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In popular mythology, wearing a garlic wreath is a good defense against vampires. Silver kills werewolves.

But why? How could garlic, a spice whose only offense is plain stink, deter an attractive man with a seriously unhealthy diet, as opposed to more potent spices like pepper or azalea? Why does silver kill a canine-like hominid whereas lead and mercury are known to be more deadly metals?

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    $\begingroup$ Chocolate kills dogs and eucalyptus leaves, while delicious to certain marsupials, are deadly to humans. I wouldn't say that just because silver and garlic are harmless to us it can't be deadly to another creature. $\endgroup$ – Ranger Aug 9 '16 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ The lore on silver and garlic goes back to the locations where wearwolves and vampire lore first originated. Are you looking for a biological reason that this might be true (as hard as 'hard science' and 'vampire' is in the same sentence), or are you looking for the reason why lore developed in this manner? $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Aug 9 '16 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ Nice try, vampire. We're not revealing our research on the topic. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Aug 9 '16 at 23:06
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    $\begingroup$ I think you're not being serious, but it worth noting that in the myths garlic's effectiveness originates from, "attractive" is not a word that would have been used to describe vampires (unless the person had an odd fetish for bloated yellowing corpses). Vampires were an embodiment of disease. $\endgroup$ – Uueerdo Aug 9 '16 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ I always thought vampires circulated the rumors about garlic, so that they get their meal already seasoned when they go out for lunch. Same could be said for silverware. ;) $\endgroup$ – Drunken Code Monkey Aug 10 '16 at 3:22
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For why silver kills werewolves, I'm pretty sure the original idea had to do with the magical associations of the metal - silver was for the moon, with associations of water, transformation, and purity, just like gold was for the sun. Given the moon plays a big part in a lot of werewolf legends (and given that these stories were based on magical worldviews), the magical associations would make silver a vulnerability in the stories they were telling. Silver was believed to purify, especially used to fight off or prevent infections - and the werewolf of legend seems to follow the same pattern, so they applied the same logic to the legends.

It also served the purpose of being a) valuable, so it took knowledge, effort, and expense to kill off the mythical monster, for appropriate drama, and b) reasonable as a weapon (as opposed to, say, gold which would have sun-connotations but probably would have been seen as too soft for weapons)

As for garlic and vampires, I think both Fayth85 and Rhubis covered garlic being historically associated with cleaning the blood, and given a lot of credit for being potently medicinal, even supernaturally so, supposedly treating a lot of different ailments.

It may be additionally relevant, that it was originally the garlic flowers, not the bulbs, which were repellent to vampires. That might draw from older symbolism of flowers being used to ward off death and cover up the scent of decay. Flowers and herbs were used to sweeten the air during plagues, some believed it would ward off illnesses that they vaguely believed were airborne, and could infect people via the stench of the infected. Breathing sweet air, which was believed to be good for health, was more often "achieved" by trying to cover up odors, rather than remove their source and achieve "clean" air - so sickrooms would be scented with flowers, incense, and all sorts of nonsense that probably made people worse.

Beyond that, there is a long history in magic of using herbs and flowers, for protection purposes. The garlic flower was not only associated with garlic's claims for cleaning the blood, it was itself also used as an (effective) insect repellent, warding off mosquitoes... which were bloodsuckers, and might (like spirits) come in the night to feed, and leave the victims suffering (the link notes the similarities between malaria and the depictions of vampire victims). It also might be worth noting that other herbs and flowers were also supposed to ward off vampires, including the wild rose, and hawthorn - garlic just became more popular, perhaps because of the myth crossing between the flower and bulb (which had its own mythology).

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  • $\begingroup$ so next time I'm in hospital (surgery coming up in a year or so) I'm gonna chase out anyone bearing flowers... $\endgroup$ – fr13d Aug 10 '16 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ @fr13d - well, hopefully the hospital staff will not let incense smoke get thick enough to interfere with your breathing, check for allergic reactions from pollen, avoid the air becoming stale and stuffy (and over-heated) with lack of circulation, and such. It will help you probably won't have to deal with constant chanting or prayers when you need rest, or ritual bloodletting or moldy poultices or other aspects of mystical medicine (would be something if you did, though). $\endgroup$ – Megha Aug 10 '16 at 8:40
  • $\begingroup$ About the garlic. AFAIK it has something to do with the rhythm of its growth. Most plants grow faster in the beginning of the moon-month (when the moon "grows") and slower at the ending (when the moon "shrinks"), but garlic has an opposing rhythm of growth therefore it is associated to the menstruation cycle. (I don't have the time to do a proper research, but if anybody knows more about the topic please tag me in the answer.) $\endgroup$ – mg30rg Aug 10 '16 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ @mg30rg - That is... really interesting. Pretty neat. I would also love to hear more on the topic, when you have time to research it or if anyone knows more. $\endgroup$ – Megha Aug 10 '16 at 9:48
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    $\begingroup$ "as opposed to, say, gold...would have been seen as too soft for weapons" Two problems there, a) Silver really isn't that much harder than gold, b) Lead is considerable softer than both and is used to make bullets. I've heard that lead bullets are actually fairly effective... $\endgroup$ – wjousts Aug 10 '16 at 17:10
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Historically garlic has always been used to cure many blood ailments, current medicine shows that it isn't actually very good at this though. Many species in the same family as garlic are poisonous to dogs and cats. If a vampire had better senses than a human then garlic and onions would work like pepper spray and be very unpleasant.

Silver kills bacteria and has been used in medicine for a long time. It kills bacteria by bonding to proteins to stop them folding correctly... apparently. I cant think of how this would work on a large creature.

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    $\begingroup$ Vampires and werewolves both have 'regeneration' as an ability to some form. Silver bonding with whatever bacteria is doing the rapid healing and preventing it from folding would make sense as semi-pseudo-science. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Aug 9 '16 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ The rapid healing itself could be what kills them as allergic reactions would be incredibly violent and quick. $\endgroup$ – Rhubis Aug 9 '16 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ This is what too much silver in the diet does to a human: 7069-presscdn-0-30.pagely.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/… $\endgroup$ – Drunken Code Monkey Aug 10 '16 at 3:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Mast It is, in fact, 100% real. That guy consumes, and advertises, colloidal silver as a diet supplement. The silver migrates through the blood vessels and accumulates in the skin. $\endgroup$ – Drunken Code Monkey Aug 10 '16 at 11:52
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    $\begingroup$ It is somewhat interesting to note that garlic makes a deterrent to mosquitos. garlic-central.com/mosquito.html Given both mosquitos and vampires are bloodsuckers... (I don't think this is the historical reason for the superstition - I merely find it interesting.) $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Aug 10 '16 at 15:51
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Well, you have to look at the historical reasonings. Seeing as most of these myths and mythical beings are from an utterly different time than what we live in, you need to see them in context.

Vampires with silver and garlic.

  • Silver. During Stoker's time, silver was thought to be more expensive than gold, which is why the golden silverware stood out so drastically (it's coincidentally why it's called silverware). Similarly, silver was used as a curative for certain ailments. Silver foil was often used on open wounds, just as spoiled bread was (they called it magic, by the way).
  • Garlic. Also during the period, which persists to this day, garlic is good for the heart (and blood, as Rhubis pointed out). While this is true for other spices, like onions, garlic leaves a more pronounced odor on the breath and skin.

As for werewolves? Well that is heavily dependent on the variant of werewolf. The Loup-Garou did have this weakness (silver), but it was more a way to troll the poor. After all, the Loup-Garou was almost always a lower class citizen. So the 'rich' would 'kill them with silver', symbolically silencing the poor with money.

You need to look at the 'monster' in the context of the days it was written in, and consider the intended audience. After all, in those days books weren't written for the 'poor' -- the poor were almost always illiterate.

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    $\begingroup$ "silver was thought to be more expensive than gold" Not quite. Silver was relatively more expensive than now, but even at its peak in 1864 hypertextbook.com/facts/2004/AbigailTang.shtml it was about 10¢/g whereas gold was 60¢/g nma.org/pdf/gold/his_gold_prices.pdf $\endgroup$ – James K Aug 9 '16 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ Will look into that again. I'm fairly certain this is the reason Stoker (and the works he based Dracula off of) used silver... $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Aug 9 '16 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ In the late 19th century Europe, the poor were not really that illiterate. $\endgroup$ – vsz Aug 10 '16 at 4:22
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    $\begingroup$ I should note silver dressings are still sometimes used. When I was in hospital with serious burn wounds to my left hand, they put a silver gauze of some sort over some of it, and by god was it the most painful thing I had experienced. But apparently its incredibly effective for that purpose (And expensive). Also I'm not sure I ever uttered as many 4 letter words at a medical professional as I did after that damn thing went on me. (The doc did tell me it was a good thing though. Apparently you know your in trouble when you DONT feel seering pain as it means you've killed nerves all the nerves. $\endgroup$ – Shayne Aug 10 '16 at 4:32
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    $\begingroup$ Silver nitrate has significant advantages: it causes changes to the protien like boiling an egg, but the action is self-limiting in tissue depth because it acts as a barrier to further infiltration. It doesn't damage surrounding tissue nor healthy unbroken skin. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 10 '16 at 19:38
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K...we'll try this from a semi-science point of view with bacteria. If our Werewolves and vampires were dependent on a certain bacteria, then these two substances could have a real use.

Borrowing a piece of Rhubis's answer, silver bonds with bacteria preventing the proteins of the bacteria from folding correctly. The active ingredient in Garlic is known as Allicin, which has proven anti-bacterial properties, killing many different bacteria species (I'm not entirely sure on this Allicin, but there's a lot of information online on its anti-bacterial ways).

If, for whatever reason, the Vampires and Werewolves were dependent on penicillin resistant bacteria for regeneration or just simply survival, then we could have a case where these two substances are the most legitimate method for fighting off werewolves and vampires...you are killing the bacteria that allow them to survive.

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The tag on this is mythology, not hard science. You need to think mythologically.

How could garlic, a spice whose only offense is plain stink, deter an attractive man with a seriously unhealthy diet, as opposed to more potent spices like pepper or azalea?

Garlic is cleansing. The flavour is refreshing, crisp, and clean. (I’m thinking here of the flavour of the leafs and flowers of wild garlic, or perhaps a raw garlic bulb.) It is not surprising that it should come to be seen as a ward against evil, especially an unclean, putrid evil like a vampire/zombie (the two are pretty much the same in early mythology; only recently has the vampire become aristocratic and attractive).

Why does silver kill a canine-like hominid whereas lead and mercury are known to be more deadly metals?

Well, lead and mercury are not known to be deadly. Lead, in particular, is common in plumbing (hence the name, in fact). Quicksilver is important to alchemists (they believe it is the most important of all substances because it encompasses solid and liquid, earth and heaven, and life and death), but I doubt that the common folk know much about it. Certainly neither metal is known to be poisonous.

Besides, that’s irrelevant. What matters about silver is again its purity: it doesn’t tarnish (it does these days, because there’s a lot more sulphur in the air than there used to be; make of that what you will). A metal which doesn’t tarnish is pure, and hence a ward against evil.


Remember, while official Christian doctrine may have no place for vampires and werewolves, that doesn’t mean that European mythology was a completely separate strand of thought. The learned men of the Church may not have believed in these folk, but those who did believe also went to church on Sunday. Therefore, mythological creatures were fitted into Christian theology. (By some tellings, the fairly folk were the third group of angels: those who sided with God remained in Heaven, those who sided with Satan became devils in Hell, and those who did not pick a side were thrown down to Earth and became fairies (or seals, if they landed in the water).)

Vampires and werewolves, unlike fairies, are actively evil, and must therefore be in league with the Devil. A horseshoe or cold iron might work against elves, but for actual evil what you need is a symbol of purity. It has nothing to do with poison.

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  • $\begingroup$ you say there is "more sulphur in the air than there used to be". do you have a source for that assertion? it seems likely considering the sulfur dioxide pollution since 1850, but i can't find any specific numbers on exactly how much more sulfur is in the atmosphere in parts per billion. $\endgroup$ – james turner Aug 10 '16 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesturner. I'm afraid not. It's something I read somewhere. Excellent premise for an urban fantasy novel, though, isn't it? $\endgroup$ – TRiG Sep 12 '16 at 16:28
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I can tell you about garlic. Some people, after eating garlic, extrude a pungent odor which is very noticable in the same area that Hollywood vampires bite.

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    $\begingroup$ Not only that, but by some accounts vampires have heightened senses leading them to be quite overwhelmed by the odoriferous bulbs. $\endgroup$ – Kys Aug 9 '16 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Yea, one reason why my wife teases me saying I must be a vampire. Nicer than “smell like [as] a dog”! $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 9 '16 at 20:43
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werewolves may have represented women. the fact that they become monsters every month was supposedly a commentary on monthly hormonal changes that could potentially make women somewhat less agreeable. as such, the silver bullet was actually silver gifts purchased to try to appease the woman.

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  • $\begingroup$ Claims of this nature really need citation. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Cast Aug 22 '16 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ According to a footnote in Science of Discworld, most women through the ages were either pregnant or lactating all the time, making this cycle something quite recent. $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff Jan 6 '18 at 14:06
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Regarding the silver (and holy symbols and daylight), I loved the explanation from Dracula 2000 (Spoiler) in which Judas Iscariot is shown to be the original vampire - silver from the 30 pieces, holy symbols due to his betrayal, and the curse to walk undead. I don't remember it treating the garlic bit, though.

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  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately this doesn't mesh too well with reality. In reality God made pretty damn sure Judas's suicide would be successful (Acts 1:18 goes into a bit more detail). $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Aug 10 '16 at 7:38
  • $\begingroup$ To top it off, Judas' "betrayal" was a mistranslation when the scribes tried to convert the Greek text into Latin. $\endgroup$ – JohnWDailey Aug 10 '16 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ "In reality" and "God" in the same sentence is a bit of an oxymoron, no? $\endgroup$ – Drunken Code Monkey Aug 13 '16 at 4:35

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