Garlic is not popular with many people, since it possesses a rather pungent aroma that can linger around long after its preparation. This smell, however, is one of the primary factors behind garlic’s symbolic meaning, and the reason it has been held in high esteem for many centuries.
Garlic is a good example of a symbol whose meaning is solidly based in reality. Aside from its famously strong smell, garlic is a powerful antiseptic and an effective method of warding off bacteria. These traits combine to make garlic a potent symbol of protection. Throughout history, it has been used as a defense against everything from disease and poison to protection from magic and the supernatural. The ancient Greeks used garlic as a protection against evil spirits, and the Roman author Pliny recommended it as a defense against poisonous snakes and scorpions. This historical significance is one of the reasons why, in modern culture, garlic is held up as a defense against supernatural creatures such as vampires.
Aside from protection, there are also more benign (for lack of a better word) meanings associated with garlic. In China, in addition to the protective qualities mentioned above, garlic is also viewed as lucky and is often given to expectant parents in the hope that they will have many children. Pliny also remarked that garlic could work as a powerful aphrodisiac, an association present in the Jewish Talmud as well.
Category: Food Symbols and Symbolism.