Member's Anthology

100 Cloves of Garlic    by Valerie Richmond

About my garlic - my one sister tells me it’s “to die for” (my other sisters don’t cook much), my friends tell me they love it, it’s out of this world, they’ve never experienced anything like it before. I know what they mean – I felt the same way when I tasted fresh unadulterated right from the garden garlic. Any type – porcelain or rocambole, hardneck or softneck, and any variety – Zema, Georgian Fire (down from the Steppes), Batavian, Cooperstown Gold, Uncle Earl’s, Inchellium Red, Danube Rose, German White, German Red, Music, Rosa Luxembourg’s Internationale (a personal variety lasting only one season)– I mean any variety of garlic has given me a muse’s note, a tug from the earth, an important smoke signal from the unknown, another code to decipher the transporting experience of fresh garlic.

One evening at dinner during the Jung-on-the-Hudson week long seminar on Carl Jung’s magnum opus “The Red Book,” at which I had for the first time introduced myself as an artist, a writer, and a garlic grower - a friendly fellow attendee, sitting on my right, shared her interest in garlic. We talked about its far reaching cooking achievements and influence; garlic might as well have won a Nobel Pulitzer and Oscar prize and the AMA’s Lasker award thrown in. I shared my herbalist’s knowledge of the amazing healing properties of garlic – knowledge gleaned from practice and not study alone. So at last, I said that my garlic experience was so profound, that it was life-changing. After planting and growing, harvesting and curing, cooking and healing with my garlic, my life was forever changed. And now it’s in the farmer’s market. And so she said, that’s it! Put that on your tent – this garlic will change your life. And, I replied, tame your pet vampires.

As I sort out my garlic growing experience over the last 7 years to see what’s worth sharing about my planting methods and other significant information discovered during my lifelong dance with Allium Sativa, I need to tell another story.

100 Cloves.

Once, many years ago in the far north and west of the Mississippi River, in the young foothills of the Teton Mountains, where the air is pure and the running water defines time, I spent the most formative period of my life as a human being - shaped in accord with old earth rhythms that resounded in my core without any attendant explanation. It was here that I first encountered the special healing powers of garlic. I lived seemingly without plan, almost falling into a practice of life, either pushed by necessity or led by my powerful curiousity. My curiousity saved my life once; but that is a different story, in a different life, and as my friend says I have as many lives as my birth year Snake sheds skins. Be certain that any plans for my life ahead were only just beginning to form. I moved through this landscape and breathed an atmosphere of nature present. I witnessed with big eyes and fed my unknown and unconscious hopes with the shape of my tipi, the tallest hour-glass ever in Deer Valley, and that year, south of Banff in the long Canadian Glacier stretch of the Tetons; my hands and feet young, my spirit ageless. I lived on an abandoned homestead with grass as tall as me and a spring-fed creek that wandered through its thick pastures. Surrounded by lodgepole pine and tamarack, I communed with the coyotes and the moon at night and shepherded the goats by day amongst the rocky hills of Deer Valley.

This pasture often brought jealous stares from the local cattle ranchers stuck with their overgrazed land. Its long green grasses nourished my three horses - Mystery, the wild mare, her half Arab filly Crescent, and India, a remarkable 30 year old white pack mare and daughter of the Tetons themselves, with her coal black filly, who when weaned was promised back to the owner. I can tell you stories of each of their lives and how I came to know them, save the unnamed black foal, but the one before us is the tale of how 100 cloves of garlic saved my filly’s life during that long harsh winter in Deer Valley.

By the first snow, I could have hung a shingle as herbalist for the local animals. Word got around after I cured an abandoned Afghan dog and her eight pups from the mange earlier that spring. The owner gave up on her after the vet’s expensive and extensive treatment was ineffective. After that, a rancher brought a lame and wounded goat attacked by dogs, and soon there was a small menagerie of healing animals. But as winter approached and the long grass turned yellow, and the Teton snow piled up on everything, my half moon filly picked up a nasty tapeworm, likely hibernating in the old paddock. I tried many herbs and their various applications, but nothing worked. Even my stubborn resistance to the ranchers’ pressures to worm the yearling with vet medicine began to weaken. I brewed up more concoctions, spent more nights in the barn, reread all my written sources, but still she lost weight and her ribs started to show through her shaggy chestnut winter coat. Her head that bore the white crescent moon dropped and her eyes grew dim. The vile worm persisted.

Then, I heard about an old Indian horseman and healer 2 days north of me. Despite my deep desire to go, my new husband went instead and brought back the words I needed to hear. Horse Healer affirmed my rejection of the harsh chemical wormers from the vet. He said the tapeworm in its escape from the poison, often slashed open the lining of a young horse’s small stomach, usually killing it. Instead, I was to take as much raw garlic as I could find, and feed it to the filly.

I don’t remember where the garlic came from, but there, in Deer Valley, objects and beings sometimes just appeared. I spent the next hours in the small kitchen, near the old woodstove, breaking apart the heads and peeling and chopping the cloves into fine bits. Then, I blended the garlic with my best rolled oats, dark raw honey, and whispered prayers. All through the night, every few hours I fed her a ball of the mixture from the flat of my hand. In the morning, I led her down the shoveled path to the snow cleared road and standing in the high shadow of the mountain pines, with the sun barely over the eastern valley rim, I remember the white frost forming on her delicate Arabian horse nostrils and feeling its icy pinch in my mine. We stood eye to eye in the steam of each other’s breath and as she ate that morning’s first ball of garlic from my hand, a penetrating clear light flashed in the iris of her eyes. I knew she would recover.

And she did. The spring grass expelled the last of the worm and fattened her chestnut flanks.


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