Tag Archives: garlic

The Warding Effects of Garlic

Main Piece:

During many traditional Korean commemorative ceremonies called jesa (제사), there is a part where a family’s ancestors are honored by being “brought in” through an open door and allowed to dine on the food first before the family that prepared it. Once it is time for the meal to be eaten by the family, the prepared foods are cooked again, but only this time, properly seasoned with garlic.


The informant is my mother who is the youngest child on her side of the family and the only one who has regular contact with her mother/my grandmother as our family is the only one among our extended family living in the United States with them. Because of this, most of my grandmother’s teachings and culinary knowledge have been passed down to her. Despite many of the commemoration ceremonies being done in the honor of my father’s side of the family, my mother dutifully carries out the traditional cooking required for the occasion. While not highly religious, my mother still holds out on traditional beliefs of karma and good deeds eventually being rewarded so perhaps she follows these traditional rules so closely as to hope for better for her children.


The ceremony for the commemoration of ancestors or other traditional events usually falls between brunch or dinner-times so most of the family does not eat until then. Because everyone gets hungry, I asked my mother why she needed to cook the food again when everything was prepared, the ceremony was finished, and all that was left was to eat. She replied that the food needed to be cooked again properly since she left out the seasoning, particularly the garlic. When I asked why, she said that garlic wards off spirits. I asked why this was and my brother chimed in to explain to me that one of the creation myths of Korea involved a bear turning into a human by eating nothing but gloves of garlic and mugworts for 100 days, giving garlic in particular some level of spiritual power.

My Thoughts:

Garlic being such a powerful supernatural warding tool surprised me as I thought it was specifically targeted towards vampires from Western legends. Garlic is an incredibly common ingredient found in Korean cuisine so it never properly registered to me as it could have any sort of special meaning beyond a universal ingredient. If garlic was so regularly consumed, why were there even ghost stories to begin with? Was superstition just that prevalent that it may have influenced every-day cooking to ward off malevolent and clingy spirits? There are some accounts where eating garlic wards off tigers and eating pickled garlic in particular being a procedure that was recommended to those traveling through mountains as to not encounter a tiger on their journey. As an avid fan of putting garlic as seasoning for most things, it made me question if garlic was used so extensively for its supernatural benefits, its taste, or the simple convenience of both tasting good and warding off evil. Interesting to note how garlic’s effects are indiscriminate to spirits in general as the spirits that are relevant in this context are “good” spirits who are honored to give blessings to their descendants but they are still affected by its effects.

Garlic Garlands

–Informant Info–

Nationality: American

Age: 23

Occupation: Student

Residence: New York City

Date of Performance/Collection: 4/28/2021

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Korean

Background: MB has family in Filipino, Korea, Mexico, and US, and so he has heard cultural stories from many different parts of the world. Here he is explaining one belief that his Filipino grandfather told him. I contribute with a belief from my Indian culture.  MB – informant. SD – interviewer


MB: My grandfather told me that if you keep a garland of garlic near your bed or somewhere where you spend a lot of time, it wards off witches and bad spirits. Does your family have a similar tradition?

SD: I know in Indian culture, it’s lemons and green chilis. Like when you do something big like open a new shop or get a new house, you tie a string that has one lemon and a few chilis strung through it on the front door of the establishment. This prevents evil from entering the home/shop. My family doesn’t do this but I have seen this in many places in India. 

MB: Yea. I know people like sages here so there are many things to ward off evil I guess. 

SD: Do you think the garlic garland has anything to do with vampires? (laughs)

MB:  (laughing) Maybe!  


Here we discuss the many different ways where people ward off evil spirits. The belief of evil spirits is present in almost all cultures and is probably tied to religious beliefs. It is often passed down through the generations, like in MB’s case. I have also noticed that the item that wards off the bad spirits is also a food item, which can be because it comes from nature and is available to everyone. In an institutional and religious context, spirits are warded off by holy water and other items that aren’t available everywhere, but from a folk belief standpoint, everyday items can be used by the masses to ward away evil spirits. 

Garlic Necklace

Background: The informant is a 14-year-old high school freshman living in El Segundo, California. The informant is my brother.

Context: After family dinner, my brother overheard a conversation about folklore I was having with my parents and he seemed interested, so I decided to explain the field of folklore to him and even interview him on some of the folklore he was aware of.

Main Piece: My brother described that one time when he got really sick, our grandmother (who is an Italian immigrant) put a garlic necklace around his neck to help him with his sickness. He believes that garlic has health benefits when it comes to illness and Italians used garlic necklaces as a folk remedy.

Interpretation: I did not even know that my grandmother had done this. Because I was interested in this folk remedy, I did a little bit of research and found that garlic necklaces were used to ward off evil spirits. I believe that sickness was likely associated with evil spirits and garlic necklaces were used to ward off the evil spirits and heal the sick. However, interestingly there has been scientific research that has found that garlic contains alliin, which is one of the most powerful antibiotics in the world.  

Iranian Flu Medicine

Main Piece

Heat up one whole lemon and 3 garlic cloves until soft and mash with a fork. Strain the mixture and take one spoonful every morning to prevent sickness. 


My informant was born and raised in Iran. She remembers the flu, and how it ravaged through her elementary school. Her mother, to protect her, made a blended concoction consisting of one whole lemon, including the peel and pulp, and three or four cloves of garlic. Because she did not have any kitchen equipment that could properly blend the ingredients together, she resorted to heating up the lemon and garlic until it was soft enough to mash with a fork. After mashing, she would strain the mixture to get rid of any extra-large pieces, and fed one teaspoon-full to my informant every morning before school. My informant adds that she hated the taste but took this “medicine” every morning nonetheless because her mother insisted it would keep her safe. My informant concludes that the medicine must have worked, as she was the only child in her class that did not fall sick with the flu. 


This medicine is made when someone is sick or in danger of falling sick. The purpose is to prevent or cure illnesses. 

My Thoughts

Being born and raised in America and going through the American school system, I never paid much attention to medicinal practices that were not Westernized. When my informant told me about this medicine, I was skeptical and doubted that it would actually be effective. But further upon further research, I discovered that the ingredients used in this recipe contain many natural antibiotics and vitamin C. Therefore, the workings of this folk medicine are completely logical and valid. In America, Western medicine is the widely accepted practice, and most ethnic home remedies are frowned upon. But there is logic to these home remedies, or they would not be so widely used in other countries. Using ingredients such as garlic in folk medicine is an ancient practice. For further information about garlic’s role in folk medicine, see the cited article under the subheading titled “Medicinal History.”


Kilham, Chris. “Garlic.” MEDICINE HUNTER | Medicine Hunter, www.medicinehunter.com/Garlic#:~:text=As%20a%20folk%20remedy%2C%20garlic,gastroenteritis%2C%20and%20to%20expel%20worms.&text=The%20father%20of%20medicine%2C%20Hippocrates,and%20for%20healing%20abdominal%20growths. Accessed 18 Feb. 2021.

Folk Medicine in a time of crisis

The following is a transcribed interview between me and interviewee, MH.

Me: How are you protecting yourself against the coronavirus?

MH: OMG, well I’ve been crushing up garlic and taking it like a shot in the morning with some hot black tea with honey in it to chase it. And all our stores are getting completely wiped out of garlic because everyone is upping the garlic to boost their immune system. Our stores are also getting drained of all our kombuchas because everyone is upping the probiotics. But I thought it was pretty surprising how fast the garlic has been going, it is like never before.

Me: Thanks so much.


Interviewee works for Trader Joe’s, a supermarket chain that has been providing food services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trader Joe’s, along with many other supermarkets have been essential businesses during the pandemic and the community of food service workers have been impacting daily life because they are one of the few who are still working. Further, supermarkets are one of the only in-person businesses still running, where many people will interact. 


This piece of folklore was collected from a quick phone call when interviewee had just gotten off of work. The setting was very casual, as we were just talking to catch up and share some folklore.


Garlic is a well-known and established folk medicine for colds. However, I think it is interesting how popular this remedy has gotten with the coronavirus since there aren’t any known medicines that work for it yet. I think that it is the lack of medicines for the virus that is leading to a large surge in natural medicine and ancient eastern remedies. However, most popularly is simply raw garlic cloves being ingested or eaten. And, even more interestingly, since the interviewee works in a supermarket chain, she says that their stock is diminishing across America. And so, maybe it is possible that all over America, people are desperate and trying anything that may help them fight off this virus. Their first source of medicine seems to be reaching for the tried-and-true garlic cloves. 
For some more history on this remedy, here’s a quick, easy-to-read source with some interesting information on the growth of this remedy: https://home.howstuffworks.com/garlic3.htm