The Flavor of Healing

tastingsI grew up in a coal-mining village in Western Pennsylvania during the Depression. My father, an émigré from Russia, and my mother, from Poland, filled our garden with vegetables and herbs. The plant most treasured by both mother and father? Garlic or chesnok in Russian. The bulbs grew from seeds of different varieties purchased in Pittsburgh from immigrant farmers.

For my parents, garlic was not grown just to be eaten. When I suffered bruises or had to fight off ailments, my parents relied on garlic. If I had an earache or toothache, I leaned into the best position to permit my father to squeeze a peeled garlic clove onto the target. Relief was almost immediate.

Years later, when I was in the war in Germany, wounded American soldiers relied on penicillin. Russian soldiers did not have penicillin.

How many times did I see a wounded Russian soldier reach into his pocket and bring out a clove of garlic, bite off and swallow the tip, then rub the open end of the clove on his wounds? Their recovery rate was as good as ours.

Now, many years since that war and a century since my mother and father’s garden and those different-colored garlic bulbs, I hear my father’s voice: “Chesnok ess gut, Chester. Essen. Und roob.” “Garlic is good, Chester. Eat. And rub.”

- Chester Aaron, Professor Emeritus

Aaron taught literature, writing and Collegiate Seminar for 25 years. This is an excerpt from a book he co-authored with Malcolm Clark: The Marriage of Mushrooms and Garlic (Zumaya Publications, 2013). Aaron is also a garlic grower.

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