According to floriography—the Victorian “language of flowers”—blooms of garlic mean “strength” and “courage”. And no, this does not refer to the plant’s strong smell. It instead references garlic’s history as a health restorative. Both in antiquity and in modern medicine, garlic has been used as more than just a flavorant.
For one, many ancient civilizations viewed garlic as a means to increase stamina. Historian Herodotus writes that the Pyramids of Giza were built on garlic’s animating powers and (supposedly) slaves refused to work if they had no garlic. In Herodotus’ own Greece, athletes and soldiers alike used garlic as a sort of amphetamine to increase energy. In the Greek comedy The Acharnians, a disorderly army is said to be “dosed up on garlic.” Later on, Roman sailors would copy the Greeks and keep themselves “loaded” with garlic during long voyages.
People also noted the particular… stimulative properties of garlic. Specifically, Aristotle included garlic in his list of aphrodisiacs. And like Aristotle, the Talmud—written around 500 CE—also praises garlic as an “encourager” of love. Historians also suspect that this is why garlic was recommended to be eaten on Fridays, the Jewish “night of the marriage bed.” This characteristic actually has some scientific basis. Sulphur of allyl, a compound found in the plant, has widely been considered an aphrodisiac.
As time went on, societies no longer viewed garlic as the analeptic it once was. But that did not lessen the herb’s use as a wide folk medicine. Medieval Ireland used it as a cure-all and a few years later it was used throughout Europe to ward off plague. (It was the main ingredient in the French treatment, “The Vinegar of the Four Thieves.”)
More effectively, it was used to ward off gangrene during WWI and WWII. And since Confucius’ time, China has used garlic as a digestive treatment. Even today, research is being done to explore garlic’s effects on hypertension and cancer treatments. Though garlic’s medicinal applications throughout history have been dubious, it is applied just as widely in modern medicine as it was in ancient times.