Tulbaghia violacea

social garlic


Tulbaghia violacea

Harv. 1837

pronounced: tull-BAG-ee-uh vy-oh-LAH-see-uh

(Amaryllidaceae — the amaryllis family)


common names: social garlic, society garlic

Tulbaghia was named in honour of Ryk Tulbagh (1699–1771), Dutch Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. During his time in office (1751–1771) he established the Colony’s first library, and a plant and animal collection in the Company’s gardens. Violacea is from the Latin violaceus, violet-coloured.

Tulbaghia violacea is a fast-growing plant from South Africa. It is grown from corms, and forms clumps reaching about 75 cm high. It grows well in either wet or dry conditions, and makes a good rock garden or container plant. It has long narrow grey-green leaves, slightly fleshy, that give off a garlic scent, especially when bruised.

The flowers are lilac in colour. They are clustered into umbels of up to 20 flowers, held above the leaves on a tall flower stalk, and appear for a long period in summer. They are tubular, expanding to 6-pointed stars at their ends, and are about 2 cm long and wide. They are quite sweet-scented, especially at night, but, like the leaves, smell of garlic when picked. There is a variegated variety whose leaves are green edged in white, and whose flowers are slightly larger than those of the species; they range in colour from deep lilac to white. The cultivar ‘Variegata’ is not as vigorous as the species, and is somewhat slower growing.

The fruits, triangular capsules, are grouped into a head, and when ripe they split to release the flattened hard black seeds.

The scent given off by the plant makes it not very suitable for use as cut flowers. Its common name of ‘Social’ or ‘Society’ comes from the fact that, supposedly, although its taste is close to that of real garlic, it doesn’t give bad breath. It is an ideal plant for the herb garden, as both the leaves and the flowers can be used in salads and other dishes. The crushed leaves may be used to treat sinus headaches. If the leaves are crushed on to the skin, the smell repels fleas, ticks and mosquitoes.

In traditional medicine, the fresh corms may be boiled in water and the decoctions taken orally to help clear up coughs and colds. The corm has also been used as a remedy for pulmonary tuberculosis and to destroy intestinal worms. The Zulus use the leaves and flowers as spinach and as a hot, peppery seasoning with meat and potatoes. They also use the corm to make an aphrodisiac. They consider the plant as a very good snake repellant, and for this reason plant it around their homes.

The plant is propagated from seed or by dividing larger clumps. Seedlings can be planted out in their second year.

Although social garlic’s flowers resemble delicate spring blossoms, they are actually quite tough, and capable of enduring bouts of extreme heat, humidity and thunderstorms, keeping their beauty throughout.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2010
Page last updated 25th April 2019