The Allium family is a rather large family. Some of them we use almost daily. Allium cepa (onion) and Allium sativum (garlic) are no longer found in the wild. The herb, Allium schoenoprasum (Chives) can be found in the wild, but is mostly cultivated. Garlic is the Allium with the most health benefits, the strongest smell and taste. All species belonging to the Allium family have similar properties and are rich in Vitamins A, B and C.
Allium cepa (onion) has been cultivated for such a long time that its country of origin is uncertain. It is believed to have been Asia. It has similar properties to garlic. It is rich in Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C and E. A home remedy for treating a cold is to sleep with a cut onion in the room.
The benefits of Allium sativum (Garlic) have been known for at least 5,000 years. As with the Onion, its origins are in Asia. It was one of the first plants cultivated by men. The Egyptians, Hebrews, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Roman and Japanese all have ancient texts with detailed descriptions on how to use Garlic. The Egyptian slaves were give Garlic to improve their stamina. During the Middle Ages, Garlic was used to cure the dreaded pest. It was noted that French priests who used Garlic lived longer than their counterpart in the U.K., where they did not eat Garlic.
In 1858 Louis Pasteur published the results of a research he had done on Garlic. It showed that Garlic had antibacterial properties. From that moment on doctors all over the world used Garlic to treat infectious illnesses. Even during World War II, Garlic was used at the front as well as in the hospitals. Bandages soaked in Garlic were used to treat the wounds of soldiers. A few years later, Albert Schweitzer, used Garlic to treat ‘amoebe dysentery’ and other infections illnesses in Africa. Even today the Chinese use it for cholera, dysentery, headache and fever. It is especially recommended for high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis.
The special smell of Alliums is caused by sulphur compounds. These compounds have beneficial effects on the circulatory, digestive and respiratory systems. Garlic has the strongest smell with the most health benefits. Although Garlic and Onion are not found in the wild, the above is for general information. All Alliums share the same compounds, but in varying quantities and effectiveness.
Garlic soup (Sopa de Ajo)
This is a very common soup in Spain. Because of the very simple ingredients it was considered to be a ‘poor man’s soup’. Nowadays it is a regular on the menu in well known restaurants in Spain. Depending on the region, some would have it very simple, without tomatoes and chees, other areas would add just the cheese.
Ingredients: 6 tablespoon olive oil; 6 slices of stale bread; 6 cloves garlic; 1 tablespoon chopped onion; 4 peeled and chopped tomatoes; 1 green pepper; 1 teaspoon of paprika; 1.5 litres of stock; parsley; 4 eggs; salt, pepper, chilly (optional); parmesan.
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Fry the bread slices in the olive oil till golden, remove and drain on kitchen paper. Fry the onion till translucent, add garlic, green pepper and tomatoes, let it simmer on a low flame for another 10 mins. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the paprika. Put the bread slices in a flameproof casserole, pour the garlic, onion, pepper, tomato and paprika mixture over the bread. Add the stock and season with salt, pepper and if you like add some chilly. Stir in the parsley and bring to the boil and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Put the casserole into the oven and let it bake for 7 minutes, then crack the eggs on to the crust, season each egg with salt, pepper and return the casserole to the oven. Bake until the whites are set. Serve with parmesan or other grated cheese. Serves 4
Allium neapolitanum – Naples Garlic – Allium napolitanum
Walking along the town walls of ‘La Garde Adhémar’ (Vaucluse), with its wonderful herb garden, we came across this very lovely Allium neapolitanum. A bulbous perennial with 2-4 linear-lanceolate leaves. The leafless stem (scape) is smooth and triangular in cross section, the leaves sheath the lower quarter of the scape, keeled on the back and hairless. Flowers are white, cup-shaped, borne in umbels 5-9 cm diam.
The leaves are harvested in spring. They can be used in the same way as onions or garlic: fresh, added to salads, sauces, mayonnaise and yoghurts. They enhance omelettes, savoury pancakes or soups.
Allium ampeloprasum – Wild Leek – Poireau sauvage
The Wild Leek is the ancestor of our garden Leek (Allium porrum). It is a native of Western Asia and the Mediterranean countries. Here in Provence, at this time of the year, they are sprouting everywhere: along the roads, in the fields, on the edges of the vineyards. They are quite easy to recognise, the sturdy linear leaves are greyish/green and grow in the shape of a V. By flowering time the leaves have withered away. The flowers, 5 cm in diameter, range in colour from off-white to dark red-purple. The bulb is quite different from a leek, it looks more like a proper bulb, with lots of small bulbs attached to it. The Wild Leek is harvested from February to April. No need to dig up the complete bulb, with a sharp knife you can cut through the leek just below the earth surface, saving the bulb. The cut Wild Leek gives off an odour of garlic.
Wild Leeks were already used as a source of food around 5000 BC. Traces of Allium family remains have been found, together with fig and date stones. Evidence suggests that cultivation of the onion took place around 2000 BC in ancient Egypt. This happened alongside the cultivation of leeks and garlic. It is thought that the slaves who built the pyramids were having a diet that contained leeks and onions.
Hippocrates, (400 B.C.), the father of modern medicine and the doctor’s moral code (Hippocratic oath), was the first to mention the virtues of the Wild Leek which he prescribed for nosebleeds.
The Wild Leek is certainly a healthy addition to the diet. It contains sulphide compounds which gives it its garlic/onion-like flavour. When added to the diet regularly it helps in reducing cholesterol levels and acts as a tonic for the circulatory system. It is beneficial for the digestion.
The Wild Leek can be used in exactly the same way as you would for a garden leek.
Bibliography: Mediterranean Wild Flowers – Marjorie Blamey & Christopher Grey-Wilson, Sauvage et comestibles – Marie-Claude Paume, http://www.selfsufficientish.com; RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and their uses – Deni Bown; The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism – Malcolm Stuart; Fytotherapie and Homeopathie (Allium sativum) – Biohorma; Cooking in Spain – Janet Mendel