Garlic, botanically classified as Allium Sativum, has one of the largest genomes of all cultivated plants and is a member of the lily family along with chives, shallots, and onions. Garlic is the common name dedicated to hundreds of varieties which can be further classified into hardneck and softneck types. Softneck garlic varieties are easier to braid than the hardneck ones simply because the stems are easier to work with. Silverskin garlics are the most commonly used and preferred for braiding.
Garlic braids contain bulbs of garlic which are high in manganese, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and allicin, an enzyme responsible not only for garlic’s intense aroma and flavor but also known for its anti-viral properties.
Fresh braided garlic can be used interchangeably in preparations that call for traditional garlic. Simply cut a garlic bulb from the braid and separate the cloves from the bulb to begin cooking. Be sure to use the garlic bulbs starting from the top of the braid as it will keep the braid intact. Braided garlic is often sold purely as an ornamental item, so care should be taken when purchasing braided garlic marketed for decorative purposes as the freshness cannot be guaranteed. Fresh garlic braids used for food preparations should be used within six months, ornamental braids will last for at least two years.
There are many accounts throughout history of beliefs and folklore surrounding braids of garlic. In many European countries such as Italy, Greece, and England they were hung in households and shops as a means of warding off evil, ghosts, disease, and negative energies. In ancient Greece, garlic was believed to be one of the best ways to ward off the evil eye and braids were utilized extensively to protect infants and young children who were thought to be most susceptible to its dangers.
Traditionally garlic was strung into braids as a means of drying and storing it. Keeping the tops of the garlic attached in this fashion also helped to prolong the freshness of the bulbs. The braids were used as food, medicinally, and spiritually by many different ancient cultures throughout history. Today the braids are predominately a decorative item as well as a convenient way to store garlic for ease of use in the kitchen.