Perennial – Elephant Garlic

Elephant Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum) flower With bumblebee
Elephant garlic flower With bumblebee

Elephant Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum) is a perennial plant belonging to the onion genus. It is not a true garlic, but are a variant of the garden leek. It has a tall, solid, flowering stalk and broad, flat leaves much like those of the leek, but forms a bulb consisting of very large, garlic-like cloves. The flavor of these, while not exactly like garlic, is much more similar to garlic than to leeks. The flavor is milder than garlic, and much more palatable to some people than garlic when used raw as in salads. It is sometimes confused with solo garlic.

The mature bulb is broken up into cloves which are quite large and with papery skins and these are used for both culinary purposes and propagation. Also, much smaller cloves with a hard shell grow on the outside of the bulb. Many gardeners often ignore these, but if they are planted, they produce a nonflowering plant in their first year, which has a solid bulb, essentially a single large clove. In their second year, this single clove then, like a normal bulb, divides into many separate cloves. While it may take an extra year, it is desirable to plant these small bulbils (several can be produced by each bulb) and the harvest increased, though delayed a year.

Elephant garlic or Giant garlic as it was originally called was first introduced to the commercial and gardening market in 1941 by Nicholas Garden nursery in the Willamette Valley of Oregon in the United States. The nursery noticed the enormous garlic was being grown by local immigrants from Czechoslovakia and Northern Yugoslavia who had brought it with them from their homeland. Seeing the market potential for such a unique shaped and flavored allium they purchased twelve pounds to cultivate for commercial distribution. After 10 years of growing, it was given the name Elephant garlic and Nicholas Garden placed newspaper ads to promote it and began selling it throughout the United States and Canada. Since that time it has grown in popularity and seeds have been sold around the world in Europe, South America, South Africa, Australia, and Russia.

Unlike many kinds of garlic, elephant garlic does not have to be harvested or divided each year but can be ignored and left in the ground without much risk of rotting. The plant, if left alone, will spread into a clump with many flowering heads (one stalk and flower from each clove, once the bulb divides). These are often left in flower gardens as an ornamental and to discourage pests. Of course, once they get overcrowded, the plant may not do as well, and growth is stunted, with some rotting.

Elephant garlic is not generally propagated by seeds.

The immature plant tops can be topped off (cut) when the plant is young and they are still tender, as can be done with onions, and chives, along with the very immature flower bud, and are called scapes. They can be pickled, Lacto-fermented, stir-fried, added to soups, etc. The scapes (whether elephant garlic, garlic, onion, chive, or garlic chive) can also be frozen without any cooking, and generally, remain fresh for a year or so without freezer burn, to be added to any soup, stew, stir-fry, etc. Topping the plants off also helps more of the plant’s energy to be directed toward the bulb. Since the seed is not generally gathered from elephant garlic, this is the best use of resources and helps the bulb, though it does detract from the aesthetic value. A few scapes can be left to mature to into stalks to flower.

Like regular garlic, elephant garlic can be roasted whole on the grill or baked in the oven and then used as a spread with butter on toast. Fresh elephant garlic contains mostly moisture and foams up like boiling potatoes, whether on the stove or in a glass dish in the oven. Drying in the basement for a few months reduces the moisture content, and bring out a fuller flavor.

How To Plant Elephant Garlic

With elephant garlic planting, most any soil will do, but for the largest bulbs begin with a well-draining soil medium. Dig down a foot into the soil and amend with a 1.5-gallon bucket of sand, granite dust, humus/peat moss mix per 2’x 2’to 3’x 3′ section and mix in well. Top dress with some well-aged manure and mulch around the plants with chopped leaves and/or sawdust to keep weeds at bay and also to nourish as the amendments decompose or break down.

Hardiness

  • Zone 3-9

Location

  •  Elephant Garlic prefers full sun and can be grown in temperate regions all the way into tropical zones.

Size

  • Height 18 inches,

Days to Maturity

  • 120 day to mature.

When to Plant

  • Can be planted fall, summer or early spring.  In cooler climates, plant in the fall or spring while in warmer regions the herb can be planted in spring, fall, or winter. Break up the bulb into cloves for propagation. Some cloves are much smaller and are called corms, which grow on the outside of the bulb. If you plant these corms, they will produce a non-blooming plant in the first year with a solid bulb or single large clove. In the second year, the clove will begin to separate into multiple cloves, so don’t ignore the corms. It may take two years, but eventually, you will get a good head of elephant garlic.

Attracts

In my experience, elephant garlic attracts:

  • Bumblebees
  • Honeybees
  • ladybugs
  • Butterflies

How To Use Elephant Garlic

When cooking with elephant garlic, remember that it is not a substitute for the ordinary form. Instead, it should use where a subtle hint of garlic is wanted without overpowering the rest of the food. Treat it as a “similar but different” ingredient when creating or experimenting with recipes.

There are many uses for elephant garlic. It’s often served raw in salads or it can be sliced and sautéed in butter (be careful when cooking, it browns very quickly and can turn bitter). It’s also frequently used to give a hint of flavor to soups and stews.

Roasted Garlic Recipe

Arguably the best and simplest way to enjoy Elephant Garlic. Is just by roasting it whole!

Ingredients

  • 1 bulb elephant garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 390 degrees Fahrenheit (200C).
  • Chop your elephant garlic bulb in half horizontally.
  • Drizzle the exposed cloves with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Put the bulb back together, loosely enclose in foil and place in the preheated oven. Depending on the size of the bulb it will take between 40 minutes and 1 hour to roast.
  • Turn down the oven to 355 degrees Fahrenheit (180C) and leave for an extra 30 mins to get a more caramelized flavor.
  • Once roasted it can be simply spread on bread, served as a side to barbecued or roasted meats or added to sauces and soups.

Cooking Substitution

Elephant garlic produces milder flavored garlic than its relatives. Generally, you will need to use more elephant garlic to achieve an approximation for soft neck garlic, about double.  Many people do not fin elephant garlic to be a satisfactory substitute for soft neck garlic.  I would use them according to taste rule and do some experimentation.  However, if you are looking for a general guideline are some.

Cooking Substitute For Elephant Garlic

  • Regular garlic (stronger) = about one half the volume
  • Equal amounts of chopped leek + minced garlic clove of an equivalent volume

Cooking Equivalents by Approximate Size

  • 1 clove elephant garlic = 2 medium cloves of regular garlic

Related References

What Are Perennial Foods?

Perennial Food, Perennial Food Gardening, edible landscapes
Perennial Food Gardening

Perennial foods, on the whole, are low maintenance sources of food once they’ve been established and their production can be improved with a little tender loving care. Many perennials will be in our backyard trees and/or are landscaping. Their form can be very ranging from bulbs, to berries, it’s to trees and bushes.  When thinking of perennial foods, we must keep an open mind. Many edible foods are ignored by commercial markets, even though, many if not all were eaten by media and/or ancient peoples throughout history.

Please keep in mind that what is a perennial in your area is dictated by your area USDA Plant Hardiness Zone and the hardiness range of the plant itself.

Here is a starter list, which I will update as I have more time.

  • Alliums

    • Bunching onions
    • Chinese leeks
    • Chives
    • Elephant Garlic
    • Egyptian Walking Onions
    • Common Garlic
    • Garlic Chives
    • Potato Onions
    • Shallot

    Berries

    • Cranberry
    • Grapes
    • Blackberry
    • Blueberry
    • Elderberry
    • Gooseberry
    • Huckleberry
    • Musk Strawberry
    • Raspberry
    • Salmonberry
    • Strawberry
    • Turkscap

     

    Bushes & Shrub

    • Autumn Olive
    • Blueberry
    • Cherry
    • Gooseberries
    • Lingonberry
    • Nanking Cherry
    • Sea Buckthorns

    Cactus

    • Prickly Pear Cactus

    Cereals

    • Perennial Buckwheat
    • Pearl Millet
    • Indian Ricegrass

    Herbs

    • Angelica
    • Anise Hyssop
    • Balm (Lemon Balm)
    • Basil (Holy Basil, African Blue)
    • Bunching onions
    • Burnet
    • Chicory
    • Common Oregano ( aka wild marjoram)
    • Egyptian Walking Onions
    • French Tarragon
    • Ginger
    • Horseradish
    • Lavender
    • Lovage
    • Marsh Mello
    • Mexican Oregano
    • Mint
    • Parsley
    • Rosemary
    • Sage
    • Sorrel
    • Tarragon
    • Thyme
    • Winter Savory
    • Yarrow

    Edible Flowers

    • Bee Balm
    • Elderberry Flower
    • Hibiscus
    • Mint
    • Purple Coneflower
    • Rose Hips and Flowers
    • Saffron Crocus
    • Turkscap

    Fruit Trees

    • Apricot
    • Apple
    • Mulberry
    • Cherry
    • Fig
    • Loquat
    • Nectarine
    • Pawpaw
    • Peach
    • Pear (Asian)
    • Pear (European)
    • Persimmon
    • Plum
    • Pomegranate
    • Quince
    • Sour Cherry

    Grasses

    • Bamboo
    • lemongrass

    Legumes

    • Kudzu Bean
    • Winged Bean
    • Honey locust Tree
    • Mesquite Tree
    • Pigeon Pea
    • Scarlet Runner

    Nut Trees

    • Almond
    • Black Walnut
    • English Walnut
    • Hazelnut
    • Pecan

    Vegetables and Greens

    • Angelica
    • Artichoke
    • Asparagus
    • Cardoon
    • Fennel
    • Rhubarb
    • Seakale

    Vines

    • Chayote (Squash)
    • Common Grape (European)
    • Fox Grape
    • Muscadine Grape

Many perennial Forage Foods sources are available, also.

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