East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food

A plague of garlic…

Not the wild kind...

Garlic may be good for warding off vampires, lowering cholesterol and preventing the common cold – but it hasn’t always been so well regarded. In the Royal Commission on agriculture. England (1895), it was described as an ‘abominable weed’, growing in plague-like quantities somewhere near Bedford. I know Bedford isn’t in the East Midlands, but I’m sure farmers here had similar problems…

‘I was witness to another very strange change which the past 14 years have brought to pass over some of the heavy clay soil to the north-west of Bedford town. Not only the arable land, but recently established pastures have been overrun by garlic or wild onions. This abominable weed grows from a bulbous root, and it possesses such a powerful odour that it taints the grain of any corn with which it may have been gathered, besides rendering the straw unfit for fodder.
 
Wherever it exists on pasture land the stock will not graze, and from the statements made to me by the farmers upon whose land I saw it, I am led to believe that all attempts to obliterate it by fallowing* have failed, and that it is increasing in quantity and widening its area of occupation every year. One farm now seriously affected by its presence was very little injured in 1882. Whether the growth of garlic may be favoured by any particular variety of season I am unable to say, but it is easily seen that if nothing can be done to eradicate such an objectionable pest, land subject to it will sooner or later become useless for agricultural purposes’.  
 
 

The culprit here was wild garlic (Alleum vineale) rather than the cultivated variety with which we are all familiar. It was also a problem to beef and dairy farmers, being said to give the milk a garlicky odour and flavour; but the wider use of tractors in the 20th century went far to eradicate it, burying the bulbs at too great a depth for them to grow. If you find any wild garlic in your garden, you can stop it spreading by snipping the ends of the leaves on a regular basis, and use the clippings to add flavour to salads or other dishes. See http://www.gardenguides.com/872-wild-garlic-weed.html for a picture and more information; and the Garlic Information Centre at http://www.garlic.mistral.co.uk/ for more information about different aspects of the cultivated kind.  

* ploughing the land but not planting it with crops

 
 

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About this Sponsor

A research project that looked at various aspects of food in the East Midlands, linking them with museum displays and objects in the region, and making the results available to as many people as possible in different formats.

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