Garlic: ancient origins

Ancient origins

De Candolle, in his Treatise on the Origin of Cultivated Plants, began the early work on plant geography; his botanical thesis was later refined by Vavilov, in the USSR in the 20th Century, as the concept of geographic centres of origin for plant species. Candolle & later Vavilov, placed the origin of garlic’s wild progenitor in the Kirgiz desert of Western Russia /Central Asia, from where it spread into Europe and became naturalised. This geographic region is also home to Allium longicuspis, believed to be a wild ancestor. The species name sativum means planted, cultivated or sown, hence domesticated.

However, according to Leach (1982), it is difficult to find direct evidence of domestication for kitchen garden plants such as garlic. The most acceptable form of evidence, the remains or impressions of plants themselves, is scarce for green and root vegetables, although plentiful for grain; an assessment of their importance in Bronze and Iron age economies relies on documentary evidence and artistic representations from the 1st 3 millennia BC (Leach, 1982:2)

Apart from finds of onion bulb scales, a garlic bulb and cloves, in what is described as a Chalcolithic context (c.3500-3000 BC) at the Cave of the Treasure near the Dead Sea, and the recovery of what are thought to be kurrat leeks in Early Bronze Age Jericho, there are no unequivocal records of cultivated vegetables before 3000 B.C. The discovery of garlic in such an early context is particularly important for it could only be grown from cloves or inflorescence bulbils and this would mean that it would be subject to actions characteristic of horticulture. (Leach, 1982: 10).


Leach, H.L. (1982) ‘On the Origins of Kitchen Gardening in the Ancient Near East’, Garden History, Vol. 10. No.1 (Spring, 1982) pp.1-16.

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