When the colonists arrived on the shores of America, among the kitchen
and medicinal herbs that crossed the ocean with them were chives.
Down through thousands of years, chives have been cultivated and
developed. As long ago as 3,000 B.C., onion chives (Allium
schoenoprasum) were found growing in the gardens of China.
The great Emperor Charlemagne, in A.D. 812, listed the already
familiar chives among the more than seventy other herbs in his famous
Dodoens gives the French name for it in his days: "Petit poureau,"
relating to its rush-like appearance. In present day itís common
French name is "Ail civitteĒ. The Latin name of this species
means "Rush-leek". The well-known herbalist of Englandís
sixteenth century, Parkinson, also cultivated this familiar herb.
Chives are the smallest, though one of the finest-flavored of the
onion tribe and belongs to the botanical group of plants listed as
Alliums. The variety, A. Schoenoprasum "Ruby Gem", has
gray foliage and pink-ruby flowers. Allium schoenoprasum
"Forcaste" grows slightly larger than the usual chives. Another
important allium species in China and Japan is the Welsh onion which
provides a continuous supply of bunching onions and leaves throughout
the year. Though said to be a native of Britain, Allium
schoenoprasum can be found growing throughout temperate and
northern Europe but rarely is it found in an uncultivated state.
In the Southern gardens of the U.S., this hardy perennial is
frequently seen delicately edging a garden bed because it makes such
an attractive border plant.
The Chive contains a pungent volatile oil, rich in sulphur, which is
present in all the onion tribe. Although herbalists of old did not
find much medicinal use for chives, it was believed that chives could
drive away diseases and evil influences; bunches of them were hung in
homes for this purpose. But modern research has found sulfur oil
is antiseptic and helps lower blood pressure, but only in fairly large
quantities. Chives can be called a healthful rather than
medicinal herbs. They are useful in toning the stomach, reducing
high blood pressure, and strengthening the kidneys. Chives also
are rich in calcium which strengthens nails and teeth. Chives
stimulate the appetite and tone up the kidneys.
delicate piquancy that they impart to food makes chives best known for
their use in cooking; they taste like mild, sweet onions. Mince the
fresh leaves to flavor dishes and donít overlook the flowers.
Toss them in salads or garnish dishes with them.
This plant is a hardy perennial. The tightly crowded bulblets
grow in clumps very close together in dense clusters. The
hollow, round reed-like spears of leaves appear early in spring and
are long, cylindrical and hollow, tapering to a point. They grow
from eight to twenty inches tall, though they rarely reach over a foot
in gardens. The leaves should be harvested before flowering,
usually about four to six weeks after the growing season begins.
The flowering stem is hollow and either has no leaf, or one leaf
sheathing it below the middle. The mauve pin-cushion blossoms
consists of numerous flowers encased in paper-like bracts and densely
packed together on separate, slender flower-stalks. The flowers
are in blossom in June and July. With consistent watering, the
blooming period can be lengthened. Keep free of weedsóonce
grasses become established in a clump of chives, they are difficult to
Chives will grow in any ordinary garden soil. They are
nitrogen-loving plants and thrive in rich, well-draining soil with
regular applications of fertilizer. Chives can be raised from
seed, but are usually propagated by division of clumps in spring or
autumn. In dividing the clumps, leave about six little bulbs
together. These will spread to a fine clump in the course of a
year. Set the clumps from nine inches to a foot apart each way.
This division of mature plants is beneficial for because chives
multiply quickly and need to be divided every three or four years.
Plant two to three-inch sized clumps about a foot apart. Onion
chives will die back during the hot summers, but begin to show tender
new shoots when cooler temperatures return. They also go into
hibernation for the winter. You may want to pot up a clump in
the fall and bring it into the house to have a steady supply of this
mild onion flavor all winter long. Plants will live several
years in pots.
Chives grow slowly from seed and take
nearly a year to reach maturity. Needs moderately rich,
well-draining soil and full sun. Chives are hardy to zone 3.
Flowers of onion chive are small and pale-purple in color.
They form a dense globular umbel at the top of a stem.
Leaves are dark green, slender and hollow. Plants can grow
to a height of eighteen inches. Garlic chive flower-heads
are composed of densely packed white blossoms that form a rounded
shape. A perennial, chive bulbs are dormant over winter but
new green shoots appear early in the spring. Garlic chives
remain green year-round. Give onion chives a "haircut" about
twice a month from May to frost. Discouraging chives from blooming
by pinching off the flower stalks will promote the growth of new
familiar variety of chives (Allium tuberosum) is commonly known
as Oriental garlic or Chinese chives. Easily distinguished by
its garlic aroma and taste, this herb also grows in clumps like onion
chives, but has lighter green flat reed-like leaves. Garlic
chives are taller, reaching up to two feet, and produce delicate
clusters of starry white flowers which bloom in late summer, lasting
well into fall. Full sun is preferred but they can tolerate some
shade. This hardy perennial can be cut back frequently to
promote thick growth. Garlic chives are prolific self-seeders
and can become invasive if not controlled. Both chives grow
easily, but slowly, from tiny, black seeds; the garlic chive seed are
twice as large as the onion chive seed. Both chives will reseed
themselves if allowed.
Garlic chives are often used as an ornamental border because they
remain green all year. These flowers attract bees and bumblebees
galore when their charming white flower-heads are blooming in the herb
garden. You might want to consider allowing some of the flowers to
completely dry on the plant. Then, when the petals are paper-dry,
harvest them to use in dried arrangements or within an herbal wreath.
It is best to use these herbs in their fresh state as the flavor and
nutrition is diminished by cooking. Remember to wait until the
last few minutes of cooking to stir in these herbs; long cooking
destroys the delicate flavor. Being a coarser plant, garlic
chives should be chopped more finely than the onion chives before
adding to dishes. Garlic chive blooms are edible; the flowers
have a mild, sweet aroma and a pleasant flavor. They can be
tossed into salads, add them to stir-fries at the last minute, or add
them to sauteed or steamed vegetables or baked potatoes. Use to
garnish herb butters or sauces and to garnish plates. Garlic
chives should be chopped very finely before using them. The
mauve pin-cushion blossoms of onion chives are also used to flavor
vinegar; the finished product ends up a lovely rosy hue.
Although both onion and garlic chives produce small bulbs below
ground, it is the leaves that are used in the kitchen. Use onion
chives whenever a mild onion flavor is desired. This herb
contains phosphorus, iron, Vitamins A and C, and pectin. It has
a reputation of stimulating the appetite and toning up kidneys.
It also contains calcium which strengthens nails and teeth.
Onion chives complement cheese, soups, salads, egg dishes, dips,
spreads and any food you would use onion with. The tasty new
leaves of garlic chives have antibiotic properties; the sulfur oil in
these strap-like blue-green leaves is antiseptic and helps lower blood
DID YOU KNOW?
Chives may be planted as border
around the vegetable garden.
Chives are a crucial ingredient in
fines herbes and bouquet garni.
Adding blossoms of onion chives
creates a flavorful and rosy-colored herb vinegar.
Garlic chives have a robust flavor
and should be used sparingly.
Romanian gypsies are said to have
used chives in their fortune telling rites.
Chives fare well grown as a potted
Home-dried chives soon lose their color and the flavor turns salty
but they can be successfully frozen. Chop them and freeze in
small packet. If frozen for future use, chopped chives do not
have to be thawed before use. The best and most nutritious way
to use them though, is fresh. You may want to try drying chives
leaves in a cool oven with sea salt and crush to store as chive salt.
In the garden, these herbs can become aphid traps for your carrots and
roses is planted nearby. Chives also have a reputation of
deterring Japanese beetles and black spot on roses. Farmers who
garden with organic methods sometimes prepare a natural insecticide by
grinding garlic, chives and chili with water to use as a spray.
Harvest your chives frequently by pinching off stems from the outside
of the plantís base - cutting with clippers or scissors will cause the
stems to turn brown. Allow new shoots to mature from the center
of the clump.
Whatever your reason for growing chives, onion and/or garlic, you can
be sure this flavorsome herb family will prove its worth in the garden
and in the home.