I spent my Sunday handling the garlic crop, which loves our mountain garden. My husband plants bulbs in the ground in the fall then we leave the mountains for the winter. By the time we return in late spring, the crop is ready for harvesting. Several years ago, I discovered how to braid the bulbs with stalks as an edible decoration. Also, I believe hanging them this way allows for them to remain usable for months. Dry circulating air keeps the cloves from drying out.
We use them throughout the gardening season and beyond. Usually I start running low on garlic toward the end of winter.
Here’s how to do it if you should grow your own or find them at a good price at a farmer’s market.
Harvest garlic with leaves intact. Lay them in a cool and dry place—we used our porch and placed them on newspaper. After approximately two weeks, the green on the leaves begins to brown. Robert chose the bulbs with the biggest bulbs for planting in the fall. The rest I prepared for braiding.
Clean the bulbs. Remove any lingering dirt before you braid it. In some cases, you may be able to remove the dirt and other residue by brushing it away with your fingers. I used both my fingers and a slightly damp cloth. On some of the bulbs, I removed several layers of outer dry skin to get rid of dirt. Do not remove all the outer layers.
Trim the garlic. There are usually long, scraggly roots attached to the bottom bulbs, so cut those to approximately ¼-inch. Also trim away any of the leaves that are scraggly looking.
Soak the garlic stems. You want the bulbs’ leaves to be pliable so they’re easier to braid. There are two ways to do this, but most importantly, do not get the bulbs wet during this process. You only want the leaves damp enough to be flexible. You can wrap the leaves in wet towels and leave for 20-30 minutes or longer. I tried this the first year, and it didn’t seem to get them pliable enough. The second year, I used a different method, which I liked much better. Fill a bowl or sink with lukewarm water and soak the garlic so just the leaves are submerged. Soak for 15-30 minutes until they are flexible.
Select three largest bulbs and crisscross them. It is suggested that for the best braids, you use twelve bulbs. I’ve used less than that to good effect. As you’re sorting the ones that you’ll use, set aside the three largest bulbs to serve as the start of the braid. Lay them on a flat surface with one bulb in the center, one to its left, and one to its right. The center bulb’s leaves should be pointed at you, while the other two leaves are crisscrossed over one another to form an X over the center bulb. It helps to secure the place where the bulbs overlap with a piece of twine. Make sure that the piece of twine you use is long enough to knot over the bulbs with enough excess that you can secure additional bulbs that you place in the braid.
Start adding bulbs. Place a fourth bulb over the existing bundle, so it matches up with the center bulb. Use the excess twine to secure the fourth bulb to the stack to make it easier when you start to braid. Next, take two more bulbs and align them with the two diagonal bulbs in a crisscross fashion.
Begin braiding. With all of the bulbs’ leaves lined up, it’s time to start the braid. Make sure that you’re grabbing the two sets of leaves for each section as you begin braiding. Take the two leaves from the right side and cross them under the middle leaves, so they become the centerpieces. Next, take the two leaves on the left and cross them under the middle leaves. Repeat using twine to secure as needed. I only used twine on the fourth bulb and then at the end.
Add more bulbs. Once you’ve started the braid, you can add three bulbs. You should line the leaves up with the existing ends of the braids as you did with the second set, so one aligns with the left section, one aligns with the center, and one aligns with the right. Start braiding again for one or two passes and repeat the process until you’ve added all of your bulbs. I’ve used as few as six bulbs so I could give braids as gifts.
Finish braiding and secure the entire garlic braid. After you’ve added all of the garlic, you should continue braiding the leaves until you get to the end. Use another piece of twine to tie off the end and secure the entire braid. I then used the twine to help me hang the bulbs.
Note: The first year I braided garlic, my husband only had green twine. I used it, but it was very conspicuous in the braids. The next year I made sure I had brown which blends in better with the leaves.
The “recipe” for braiding garlic, along with many other gardening tips and recipes, can be found in my book, From Seed to Garden Growing, Harvesting, Cooking, and Preserving Food.