Though many healing herbs can be labeled "wonder drugs", garlic deserves a special distinction. It is the second oldest medicine (after ephedra)and is even in the world's oldest surviving medical text, the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medical papyrus dating to circa 1550 BC.
Before the Age of Antibiotics with the discovery of penicillin in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, garlic was relied heavily upon for the treatment of infection. The source ingredient in this wonder herb was discovered in the 1920's when researchers at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Switzerland isolated alliin. When garlic is chopped or chewed, the alliin comes in contact with a garlic enzyme, allinase, which transforms it into another chemical, allicin, a powerful antibiotic.
Known to reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, reduce the chance of blood clots, garlic's allicin and ajoene content stand the test of time for a healthy heart.
Diabetics use garlic to reduce blood sugar.
There is growing evidence that garlic can be used in the treatment of cancer.
AIDS patients can even see an improvement in immune function by taking daily galic cloves.
Those who grow hard-neck garlic know to snip off the flowering tops which encourages more energy to go to the growing bulbs beneath the ground. These tops are called scapes. They are considered a gourmet delicacy by chefs with their short 2-3 week season. By the end of June, farmer's markets have a good supply of these scapes, but since they are eagerly sought out by cooks, they soon sell out.
These young spikes have a very mild garlic flavor and can be used in any of the ways we typically use garlic. Sauteed, grilled, chopped for omelettes, chicken, fish, pizza, delicious all the way around. They can be frozen fresh for later use if desired.
If you grow your own garlic and time slips by and those scapes flower, you'll still get a good crop of garlic, though they may not be as large. The flowering tops are also edible or you can let them dry up along with the rest of the garlic leaves and then save them to plant for spring garlic greens (like scallions).
Three popular recipes to use these scapes are in a pesto, a pizza, and pickled:
GARLIC SCAPE PESTO
1/2 pound scapes chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 cup olive oil
2 cups parmesan cheese
In a blender, combine the scapes and olive oil. Pour mixture into a bowl and blend the cheese in by hand. Serve on crackers, pasta, pita, or potatoes.
GARLIC SCAPE, RICOTTA AND ZAATAR PIZZA
Toss the scapes with olive oil and sea salt and grill.
Spread ricotta cheese over a pizza dough shell.
Arrange the grilled scapes over the ricotta.
Optional is additional mozzarella or cheese of your choice.
Bake at 400 degrees for 18 - 20 minutes
Sprinkle with zaatar (a middle eastern herbal blend)
PICKLED GARLIC SCAPES
2 pounds garlic scapes
1/4 cup canning salt
2 1/2 cups vinegar
2 1/2 cups water
1 tsp. cayenne pepper, divided
4 tsp. dill seed, divided
optional is one whole cayenne pepper per quart
Trim flower pods off of the garlic scapes and chop so that they will fit in the jars. To make it easier to fill the jars, separate the straight from the curly sections.
Combine salt, vinegar and water in a large saucepot.
Bring to a boil. Pack scapes into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace
Add 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper and 1 tsp dill seed to each pint.
Ladle hot liquid over beans, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
Remove air bubbles by dipping a chopstick around edges.
Adjust metal caps and rings.
Process pints and quarts 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner
Yield: about 4 pints or 2 quarts