As far back as ancient Egypt, garlic has been credited as a protection against a wide range of problems – and not just for its notable flavour. At least two versions of its origin ignore that it is just a plant, allium sativum, a tasty and aromatic member of the onion family. Early Egyptians perceived garlic as a gift from the gods, but post-biblical mythology decreed that it grew where Satan’s left foot trod as he was evicted from the Garden of Eden (the print of his right foot gave rise to ordinary onions).
Superstition has long credited garlic with various powers: protecting sailors from storms and shipwreck; giving soldiers courage; protecting miners from evil underground demons; if placed under the pillows of babies, protecting them overnight; and as household garlands to protect against illness, witches, robbers and vampires.
The perceived connection between vampires and garlic was slow in reaching the English language. The first English story about vampires, The Vampyre by John Polodori (1819) makes no mention of garlic.
Irish author Bram Stoker’s later vampire novel, Dracula (1897) introduced the powerful effects between vampires and what they greatly fear: daylight – and garlic. But as a protection it had been widely used long before that – against toothache, sunstroke, leprosy and even bed-wetting.
Medical research can identify a genuine physical condition called alliumphobia. And there is a medical theory that some people simply must not eat garlic because it causes disorder in certain blood types. Scholars point out that this condition, and its necessary repudiation of anything to do with garlic, may be a contributing factor to the legend of vampires and their avoidance of garlic.
The vampire legends were believed historically in southern Slavic countries and Romania, where an eye was kept on those who refused to eat garlic. Consequently, superstition decreed that cloves of garlic be placed in the mouths of the deceased before they were buried, to ward off any passing vampire.
Published by Exisle Publishing