If you love garlic but not the bad breath, try Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea).
It is so very easy to grow, looks great and both it’s leaves and flowers have wonderful garlic flavour without the renowned bad breath after eating. This is why it was called Society Garlic – a good choice for ‘polite society’ dinner parties.
|Society Garlic flowers have a more potent flavour than the leaves – very delicious and attractive.
If smell is not an issue for you (to be honest, I don’t mind it), I still highly recommend growing Society Garlic because it adds so much to the garden – great colour and flavour, it attracts beneficial insects, it repels pests and it requires such little care.
I particularly like it because whenever I want garlic in a meal, I can simply reach out and harvest the leaves and flowers fresh from my garden anytime. In this climate (subtropics) it flourishes all year and is perennial whereas growing good garlic bulbs here is a challenge. This plant does not need planting and harvesting each year – it’s just there to pluck whenever I need it.
Society Garlic, not to be confused with Allium sativum is also known as Sweet Garlic, Wild Garlic, Wildeknoffel by the Afrikaans and Isihaqa by the Zululs. It is native to Natal, Transvaal and the eastern Cape region in South Africa. Society Garlic is a member of the lily family (Alliaceae), as are onions and garlic, but it is not an allium.
Society Garlic – a hardy edible plant
Society Garlic is a definite favourite in my edible garden. I use it all the time and have it growing throughout my garden – in the salad garden, in the vegetable terraces, in the food forest. It is an incredibly robust, low maintenance, pest resistant and drought tolerant perennial. It withstands summer heat, humidity, thunderstorms, hailstorms and retains its attractiveness throughout. You can understand why I love having it in my garden – it is so hardy, resilient and abundant.
|Here in my garden, you can see the Society Garlic clumps at the end of each bed
Society Garlic Border
In the garden, I often use it as an edge plant too as it doesn’t mind this drier spot. It helps to prevent mulch from spilling onto my path and because it stays upright so does not take over the path either. I also like it on the edge because I am reaching for it every day – for salads, for omelettes and quiche, for soups, for stir fries, for curries, for dips, for sauces …
Society Garlic – a landscape plant
Society Garlic is an attractive landscape plant – sometimes even referred to as pink agapanthus. Its strappy green edible leaves stand tall even on hot days and it often has shows of pretty violet-coloured edible flowers – actually with more potent flavour than the leaves. It typically grows around 30-50 cms, but taller if you include the flowers.
|Society Garlic growing as a landscape plant in the Melbourne at the Burnley Horticultural Gardens.
Growing Society Garlic
Society Garlic can be grown in warmer climates with ease (for those of you in the USA, it is hardy in USDA zones 7-10). In cooler climates it is better grown in pots then moved inside. The leaves will withstand temperatures below zero degrees celsius (around 20 degrees fahrenheit), and if damaged they will re-sprout quickly.
Society Garlic does best in full sun but grows well in shade too, however you will get few flowers in the shade. It prefers light sandy soil and fertile soil with lots of organic matter. The rhizomes may rot in waterlogged soil – although I have noticed in my garden that it lasts really well through the wet season, as well as the dry. I love it’s adaptability.
Because of its hardiness, Society Garlic grows well in a container, a rock garden and as a herbaceous border too.
Propagating Society Garlic
Over the period of a year or two, one stem of Society Garlic will form a dense clump that can be separated and spread further around your garden, or shared.
The best way to propagate society garlic is by division. Simply dig up a clump, gently separate the stems each with a piece of root attached, trim off the leafy tops and plant out. I usually plant them about 20 centimetres apart.
Society Garlic for Pest Control
Society Garlic rubbed on your skin can repel mosquitoes and tics, also fleas on animals. It’s not an issue that I have to deal with here, but I read somewhere that if you have an issue with moles, a barrier planting of Society Garlic could deter the moles from your vegetables and flowers. I’d be interested to hear if anyone has tried that successfully.
|A popular duo at our events – Society Garlic Pesto with Seedy Spelt Crackers
Society Garlic Recipe
Society Garlic and Coriander Pesto Dip
- 4 Society Garlic flowers and a dozen or so leaves
- 2 cups coriander leaves and flowers (could use basil, or a mix of other greens too)
- 1 lime juiced
- 1/4 cup toasted ground sunflower seeds or almonds
- 1/3 cup grated parmesan
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Toast and grind nuts/seeds
- Mix coriander, lime, seeds/nuts, garlic, cheese in a food processor
- Add oil slowly until desired consistency reached
- Transfer to jar
- Top with some extra oil to cover surface