In John Sayles’ excellent film “Matewan,” Black, Italian and White coal miners go on strike in 1921. After moving out of the company town into a tent city, they try to communicate with and help one another. A West Virginia woman hands an Italian mother some wild bulbs and says, “These is ramps. They put a taste in your food.”

I still smile when I think of this priceless intercultural exchange – an Appalachian giving garlic to an Italian.

Early Christian folklore says garlic sprang up where the Devil’s left foot first stepped when leaving the Garden. Where his right foot stepped sprang the original onion.

The seed of truth of the anti-vampiric properties of “Devil’s Posy” may lie in this saw: “It driveth away all venomous beasts.” Let’s face it – it driveth away everyone.

Aristotle noted the use of Allium sativum as a guard against the fear of water, and it was indeed thought to give strength and courage. It was used by the French to wash wounds on the battlefield.

In the language of flowers, it says courage, get well and strength. It was used to draw moles from the ground and encourage cocks to fight.

A garlic concoction called “Vinegar of the Four Thieves” was used by burglars in Marseilles, France. It was so effective they could rob the homes of plague victims with no fear of contracting the disease. As it repels insects, it probably did keep the fleas carrying the germs off those rascals.

In Scotland, it was a protective plant for the dangerous night of All Hallows, when the dead walked. It was woven into the thatch of Irish cottages to bring good luck. Turks still hang it in their fishing boats for a plentiful haul.

It is sewn into wedding headdresses in Sweden, and Arabs use it to protect bridegrooms from the evil eye (from all the maidens who were passed over, perhaps?). Superstitious matadors in Spain will wear a necklace of garlic to protect them from the bull’s horns.

Garlic tea helps a psychic transition between astral planes. It reportedly allows the drinker to visit the realm of death and return unharmed.

Today, we know that it purifies blood, calms acne and controls blood pressure.

A wreath of garlic on your door will protect you from witches as well as vampires. You can’t be too careful in October.

– A reference librarian, Lisa Karen Miller has been gardening and researching plant lore for years. Have plant lore to share? Email

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