Vampires and Garlic: Where Did That Legend Come From?

We have all heard that vampires cannot stand garlic whatsoever. To use garlic on a vampire would make them turn away in disgust. It’s the classic method of protection from the bloodsucking undead and a weapon that any true vampire hunter has on them at all times.


But where in the world did that legend come from? Out of all the herbs, why is garlic the one that does the trick?


Garlic originally got its reputation way back in ancient Egypt. It was believed that garlic held powerful healing powers. From Egypt, its legend grew, and garlic developed more uses and powers. It was later known to be powerful protection against the plague and also held up for its ability to stave off supernatural evils. In southern Slavic regions, it was used to protect oneself from demonic forces, witches and sorcerers.


In southern Slavic countries and Romania, garlic was used to find vampires and to prevent vampires from entering buildings or rooms. A vampire in hiding could be spotted by his or her unwillingness to eat garlic. Romanian churches distributed garlic during services, observing those who refused to eat it and using that person’s reaction to garlic as their main way of figuring out if the person was a vampire. 


It wasn’t just the Slavic areas that used garlic. In Malaysia and China it was rubbed on children’s foreheads to prevent vampire attacks, and in the Philippines it was rubbed under the armpits. The populaces of many countries simply hung garlic from their doors to ward off vamps.


When it comes to vampires and garlic now, most authors and scriptwriters decide to have their vampire characters unaffected by garlic. Some, however, stick to the traditional and their vampires still don’t like garlic, but it is generally explained that they have a heightened sense of smell and, of course, garlic has a pungent smell. One famous author who did use garlic as protection was the famous Bram Stoker in Dracula. That may be one of the reasons garlic and its use against vampires became so well known.


Perhaps the most notable scene in the book was Van Helsing protecting Lucy from the Count by placing garlic around her…

We went into the room, taking the [garlic] with us. The Professor’s actions were certainly odd and not to be found in any pharmacopeia that I ever heard of. First, he fastened up the windows and latched them securely. Next, taking a handful of the flowers, he rubbed them all over the sashes, as though to ensure that every whiff of air that might get in would be laden with the garlic smell. Then with the wisp, he rubbed all over the jamb of the door, above, below, and at each side, and round the fireplace in the same way.
It all seemed grotesque to me, and presently I said, “Well, Professor, I know you always have a reason for what you do, but this certainly puzzles me. It is well we have no skeptic here, or he would say that you were working some spell to keep out an evil spirit.”
“Perhaps I am!” he answered quietly as he began to make the wreath, which Lucy was to wear round her neck.