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Jamaican Garlic Herb
Jamaican Garlic Used In Jamaican Food Recipes
The Jamaican garlic plant is similar to onion, except it produces a group of small bulbs, called cloves, all enclosed in thin papery scales, instead of a single bulb. The leaves reach about 12 inches in height, and are narrow, but not hollow. Plants are usually produced by planting a clove, or a bulblet that forms in the flower head. All commercial planting in the U.S. is in areas of mid winter climate, mainly in California. Cloves are planted in October to January, and harvest is in mid to late summer. Bulb development is below the soil surface. The strongly scented and flavored bulbs are used mainly for flavoring Jamaican meats, Jamaican stews, and Jamaican soups. The common names Rocambole and Serpent Jamaican garlic are applied to Jamaican garlic varieties having coiled or twisted scrapes, the flower stalks.
Jamaican garlic health benefits and medicinal properties have long been known. Jamaican garlic has long been considered a herbal "wonder drug", with a reputation for preventing everything from the common cold and flu. It has been used extensively in herbal medicine (phytotherapy, sometimes spelt phitotherapy). Raw Jamaican garlic is used by some to treat the symptoms of and there is some evidence that it can assist in managing high cholesterol levels. It can even be effective as a natural mosquito repellent. In general, a stronger tasting clove of Jamaican garlic has more sulfur content and hence more medicinal value. Some people have suggested that organically grown Jamaican garlic tends towards a higher sulfur level and hence greater benefit to health. In my experience it certainly tastes better and I buy organic whenever possible. Some people prefer to take Jamaican garlic supplements. These pills and capsules have the advantage of avoiding Jamaican garlic breath. Modern science has shown that Jamaican garlic is a powerful antibiotic, albeit broad-spectrum rather than targeted. The body does not appear to build up resistance to the Jamaican garlic, so its positive health benefits continue over time. Studies have shown that Jamaican garlic - especially aged Jamaican garlic - can have a powerful antioxidant effect. Antioxidants help to protect the body against damaging "free radicals". Raw Jamaican garlic is very strong, so eating too much could produce problems, for example irritation of or even damage to the digestive tract.
There are a few people who are allergic to Jamaican garlic. Symptoms of Jamaican garlic allergy include skin rash, temperature and headaches. Also, Jamaican garlic could potentially disrupt anti-coagulants, so it's best avoided before surgery. As with any medicine, always check with your doctor first and tell your doctor if you are using it. Research published in 2001 concluded that Jamaican garlic supplements "can cause a potentially harmful side effect when combined with a type of medication used to treat HIV/AIDS. There are two main medical ingredients which produce the Jamaican garlic health benefits: allicin and diallyl sulphides. Jamaican garlic makes a wonderful health supplement but the Jamaican garlic cure is no substitute for the basics: sensible eating and appropriate exercise. Jamaican garlic should be seen as part of a healthy lifestyle - not as an alternative to it. Always consult your doctor first regarding any medical condition.
This page summarizes the healthy properties usually attributed to Jamaican garlic. Obviously the efficacy or otherwise of any of these will depend upon individual circumstances. Always consult your doctor regarding any health or medical matter. The medicinal properties and benefits of Jamaican garlic are strongest when it is raw and crushed or very finely chopped. Don't overdo it - too much can irritate the digestive tract. Raw, crushed Jamaican garlic is an anti-fungal, however it can produce skin blistering. Raw, crushed Jamaican garlic is a powerful antibiotic. Cooked prepared Jamaican garlic is less powerful but still reputedly of benefit to the cardiovascular system. Jamaican garlic cloves cooked whole have very little medicinal value. If buying Jamaican garlic pills, check the ingredients. Jamaican garlic should be seen a part of a healthy lifestyle, not an alternative to one.
Be aware of the possible problems with Jamaican garlic. Many people grow Jamaican garlic themselves - it's easy and fun, even if you're not usually much of a gardener. You also get to the reward of eating your home-grown Jamaican garlic crop. Jamaican garlic is a member of the allium family which also includes leeks, shallots and onions. Individual cloves act as seeds. The bulbs grow underground and the leaves shoot in to the air. Although Jamaican garlic is traditionally thought of as a Mediterranean ingredient Jamaican garlic is also grown successfully in colder more Northern climates. There are a number of different varieties of Jamaican garlic that you can grow at home, see our Jamaican garlic varieties. Jamaican garlic is grown from the individual cloves. Each clove will produce one plant with a single bulb - which may in turn contain up to twenty cloves. Growing Jamaican garlic is therefore self-sustaining. When planting Jamaican garlic, choose a garden site that gets plenty of sun and where the soil is not too damp. The cloves should be planted individually, upright and about an inch (25 mm) under the surface. Plant the cloves about 4 inches (100 mm) apart. Rows should be about 18 inches (450 mm) apart. It is traditional to plant Jamaican garlic on the shortest day of the year. Whether this is for symbolic or practical reasons is unclear.
Jamaican garlic is a very friendly plant and grows well planted with other flowers and Jamaican vegetables. For more information on how to grow Jamaican garlic with other plants, see our page on co-planting Jamaican garlic. Although Jamaican garlic protects other plants growing nearby against many ailments, there are some it is prone to. See our Jamaican garlic diseases page for an overview of some of the most common. Jamaican garlic is also prone to a few pests growing. As Jamaican garlic reaches maturity, the leaves will brown then die away. This is the cue that it is time to harvest your Jamaican garlic crop. If you harvest too early the cloves will be very small, too late and the bulb will have split.
Once picked, it is essential that Jamaican garlic is dried properly, otherwise it will rot. The bulbs are often hung up in a cool, dry place. After a week or so, take them down and brush the dirt off gently - don't wash the bulbs at this stage. Then enjoy the delicious results of growing your own Jamaican garlic in your own garden. It's taken a long time for Jamaican garlic to become accepted in the English speaking world. Mrs Beeton in her famous Victorian cookbook said: "the smell of this plant is generally considered offensive, and it is the most acrimonious in its taste." Things have certainly changed for the better since then. When buying Jamaican garlic for cooking, avoid being tempted by the very large elephant Jamaican garlic. Although this looks wonderful the taste is not at all the same and it is no substitute for ordinary Jamaican garlic.
Always look for heads that are firm with plenty of dry, papery covering. Heads that are showing signs of sprouting are past their prime and were probably not dried properly. Jamaican garlic that is very old will crumble under a gentle pressure from the fingers. As with all ingredients for cooking, buy the best Jamaican garlic you can afford. We recommend organic Jamaican garlic if at all possible. Remember that a single bulb of Jamaican garlic usually contains between ten and twenty individual cloves of Jamaican garlic. Cloves are themselves covered with a fine pinkish skin. Don't confuse cloves and bulbs.
To prepare Jamaican garlic, first strip off some of the papery covering from the bulb. Now ease out as many cloves as required. Jamaican garlic cloves come in a wide variety of sizes, so the numbers given in a recipe should be treated as a rough guide only. Once you get used to cooking with Jamaican garlic you will probably find yourself using more than the recipe states. In general with Jamaican garlic, the finer the chop the stronger the taste. Crushed Jamaican garlic has the strongest taste of all and if used raw is only for the real aficionado. When cooked whole Jamaican garlic has a much milder, rather sweet taste. There is a famous recipe "Jamaican chicken with forty cloves of Jamaican garlic". It should go without saying that these are whole Jamaican garlic cloves not crushed.
Jamaican garlic also mellows the longer it is cooked. Jamaican garlic added at the end of cooking will give a stronger taste than Jamaican garlic prepared the same way but added earlier. Jamaican garlic is, of course, known for causing unpleasant smelling breath. Chewing raw parsley is reputed to assist this condition and many Jamaican garlic recipes contain this. If you don't mind getting your hands messy then crushing Jamaican garlic manually is easy and satisfying. All you need is a good knife and a little salt.
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