Garlic in Romanian Folklore

Garlic is deeply rooted in Romanian cuisine but also in Romanian folklore where it is include in numerous rituals mostly due to its heath benefits; it is almost considered magical.

Give me Garlic on Sântandrei, Saint Andrei – 30 November

Sântandrei is a major celebration that involves lots of garlic. Saint Andrei is also the Patron Saint of Romania, observed on the 30th of November.

In case you didn’t know already… garlic is believed to have healing and protective powers. For this reason alone Romanian folktales call it ai (usturoi is named so when used in culinary situations), or the wild garlic, samuraslă.

So on Saint Andrei it is advised to hang garlic, ai, at window, doors, on the eaves of the house, and don’t forget the stables to protect the horses and the cattle against any evil spirits, strigoi and moroi. But do hang the garlic strings so that they form a cross.

In Romanian folklore it is said that God Himself named the garlic ai, because it is a sacred plant.

MUILLA, ALLIUM and an anagram

The flowers from the Muilla genus, although lilies, have flowers quite similar to those of Allium, the onion genus. Just judge by yourselves:

But garlic, aiul, although considered sacred, due to its religious connotations, as well as having magical powers cannot be eaten all year round. For example it is advised not to eat garlic ahead of 29 August (29 Gustar) when Christianity observes the Beheading of John the Baptist, and before 14 September (14 Rapciune), The Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

In Romanian folklore garlic has a head and a cross

In Romanian folklore the garlic, usturoi, is seen as a human been, with a head (cap de usturoi, as we call the garlic bulb), a cross, it is dressed in clothes (the many layers of skin one must peel), and the garlic cloves are called catei (puppies).

If you clean the garlic and throw its skin in the fire, make sure they don’t fall on the ground. It would be a shame, the garlic is from God.

Romanian saying

Interesting is that Hindu and Islamic traditions also mention garlic in a reverence way.

Garlic in Romanian Folklore

The Romanian Legend of How Garlic Got its Name

Legend says that Saint Peter wished to rise to the sky, to Heavens. But a magpie was watching him and whenever he tried, the magpie would announce rascal Satan.

Now, before this string of events humans had perfectly flat feet. Yet whenever the magpie would chirps to announce Satan that Saint Peter wishes to rise to Heavens, the horned scoundrel would jump right away and catch Saint Peter by his feet, digging into them with his bony, sharp fingers and pulling out bits of meat.

Saint Peter, in agony, would have called ‘ai‘ towards Heavens, instead of ‘ouch’. And God would answer: ‘quiet, Peter, for ai would also be good for something’.

And since then humans have a curvature in the soles of their feet.

In parts of rural Romania snowdrops are nicknamed little garlic and seen as sacred and mysterious, much like the garlic itself.

Garlic in Romanian Folklore
Garlic in Romanian Folklore

Călușarii and the Garlic on the Flag

Călușarii are the members of a Romanian secret society who practice a ritual acrobatic dances with mystical connotations known as the căluș (little horse, pony). Romanian historian and writer Mircea Eliade, described the Călușari for “their ability to create the impression of flying in the air” believed to represented the galloping of a horse and the dancing of the fairies – their patron saint being “Queen of the Fairies” Doamna Zînelor.

Fascinating is the Călușarii‘s flag: the pole is three meters tall and at one end there is tied a white cloth, preferably hand stitched, garlic and mug-wort (for their healing powers). The pole is held by only one of the dancers and can never touch the ground during the dance. The dancers also tie garlic and mug-wort at their waist.

Garlic Spells

Romanian Folktales often mention local fairies, good or bad. To increase their power they performed various practices at certain times of the year, such as dancing naked on the field on the night of Saint George, 23 April, to absorb earth’ energy and later pour it into their own fields.

Only that no mortal can see them.

Unless they perform this spell.

You must catch a snake, cut his head with a silver coin and stick a garlic in his mouth. The the snake’s head thus prepared you must bury it under your door’s frame.

If you eat that garlic or take it with you , then only will you be able to see the fairies dancing naked on the night of Saint George.

No wonder that vampires are afraid of garlic.

Garlic in Romanian Folklore
Garlic in Romanian Folklore

Garlic’s strange powers

It is said that if you wish to attract a snake… you should rub a clove of garlic on your shoes or legs. Snakes love its pungent scent.

Please, do wear a head of garlic tied to your belt or as a decoration on your hat 😉 on Pentecost Day, Rusalii or Cincizecime, celebrated by Christianity on 31st May, for protection against the mean Ielele (charmstresses, women of forests and waters with magic powers living in Romanian woods).

Westerners, mostly, do believe that garlic warns off vampires – that’s why you see them wearing fashionable garlic necklaces or discover that they asked house decorators for advice on modern garlic decor items to hang above the entrance door or around the chimney.

Something I wouldn’t advice anyone to follow – is the recipe requiring garlic and a strong liquor for the woman who wants to have a baby… Place nine cloves of garlic in half a liter of liquor. Let it sit for nine days in a warm place, preferably near a source of heat. And then, start drinking it…

Did you know that, when garlic is crushed, it releases allicin (an organosulfur compound), similar to penicillin? If only Outlander’s Claire Fraser would have known this…

If basil inspires love and frankincense scares the devil, then the garlic is the best shield against vampires and diseases. These three powerful weapons united under the power of God almighty form a defense shield that no enemy can penetrate. Armed with these three shields no soul must be ever scared, but know that at midnight he can walk alone anywhere, over the fields or through the forests, and no matter what enemy he will encounter, it will not have the power to harm him.

Patricia Furstenberg, High Country (Work in progress)

And if you do love garlic in your food, know that it will protect you against blood-sucking… mosquitoes.

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21 Replies to “Garlic in Romanian Folklore”

  1. Beautiful said, Daniel.
    Garlic’s health benefits are well known, but some of less spoken of 🙂 attributes were new to me too.

  2. Who knew garlic was so deep rooted in lore? You did, thanks for the great article. All I know is that it tastes great on so many things. My mother-in-law is allergic . . . so what does that say about her 😉

  3. Goodness,we better keep it a secret 🙂 Shame, that must be tough, so many food items contain garlic nowadays.
    Romanians LOVE garlic 🙂 Back there, you’ve got to have it on you if you want to survive… Just kidding 🙂 Like Canada, we have long, harsh winters. Garlic helps boost the immune system.

    Thank you fr your lovely comment, Mark. Have a wonderful weekend.

      1. Sa sti ca am comandat cartea ta Silent Heroes. Chiar daca era free pentru kindel am zis mai bine dau un bănuț dar tot odată am o părticică din munca ta aproape și tot odată asa ajut și o artistă…

  4. I enjoyed reading this 🙂 Very interesting, informative and shocking. In my family besides using garlic, ai, for cooking most foods, we use it a medicine when we catch a cold. We chew it raw! or smash it and sprinkle lemon juice then swallow, and it works! Apparently garlic has numerous health benefits.

  5. Thank you, Toni. I am happy you watched the video 🙂 It took me back to my childhood days – some of those movements are more difficult than they seem…

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