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Hold the Garlic

December 23, 2000|NORINE DRESSER

Revisiting Italy after a 20-year hiatus, Queen Elizabeth sent advanced directives for her meals. To avoid bad breath, she mandated no garlic, triggering the Italian Il Messagero front-page headline: "The Queen Is Coming? Garlic Is Forbidden."

While one associates garlic as a given in contemporary Italian cuisine, Roman nobility of the past also disliked its strong aroma, and the Roman Senate passed a law forbidding citizens from entering the sacred Temple of Cybele after eating the pungent bulb.

Nonetheless, they fed it to their laborers to make them strong and to their soldiers to give them courage.

Contrastingly, ancient Egyptians worshipped garlic and placed clay models of it inside the tomb of King Tutankhamen. When they took a solemn oath, they swore upon a clove of it.

In Europe, Asia Minor, India and China, it was believed that garlic protected against witchcraft and the evil eye. In Eastern Europe, stringing garlic bulbs together in a necklace before going to sleep repelled vampires.

Some people keep a garlic in their clothes to prevent disease. In the first part of the 20th century, like Queen Elizabeth, the U.S. elite avoided eating garlic, associating it with ethnic working-class communities.

Attitudes have changed. Nowadays, Americans spend $150 million annually buying this aromatic member of the lily family.


Norine Dresser's latest book is "Multicultural Celebrations" (Three Rivers Press, 1999). E-mail:

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