Eat more garlic: It’s good for you, and it tastes great

Whether you prefer softneck or hardneck, the time to plant is now.

GARLIC LONG HAS been one of the most popular herbs. As far back as 2000 B.C., garlic was used as a remedy for 22 health problems, including headaches, worms, tumors, pimples and heart ailments. Modern-day studies have found that it boosts the immune system, lowers cholesterol and helps fight cancer. According to Greek mythology, eating garlic even saved Odysseus from being turned into a pig. It’s hard to say whether all the claims are true, but one thing’s for sure: It tastes great in all sorts of cooking.

In the past, homeowners have grown mostly softneck varieties. These days, however, according to Jim Fox, garlic expert and bulb buyer at Wells Medina Nursery, more and more garlic connoisseurs are experimenting with growing hardneck varieties. It’s true they won’t store as long as softneck varieties, and they can’t be braided, but garlic lovers are growing them because they offer richer, complex flavors.

Some of Fox’s favorites include ‘Asian Tempest’ from Korea, offering a strong, sweet flavor when baked; ‘Chesnok Red’ from the Republic of Georgia, renowned for holding its shape and flavor after cooking; and, from Portugal, ‘Early Portuguese’, sweet with only a hint of heat, making it a good choice for eating raw.

Most hardneck garlic produces noticeable warmth when eaten cooked, but is much hotter raw. One of the hottest is ‘Thai Fire’. When cooked, the flavor is described as complex, with a steadily rising heat level. But raw, it’s said to be hot enough to burn the geezer hair right out of your ears.

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October is the best time to plant garlic in the Puget Sound area. Purchase garlic cloves for planting from nurseries or mail-order catalogs. Store-bought garlic is fine to eat but could infect the soil with a fungus disease and make it impossible to grow garlic or any member of the onion family for years.

Plant the individual cloves, chubby side down, 2 inches deep in a sunny location, in well-drained, compost-amended soil. Starting in March, keep the soil slightly moist, and side dress every three to four weeks with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer such as blood- or fish-meal. Around mid-May, leaf growth ceases, and bulbing begins. Stop fertilizing, and reduce the frequency of watering to about once per week. Cut off any flowering stems (they’re great in stir…

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