This large garlic-leek can be grown for both its edible and ornamental qualities.
This is a fascinating plant of the allium family (onion, garlic, leek, etc) called Elephant Garlic (also called Russian garlic). The bulbs are giant and can be cooked the same way as any other garlic, but are actually related to leeks due to their horticultural properties. The flower stalk can go up to 2 metres high and the large purple flowers make a stunning show in the backyard. Where we are in Australia, they bloom by mid-December, which makes the yard look quite magical during the holidays. Bees love them, too! They can be perennials if left in the ground and come back multiplying every year. Many were planted in our established garden in Tumba way before we moved in. This is how I discovered them and learned they were edible as well. The taste is milder than the conventional garlic and has a sweeter flavour. I did a bit of a bulb dispatch the first year as they were getting overpacked. I left some in the rockeries for ornamental purposes and re-sow each year a bunch of big cloves in a patch designated for edibles. That always makes too much for us to use, but I can also share, sell, and plant a new crop when needed. The flowers can be cut and dried for decorative purposes and the cured clove heads can be stored for months.
Enjoying backyard elephant garlic • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020-22
GROWING & COOKING TIPS
If you live in a cool, temperate climate, growing elephant garlic is very easy. If you get a happy crop, you can easily multiply and never need to buy any. Once sown in the ground in autumn, there's not much to do until it's time to harvest as they are very hardy. Bulbs can be harvested once the flower is starting to die out so for us by the Snowys, that comes about a month after the conventional garlic is harvested, in January. Like this one, I let the harvested heads dry for about 2 weeks before brushing the soil, cutting the hairy roots and storing them in a cool and dark place in the kitchen. They can be used the same way as garlic but, also, the fact the taste is milder, some folk use them raw in salads. I love them pan-fried and add them in many recipes like this Spiced Garlic Bread and chopped into my Tuna Zucchini Cakes. Elephant garlic is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and E and contains antibacterial properties. You can grow them for stunning flowers, clove flavours, or both! They are not a usual variety and cannot be found in most grocery shops for some reason... but in season, you might find them in local co-ops or in your own backyard!
Harvesting and cooking with elephant garlic • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021
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