in the garden, too. Garlic and roses help each other. A single clove planted beside each rose will keep all the greenfly away (Boland & Boland) and at the same time enhance the scent, presumably because of the competition!

Swedish bridegrooms used to sew sprigs of garlic, thyme or some other strongly-scented plants into their clothing to avert the evil eye, and in southern Saudi Arabia the bridegroom wears it in his turban (M Baker). Among gypsy wedding customs was one that required the bride to hang up bundles of garlic in her house - for luck and against evil, for the garlic turns black after attracting all the evil to itself, and so protects her (Starkie). In France (Lorraine) a pregnant woman would be advised to eat plenty of garlic if she wanted a boy (Loux). All these beliefs may help to explain why in some places garlic was reckoned to be the symbol of abundance - material abundance, that is, for it used to be bought at the Midsummer festival in Bologna as a charm against poverty during the coming year. But it used to be regarded as an aphrodisiac at one time. Chaucer's Somnour, who was "lecherous as a sparwe", was particularly fond of it:

Wel loved he garleek, onyons and eek lekes.

It had the same reputation in Jewish folklore (Rappoport). Not unconnected was the central European practice of feeding garlic to dogs, cocks and ganders, in the belief that this would make them fearless and strong (Moldenke & Moldenke). In fact, it was quite often added to animal feed, but only to protect them from evil (Hohn). But, "if cholerick men eat too much thereof, it is cause of madness and phrensy" (Bartholomew Anglicus).

To dream of garlic was said to indicate the discovery of hidden treasure, or the approach of some domestic quarrel, the one apparently dependent on the other. But to dream of garlic in the home is lucky (Gordon). There are still more odd beliefs concerning it. Lupton, for instance, in the mid-l?® century, quite seriously recommended giving a woman "that suspects herself to be with child" a clove of garlic to eat at night when she goes to bed, "and if she feel no savour thereof in the morning then she is with child". Gypsies say that lightning leaves behind it the smell of garlic (Leland), and the smell is important in the belief that if a morsel of a clove is chewed by a man running in a race, it will prevent his competitors from getting ahead of him. Hungarian jockeys, so it is said, sometimes fastened a clove to the bit of their horses; the other horses fall back the moment they come within the range of the offensive smell (Fernie).

The name garlic is OE garleac, where gar means a spear, a recognition of the shape of the leaf ("taper-leaved", in fact, to cite the proper name of the plant). The doctrine of signatures soon got to work on this, and once the name was applied it came to be used against wounds made with spears (Storms). This use as a wound herb, for which there are sound medical reasons, continued into the 20th century. It has always been applied externally as an antiseptic for wounds (Brownlow), and during World War l the raw juice was put on sterilized swabs, and applied to wounds to prevent them from turning septic. It has also been included in antiseptic ointments and lotions, just the sort of qualities to be useful in cases of poisoning, or snake- or dog-bites. "The Northern shepherds do drink garlic and stale ale against the bitings of asps" (Topsell), and "garlic is good if a man anoint therewith the biting of a dog or adder or of a snake, it will heal it" (Dawson). Lawrence Durrell reported that in Corfu garlic or onion is applied to insect stings and bites.

But it is for chest complaints that garlic has been most in demand. A Somerset bronchitis remedy was to make an ointment of lard and garlic, and rub it on the soles of the feet at night (Tongue), a recipe that was recorded as recently as 195?. There are similar cures for whooping cough in the North country, either by putting garlic in the stocking (Newman & Wilson), or by making an ointment of it with hog's lard. The soles of the feet (the hands too in a Suffolk country cure (Hatfield) ), would then be rubbed with this, two or three times a day, or it could be applied as a plaster (Buchan). Another Cumbrian prescription for whooping cough was to infuse two cloves of garlic in a quarter of a pint of rum for twenty four hours; rub the back and the soles of the feet of the patient for three or four successive nights at bed time, "at the same time abstaining from all animal foods" (Rollinson). In Alabama thay had a way of treating a cold with garlic, either just by eating a spoonful of it, or, if the patient does not like that, by taking a baked potato and putting the garlic inside, or putting gravy on it, and eating the potato without chewing it (R B Browne). Garlic was also used in Ireland for a cold (Moloney). All in all, it seems that garlic cures anything, and that includes "the plague itself" (Thornton). In Alabama domestic medicine, it is taken, cooked, preferably fried, to reduce blood pressure (R B Browne), which is interesting, for it is still prescribed, chopped finely in milk, for arteriosclerosis as well as hypertension (Fluck). In Siberia, carrying a whole unpeeled garlic clove on one's person was thought to prevent a heart attack. It must never be changed, even when dried and shrivelled up. Some people wore it on a string round the neck, next to the skin (Kourennoff). Jewish folklore has it that carrying it is efficacious in a epidemic (Rappoport). Even cancer has been treated with it.

"Garlyke ... doth kyll all maner of wormes in a man's body ..." (Boorde), even if its effectiveness operates in strange ways. Louisiana traiteurs give the patient a little ball of garlic to hang round the neck. The worms, they say, are afraid of the smell. It suffocates and kills them (Dorson). In Brittany, a necklace of garlic cloves round children's necks is reckoned to keep them free from worms (Sebillot), and garlic in a cloth round the child's waist would be the African American way of dealing with the problem (Fontenot), while, more reasonably, a tea made from it serves the same purpose in Trinidad (Laguerre). You can even stop a child's bed wetting by feeding him garlic, according to Illinois practice (H M Hyatt).

It has been used for centuries as a cure for sore eyes (Gifford), a practice that may very well owe its origin to the use against the evil eye. In parts of Portugal, onion or garlic is used to cure, if that is the right word, bloodshot eyes. It is in the Algarve area that this purely magical practice is found; you have to pluck onion or garlic without looking at it, and hide them with the eyes shut (Gallop). Deafness, too, was treated with garlic, and so was tinnitus. The Physicians of Myddfai had a leechdom "for noise in the head". There is also a report of veterinary usage of garlic. It seems that an Irish method of treating black leg in cattle is to make an incision in the skin to put in a clove. The wound is then stitched, leaving the garlic inside. Patrick Logan could think of no reason why this should have an effect, so perhaps we are back where we started, and the only reason for the garlic is to drive away the evil influence that caused the disease.

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