Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, is a species in the onion genus, Allium. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, chive, and rakkyo. Garlic has been used throughout history for both culinary and medicinal purposes. The garlic plant's bulb is the most commonly used part of the plant. With the exception of the single clove types, the bulb is divided into numerous fleshy sections called cloves. The cloves are used for consumption (raw or cooked), or for medicinal purposes, and have a characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows and sweetens considerably with cooking. The leaves and flowers (bulbils) on the head (spathe) are also edible, and being milder in flavor than the bulbs, they are most often consumed while immature and still tender. Additionally, the immature flower stalks (scapes) of the hardneck and elephant types are sometimes marketed for uses similar to asparagus in stir-fries. The papery, protective layers of "skin" over various parts of the plant are generally discarded during preparation for most culinary uses, though in Korea immature whole heads are sometimes prepared with the tender skins intact. The root cluster attached to the basal plate of the bulb is the only part not typically considered palatable in any form. The sticky juice within the bulb cloves is used as an adhesive in mending glass and porcelain in China. Dating back over 6,000 years, it is native to central Asia, and has long been a staple in the Mediterranean region, as well as a frequent seasoning in Asia, Africa, and Europe. The irrational fear of garlic is alliumphobia.
Garlic can come in many varieties, including fresh, frozen, dried, fermented (black garlic) and shelf stable products (in tubes or jars). While botanist classify garlic under the umbrella of the species, Allium sativum, there are also two main subspecies.
Ophioscorodon, or hard necked garlic, includes porcelain garlics, rocambole garlic, and purple stripe garlics.
Sativum, or soft necked garlic, includes artichoke garlic, silverskin garlic, and creole garlic.
Garlic is easy to grow and can be grown year-round in mild climates. While sexual propagation of garlic is indeed possible, nearly all of the garlic in cultivation is done so asexually, by planting individual cloves in the ground. In cold climates, cloves are planted in the ground in the fall, about six weeks before the soil freezes, and harvested in late spring. Garlic plants are usually very hardy, and are not attacked by many pests or diseases. Garlic plants are said to repel rabbits and moles. Two of the major pathogens that attack garlic are nematodes and white rot disease, which remain in the soil indefinitely once the ground has become infected. Garlic also can suffer from pink root, a typically nonfatal disease that stunts the roots and turns them pink or red. Garlic plants can be grown close together, leaving enough room for the bulbs to mature, and are easily grown in containers of sufficient depth. When selecting garlic for planting, it is important to pick large heads from which to separate cloves. Large cloves, along with proper spacing in the planting bed, will also improve head size. Garlic plants prefer to grow in a soil with a high organic material content, but are capable of growing in a wide range of soil conditions and pH levels.
There are different types or subspecies of garlic, most notably hardneck garlic and softneck garlic. The latitude where the garlic is grown affects the choice of type as garlic can be day-length sensitive. Hardneck garlic is generally grown in cooler climates; softneck garlic is generally grown closer to the equator.
Garlic scapes are removed to focus all the garlic's energy into bulb growth. The scapes are sold separately for cooking.
Garlic output in 2005
Garlic is grown globally, but China is by far the largest producer of garlic, with approximately 10.5 million tonnes (23 billion pounds) grown annually, accounting for over 77% of world output. India (4.1%) and South Korea (2%) follow, with Egypt and Russia (1.6%) tied in fourth place and the United States (where garlic is grown in every state except for Alaska) in sixth place (1.4%). This leaves 16% of global garlic production in countries that each produce less than 2% of global output. Much of the garlic production in the United States is centered in Gilroy, California, which calls itself the "garlic capital of the world".
Garlic is widely used around the world for its pungent flavor as a seasoning or condiment. It is a fundamental component in many or most dishes of various regions, including eastern Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, northern Africa, southern Europe, and parts of South and Central America. The flavour varies in intensity and aroma with the different cooking methods. It is often paired with onion, tomato, or ginger. The parchment-like skin is much like the skin of an onion, and is typically removed before using in raw or cooked form. An alternative is to cut the top off the bulb, coat the cloves by dribbling olive oil (or other oil-based seasoning) over them, and roast them in an oven. Garlic softens and can be extracted from the cloves by squeezing the (root) end of the bulb, or individually by squeezing one end of the clove. In Korea, heads of garlic are fermented at high temperature; the resulting product, called black garlic, is sweet and syrupy, and is now being sold in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.
Oils can be flavored with garlic cloves. These infused oils are used to season all categories of vegetables, meats, breads and pasta.
In some cuisines, the young bulbs are pickled for three to six weeks in a mixture of sugar, salt, and spices. In eastern Europe, the shoots are pickled and eaten as an appetizer.
Immature scapes are tender and edible. They are also known as "garlic spears", "stems", or "tops". Scapes generally have a milder taste than the cloves. They are often used in stir frying or braised like asparagus. Garlic leaves are a popular vegetable in many parts of Asia. The leaves are cut, cleaned, and then stir-fried with eggs, meat, or vegetables.
Mixing garlic with egg yolks and olive oil produces aioli. Garlic, oil, and a chunky base produce skordalia. Blending garlic, almond, oil, and soaked bread produces ajoblanco.
Garlic powder has a different taste from fresh garlic. If used as a substitute for fresh garlic, 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder is equivalent to one clove of garlic.
A basket of garlic bulbs
Ready peeled garlic cloves sold in a plastic container
Domestically, garlic is stored warm [above 18°C (64°F)] and dry to keep it dormant (so it does not sprout). It is traditionally hung; softneck varieties are often braided in strands called plaits or grappes. Garlic is often kept in oil to produce flavoured oil; however, the practice requires measures to be taken to prevent the garlic from spoiling. Untreated garlic kept in oil can support the growth of deadly Clostridium botulinum. Refrigeration will not assure the safety of garlic kept in oil. Peeled cloves may be stored in wine or vinegar in the refrigerator.
Commercially prepared oils are widely available, but when preparing and storing garlic-infused oil at home, there is a risk of botulism if the product is not stored properly. To reduce this risk, the oil should be refrigerated and used within one week. Manufacturers add acids and/or other chemicals to eliminate the risk of botulism in their products. Two outbreaks of botulism related to garlic stored in oil have been reported.
Commercially, garlic is stored at 0°C (32°F), in a dry, low-humidity environment. Garlic will keep longer if the tops remain attached.
Garlic has been used as both food and medicine in many cultures for thousands of years, dating at least as far back as when the Giza pyramids were built. Garlic is still grown in Egypt, but the Syrian variety is the kind most esteemed now (see Rawlinson's Herodotus, 2.125).
Garlic is mentioned in the Bible and the Talmud. Hippocrates, Galen, Pliny the Elder, and Dioscorides all mention the use of garlic for many conditions, including parasites, respiratory problems, poor digestion, and low energy. Its use in China was first mentioned in A.D. 510.
It was consumed by ancient Greek and Roman soldiers, sailors, and rural classes (Virgil, Ecologues ii. 11), and, according to Pliny the Elder (Natural History xix. 32), by the African peasantry. Galen eulogizes it as the "rustic's theriac" (cure-all) (see F. Adams' Paulus Aegineta, p. 99), and Alexander Neckam, a writer of the 12th century (see Wright's edition of his works, p. 473, 1863), recommends it as a palliative for the heat of the sun in field labor.
In the account of Korea's establishment as a nation, gods were said to have given mortal women with bear and tiger temperaments an immortal's black garlic before mating with them.[vague] This is a genetically unique, six-clove garlic that was to have given the women supernatural powers and immortality. This garlic is still cultivated in a few mountain areas today.
In his Natural History, Pliny gives an exceedingly long list of scenarios in which it was considered beneficial (N.H. xx. 23). Dr. T. Sydenham valued it as an application in confluent smallpox, and, says Cullen (Mat. Med. ii. p. 174, 1789), found some dropsies cured by it alone. Early in the 20th century, it was sometimes used in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis or phthisis.
Garlic was rare in traditional English cuisine (though it is said to have been grown in England before 1548) and has been a much more common ingredient in Mediterranean Europe. Garlic was placed by the ancient Greeks on the piles of stones at crossroads, as a supper for Hecate (Theophrastus, Characters, The Superstitious Man). A similar practice of hanging garlic, lemon and red chilli at the door or in a shop to ward off potential evil, is still very common in India. According to Pliny, garlic and onions were invoked as deities by the Egyptians at the taking of oaths. (Pliny also stated garlic demagnetizes lodestones, which is not factual.) The inhabitants of Pelusium, in lower Egypt (who worshiped the onion), are said to have had an aversion to both onions and garlic as food.
To prevent the plant from running to leaf, Pliny (N.H. xix. 34) advised bending the stalk downward and covering with earth; seeding, he observes, may be prevented by twisting the stalk (by "seeding", he most likely meant the development of small, less potent bulbs).
In in vitro studies, garlic has been found to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity. However, these actions are less clear in vivo. Garlic is also claimed to help prevent heart disease (including atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure) and cancer. Garlic is used to prevent certain types of cancer, including stomach and colon cancers. In fact, countries where garlic is consumed in higher amounts, because of traditional cuisine, have been found to have a lower prevalence of cancer. Animal studies, and some early investigational studies in humans, have suggested possible cardiovascular benefits of garlic. A Czech study found garlic supplementation reduced accumulation of cholesterol on the vascular walls of animals. Another study had similar results, with garlic supplementation significantly reducing aortic plaque deposits of cholesterol-fed rabbits. Another study showed supplementation with garlic extract inhibited vascular calcification in human patients with high blood cholesterol. The known vasodilative effect of garlic is possibly caused by catabolism of garlic-derived polysulfides to hydrogen sulfide in red blood cells (RBCs), a reaction that is dependent on reduced thiols in or on the RBC membrane. Hydrogen sulfide is an endogenous cardioprotective vascular cell-signaling molecule.
According to the Heart.org, "despite decades of research suggesting that garlic can improve cholesterol profiles, a new NIH-funded trial found absolutely no effects of raw garlic or garlic supplements on LDL, HDL, or triglycerides... The findings underscore the hazards of meta-analyses made up of small, flawed studies and the value of rigorously studying popular herbal remedies". In an editorial regarding the initial report's findings, two physicians from Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University, pointed out that there may "be effects of garlic on atherosclerosis specifically that were not picked up in the study".
In 2007, the BBC reported Allium sativum may have other beneficial properties, such as preventing and fighting the common cold. This assertion has the backing of long tradition in herbal medicine, which has used garlic for hoarseness and coughs. The Cherokee also used it as an expectorant for coughs and croup.
Garlic is also alleged to help regulate blood sugar levels. Regular and prolonged use of therapeutic amounts of aged garlic extracts lower blood homocysteine levels and has been shown to prevent some complications of diabetes mellitus. People taking insulin should not consume medicinal amounts of garlic without consulting a physician.
In 1858, Louis Pasteur observed garlic's antibacterial activity, and it was used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene during World War I and World War II. More recently, it has been found from a clinical trial that a mouthwash containing 2.5% fresh garlic shows good antimicrobial activity, although the majority of the participants reported an unpleasant taste and halitosis.
Garlic cloves are used as a remedy for infections (especially chest problems), digestive disorders, and fungal infections such as thrush.
Garlic has been found to enhance thiamin absorption, and therefore reduces the likelihood for developing the thiamin deficiency beriberi.
In 1924, it was found to be an effective way to prevent scurvy, because of its high vitamin C content.
Garlic supplementation in rats, along with a high protein diet, has been shown to boost testosterone levels.
A 2010 double-blind, parallel, randomised, placebo-controlled trial, involving 50 patients whose routine clinical records in general practice documented treated but uncontrolled hypertension, concluded, "Our trial suggests that aged garlic extract is superior to placebo in lowering systolic blood pressure similarly to current first line medications in patients with treated but uncontrolled hypertension."
Adverse effects and toxicology
Garlic is known for causing halitosis, as well as causing sweat to have a pungent 'garlicky' smell, which is caused by allyl methyl sulfide (AMS). AMS is a gas which is absorbed into the blood during the metabolism of garlic; from the blood it travels to the lungs (and from there to the mouth, causing bad breath) and skin, where it is exuded through skin pores. Washing the skin with soap is only a partial and imperfect solution to the smell. Studies have shown sipping milk at the same time as consuming garlic can significantly neutralize bad breath. Mixing garlic with milk in the mouth before swallowing reduced the odor better than drinking milk afterward. Plain water, mushrooms and basil may also reduce the odor; the mix of fat and water found in milk, however, was the most effective.
Raw garlic is more potent; cooking garlic reduces the effect. The green, dry 'folds' in the center of the garlic clove are especially pungent. The sulfur compound allicin, produced by crushing or chewing fresh garlic, produces other sulfur compounds: ajoene, allyl sulfides, and vinyldithiins. Aged garlic lacks allicin, but may have some activity due to the presence of S-allylcysteine.
In a rat study, allicin, was found to be an activator of TRPA1. The neurons released neurotransmitters in the spinal cord to generate pain signals and released neuropeptides at the site of sensory nerve activation, resulting in vasodilation, as well as inflammation. Allicin is released only by cruching or chewing raw garlic and cannot be formed from cooked garlic.
Some people suffer from allergies to garlic and other plants in the allium family. Symptoms can include irritable bowel, diarrhea, mouth and throat ulcerations, nausea, breathing difficulties, and, in rare cases, anaphylaxis. Garlic-sensitive patients show positive tests to diallyl disulfide, allylpropyldisulfide, allylmercaptan and allicin, all of which are present in garlic. People who suffer from garlic allergies will often be sensitive to many plants in the lily family (Liliaceae), including onions, garlic, chives, leeks, shallots, garden lilies, ginger, and bananas.
Garlic can also cause indigestion, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It thins the blood (as does aspirin); this had caused very high quantities of garlic and garlic supplements to be linked with an increased risk of bleeding, particularly during pregnancy and after surgery and childbirth, although culinary quantities are safe for consumption. Several reports of serious burns resulting from garlic being applied topically for various purposes, including naturopathic uses and acne treatment, indicate care must be taken for these uses, usually testing a small area of skin using a very low concentration of garlic. On the basis of numerous reports of such burns, including burns to children, topical use of raw garlic, as well as insertion of raw garlic into body cavities, is discouraged. In particular, topical application of raw garlic to young children is not advisable. The side effects of long-term garlic supplementation, if any exist, are largely unknown, and no FDA-approved study has been performed. However, garlic has been consumed for several thousand years without any adverse long-term effects, suggesting modest quantities of garlic pose, at worst, minimal risks to normal individuals. Possible side effects include gastrointestinal discomfort, sweating, dizziness, allergic reactions, bleeding, and menstrual irregularities. The safety of garlic supplements had not been determined for children.; some breastfeeding mothers have found their babies slow to feed and have noted a garlic odour coming from their baby when they have consumed garlic.
When crushed, Allium sativum yields allicin, an antibiotic and antifungal compound (phytoncide). It has been claimed that it can be used as a home remedy to help speed recovery from strep throat or other minor ailments because of its antibiotic properties. It also contains the sulfur-containing compounds alliin, ajoene, diallylsulfide, dithiin, S-allylcysteine, and enzymes, B vitamins, proteins, minerals, saponins, flavonoids, and Maillard reaction products, which are not sulfur-containing compounds. Furthermore, a phytoalexin (allixin) was found, a nonsulfur compound with a γ-pyrone skeleton structure with antioxidant effects, antimicrobial effects, antitumor promoting effects, inhibition of aflatoxin B2 DNA binding, and neurotrophic effects. Allixin showed an antitumor promoting effect in vivo, inhibiting skin tumor formation by TPA and DMBA initiated mice. Analogs of this compound have exhibited antitumor promoting effects in in vitro experimental conditions. Herein, allixin and/or its analogs may be expected useful compounds for cancer prevention or chemotherapy agents for other diseases.
The composition of the bulbs is approximately 84.09% water, 13.38% organic matter, and 1.53% inorganic matter, while the leaves are 87.14% water, 11.27% organic matter, and 1.59% inorganic matter.
The phytochemicals responsible for the sharp flavor of garlic are produced when the plant's cells are damaged. When a cell is broken by chopping, chewing, or crushing, enzymes stored in cell vacuoles trigger the breakdown of several sulfur-containing compounds stored in the cell fluids. The resultant compounds are responsible for the sharp or hot taste and strong smell of garlic. Some of the compounds are unstable and continue to react over time. Among the members of the onion family, garlic has by far the highest concentrations of initial reaction products, making garlic much more potent than onions, shallots, or leeks. Although many humans enjoy the taste of garlic, these compounds are believed to have evolved as a defensive mechanism, deterring animals such as birds, insects, and worms from eating the plant.
A large number of sulfur compounds contribute to the smell and taste of garlic. Diallyl disulfide is believed to be an important odor component. Allicin has been found to be the compound most responsible for the "hot" sensation of raw garlic. This chemical opens thermotransient receptor potential channels that are responsible for the burning sense of heat in foods. The process of cooking garlic removes allicin, thus mellowing its spiciness.
Because of its strong odor, garlic is sometimes called the "stinking rose". When eaten in quantity, garlic may be strongly evident in the diner's sweat and breath the following day. This is because garlic's strong-smelling sulfur compounds are metabolized, forming allyl methyl sulfide. Allyl methyl sulfide (AMS) cannot be digested and is passed into the blood. It is carried to the lungs and the skin, where it is excreted. Since digestion takes several hours, and release of AMS several hours more, the effect of eating garlic may be present for a long time.
This well-known phenomenon of "garlic breath" is alleged to be alleviated by eating fresh parsley. The herb is, therefore, included in many garlic recipes, such as [[pistou]], persillade, and the garlic butter spread used in garlic bread. However, since the odour results mainly from digestive processes placing compounds such as AMS in the blood, and AMS is then released through the lungs over the course of many hours, eating parsley provides only a temporary masking. One way of accelerating the release of AMS from the body is the use of a sauna.
Because of the AMS in the bloodstream, it is believed by some to act as a mosquito repellent, but no clinically reported evidence suggests it is actually effective.
Spiritual and religious perceptions
Garlic has been regarded as a force for both good and evil. According to Cassell's Dictionary of Superstitions, there is an Islamic myth that considers that after Satan left the Garden of Eden, garlic arose in his left footprint and onion in the right. In Europe, many cultures have used garlic for protection or white magic, perhaps owing to its reputation as a potent preventative medicine. Central European folk beliefs considered garlic a powerful ward against demons, werewolves, and vampires. To ward off vampires, garlic could be worn, hung in windows, or rubbed on chimneys and keyholes.
In both Hinduism and Jainism, garlic is considered to stimulate and warm the body and to increase one's desires. Some devout Hindus generally avoid using garlic and the related onion in the preparation of foods for religious festivities and events. Followers of the Jain religion avoid eating garlic and onion on a daily basis.
In connection with the odor associated with garlic, Islam views eating garlic and subsequently going to the mosque as inappropriate because the smell from the mouth will irritate the fellow worshippers.
Garlic bulbs and cloves
Garlic growing in a container.
Garlic bulbs and individual cloves, one peeled.
Garlic scapes are often harvested early so that the bulbs will grow bigger.
A bulb of garlic, split.
A bulb of garlic, not separated from the stem.
Garlic from a recent harvest awaiting collection in rural Goheung county, South Jeolla province, South Korea
Garlic from a recent harvest ready for transport to market in rural Goheung county, South Jeolla province, South Korea
Garlic being hand harvested, loaded onto a truck, and ready for transport to a distribution center in rural Goheung county, South Jeolla province, South Korea
^Teuscher E (2005). Medicinal Spices (1 ed.). Stuttgart: Medpharm.
^Sovová M, Sova P (May 2004). "[Pharmaceutical importance of Allium sativum L. 5. Hypolipemic effects in vitro and in vivo]" (in Czech). Ceska Slov Farm 53 (3): 117–23. PMID15218732.
^Durak I, Oztürk HS, Olcay E, Güven C (2002). "Effects of garlic extract supplementation on blood lipid and antioxidant parameters and atherosclerotic plaque formation process in cholesterol-fed rabbits". J Herb Pharmacother 2 (2): 19–32. doi:10.1300/J157v02n02_03. PMID15277094.
^Durak I, Kavutcu M, Aytaç B, et al (June 2004). "Effects of garlic extract consumption on blood lipid and oxidant/antioxidant parameters in humans with high blood cholesterol". J. Nutr. Biochem. 15 (6): 373–7. doi:10.1016/j.jnutbio.2004.01.005. PMID15157944.
^Chan KC, Yin MC, Chao WJ (March 2007). "Effect of diallyl trisulfide-rich garlic oil on blood coagulation and plasma activity of anticoagulation factors in rats". Food Chem Toxicol 45 (3): 502–7. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2006.10.005. PMID17123684.
^Borrelli F, Capasso R, Izzo AA (November 2007). "Garlic (Allium sativum L.): adverse effects and drug interactions in humans". Mol Nutr Food Res 51 (11): 1386–97. doi:10.1002/mnfr.200700072. PMID17918162.
^ abSteiner M, Lin RS (June 1998). "Changes in platelet function and susceptibility of lipoproteins to oxidation associated with administration of aged garlic extract". J Cardiovasc Pharmacol 31 (6): 904–8. doi:10.1097/00005344-199806000-00014. PMID9641475.
^Mader FH (October 1990). "Treatment of hyperlipidaemia with garlic-powder tablets. Evidence from the German Association of General Practitioners' multicentric placebo-controlled double-blind study". Arzneimittelforschung 40 (10): 1111–6. PMID2291748.
^Oi Y, Imafuku M, Shishido C, Kominato Y, Nishimura S, Iwai K. (2001). "Garlic supplementation increases testicular testosterone and decreases plasma corticosterone in rats fed a high protein diet.". Journal of Nutrition 131 (8): 2150–6. PMID11481410.
^Ried, K.; Frank, O. R.; Stocks, N. P. (2010). "Aged garlic extract lowers blood pressure in patients with treated but uncontrolled hypertension: a randomised controlled trial". Maturitas 67 (2): 144–150. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2010.06.001.
Gardner, C. D.; Lawson, L. D.; Block, E.; Chatterjee, L. M.; Kiazand, A.; Balise, R. R.; Kraemer, H. C. (2007) The effect of raw garlic vs. garlic supplements on plasma lipids concentrations in adults with moderate hypercholesterolemia: A clinical trial. "Archives of Internal Medicine" 167: 346–353.
Lemar, K.M.; Turner, M.P.; Lloyd, D. (2002) Garlic (Allium sativum) as an anti-Candida agent: a comparison of the efficacy of fresh garlic and freeze-dried extracts. Journal of Applied Microbiology 93 (3), 398–405 Abstract
Mader FH (October 1990). "Treatment of hyperlipidaemia with garlic-powder tablets. Evidence from the German Association of General Practitioners' multicentric placebo-controlled double-blind study". Arzneimittelforschung 40 (10): 1111–6. PMID2291748.
McGee, Harold (2004). "The Onion Family: Onions, Garlic, Leeks". On Food and Cooking (Revised Edition). Scribner. pp. 310–3. ISBN0-684-80001-2.
Salunkhe, D.K.; Kadam, S.S. (1998). Handbook of Vegetable Science and Technology. Marcel Dekker. ISBN0-8247-0105-4.
Yeh, Y-Y., et al. (1999). Garlic extract reduces plasma concentration of homocysteine in rats rendered folic acid deficient. FASEB Journal 13(4): Abstract 209.12.
Yeh, Y-Y., et al. (1997). Garlic reduced plasma cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic men maintaining habitual diets. In: Ohigashi, H., et al. (eds). Food Factors for Cancer Prevention. Tokyo: Springer-Verlag. Abstract.
Garlic plants are closely related to and similar to onions and they have a similar, but stronger odor. The leaves of garlic plants are neither inflated like onion leaves nor tubular like those of bunching onions. Instead, they are flat, with a crease down the middle and are held erect in two opposite ranks. Most varieties stand about 1-2 ft (0.3-0.6 m) tall at maturity. Garlic plants produce an underground bulb that usually is divisible into 6-20 segments, called cloves.
Hardneck garlic (a.k.a. rocambole, top-setting garlic, and serpent garlic) is Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon. It produces a flower stalk that coils like a snake, then straightens out and bears clusters of pea-sized bulblets or "bulbils" that are like miniature garlic bulbs.
Garlic is not known from the wild but probably was derived from Allium longicuspis, which is native to central Asia. Garlic has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years.
Some authorities place the onions, garlics, leeks and their relatives in a family of their own, the Alliaceae, and others put them in the lily family, the Liliaceae. There are about 400 species in the genus Allium, including some magnificent ornamentals. Well known members of the genus include: onions (A. cepa), bunching or green onions (A. fistulosum), chives (A. schoenoprasum), garlic chives (A. tuberosum), and A. ampeloprasum, which is divided into three horticultural groups: The Porrum Group, which includes leeks, grown for their stems; the Ampeloprasum Group, which includes elephant garlic, grown for its large, mild garlic-like bulb; and the Kurrat Group, which includes kurrat, a small plant grown for its leaves and rarely seen outside Egypt and the Middle East.
Bulb: In Surinam, consumed to improve poor blood circulation to the heart. In Guyana, consumed raw to strengthen the lungs, boiled and eaten to alleviate intestinal gas (wind, flatulence) and used in a cure for Guinea worm with Allium cepa and other ingredients.
Bulb ovoid with 6-10 bulblets; scales white. Scapes c. 1 in tall, curved; spathe long-beaked. Leaves linear, flattened. Umbels with bulbils and flowers. Tepals white, lanceolate, acuminate. Filaments shorter than the tepals, inner with 2 cusps.
Bulb solitary, globose to applanate-globose, usually consisting of several bulbels covered with a common tunic; tunic white to purple, membranous, entire. Leaves broadly linear to linear-lanceolate, shorter than scape, to 2.5 cm wide, apex acuminate. Scape 25--50 cm, terete, covered with leaf sheaths for ca. 1/2 its length. Spathe deciduous; beak 7--20 cm. Umbel with many bulblets and few flowers. Pedicels slender, longer than perianth; bracteoles ovate, rather large, membranous, apex acute. Perianth usually pale red; outer segments ovate-lanceolate, ca. 4 × 1.4 mm; inner ones ovate, ca. 3 × 1.4 mm. Filaments shorter than perianth segments, connate at base and adnate to perianth segments; outer ones subulate; inner ones broadened at base, 1-toothed on each side, teeth with apex filiform and longer than perianth segments. Ovary globose. Style not exserted. Fl. Jul. 2 n = 16*, 48.