Chives are hardy, clump-forming perennial herbs. They are the smallest species of the onion family, growing in clusters up from the bulbs. The leaves are hollow and tubular in form, resembling thick grasses and growing up to 20 inches tall.
Chives are a sight in the garden when in full bloom as their pinkish purple ball-shaped blooms sit atop long stems. They are a good companion plant and can be planted near fruit trees to discourage pests. They can also prevent black spot when grown near roses.
Chives have a mild onion flavor which is best enjoyed fresh or added at the very end of the cooking cycle. They are a very popular herb whose use is varied added flavor to fresh vegetables, proteins and cheeses.
Ideal Location for growing Chives.
The ideal location for growing chives is a sunny, moist area, with fertile soil. However, chives can tolerate shade and still do quite well in less favorable conditions. Chives are hardy to zone 3, coming back year after year to produce clumps of bright green grass like leaves.
Add a medium-fertility soil improver before planting. A handful of bonemeal works well per square yard. Sow seed 1/2 inch deep in late spring.
Seeds require darkness, moisture, and temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees F to germinate. Seedlings can be transplanted four to six weeks after germination.
When transplanting into the garden, always water well before planting.
The simplest method to do this is to dig a hole twice as deep and wide as the clump of roots. Then fill the hole with water letting it settle in before planting your chives. Also, water thoroughly after planting to allow the soil to settle around the roots of the plants and provide moisture for new root growth.
Chives have the same watering and fertilizing requirements as those of other members of the onion family. Since they are fairly shallow-rooted, water frequently so the ground does not fully dry out. They may still thrive with less watering, but they won’t produce nearly as many leaves.
Chives are generally problem free herbs, requiring little attention. As for pests, chives can be plagued by thrips. These are tiny black bugs that resemble aphids. They attack the plant by sucking the sap from the leaves. If left untreated they can kill your plant.
Watch your plants closely when first bringing them home from the nursery since occasionally a few hitchhikers may come home in the pots. This is easily remedied if you catch it early. You can spray your plants with a homemade solution of water and dishwashing liquid like dawn to take care of a small infestation.
Chives make an excellent companion plant in the vegetable garden. They do well when planted with carrots and tomatoes. Chives will help to deter aphids, weevils and moles.
Varieties of Chives
There are two popular varieties of chives grown in culinary circles. The easiest way to distinguish between the two varieties is the color of the blooms. Onion chives have pink or purple blooms where the flowers of garlic chives are white.
- Onion Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are the most commonly used variety in most recipes.
- Garlic or Chinese Chives have white flowers and garlic scented. The common name Chinese chives is most often used for A. tuberosum. They may also be called oriental garlic, Chinese leek, garlic chives (A. odorum), or flowering leek.
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Cooking with Chives
The leaves are used as garnish and flavoring in salads, dips and soups due to its mild onion flavor. Chop fresh chives and add them to mashed potatoes, fish and omelets. Blend with soft cheeses and serve with crackers or vegetables. There are endless culinary uses for fresh chives.
Chives keep their lovely green color when cooked, so they make a fancy addition to butters for an aromatic blended topping for corn on the cob, pasta dishes or garlic bread. Add them at the end of the cooking cycle to preserve the best flavor and keep a bit of their crunch.
The mauve colored flowers are edible and can be used as a garnish, looking especially pretty in salads. Many dishes may also use the flower buds just before blooming. The taste is stronger in the buds than in the leaves.
Harvesting can begin when plants are 6 inches tall. Trim chives with scissors selecting the outermost leaves first, always leaving at least 2 inches of growth remaining. The leaves grow back quickly so the plants can be harvested several times throughout the season.
Cut back after flowering to promote fresh growth. Divide established clumps of six or more bulbs in spring or autumn. In the first year of growing chives from seed, trim lightly to allow a strong root system to develop. Trim off the flowers to prevent seeding this first year to further strengthen the plant.
Chives are best when used fresh. Cut chives can be stored for up to a week in a tightly sealed baggie in the refrigerator. You can also store longer stems in a tall glass with about an inch of water in the bottom and store them the door of the refrigerator or next to a cool window in the winter.
For longer storage, chives can be chopped and frozen with a little water in ice cube trays. While it’s possible to dry fresh chives, most of the flavor is lost, so this is not recommended by most chefs.
Home Remedies and Health Benefits of Chives
All Alliums can be used to help control high blood pressure. This is due to the high content of allicin in the plant. According to an article in the New York Presbyterian Hospital, Food, and Nutrition division,
Allicin decreases blood vessel stiffness by releasing nitric oxide (NO); thereby bringing a reduction in total blood pressure. Allicin also helps decrease the overall risk of coronary artery disease (CAD), peripheral vascular disease (PVD), and stroke.
Chives are a good source of vitamin A, C, and K. Vitamin K is important for long-term bone health. Vitamin A is beneficial for the immune system, vision, and reproduction. Vitamin C in chives helps to improve the elasticity in the skin with can prevent bruising and promote healing. The green leaves of chives also contain antioxidants that help fight free radicals and discourage the growth of abnormal cells.
Chives are an easy to grow perennial that is a must for the home herb garden. The masses of pink and purple blooms will attract bees while the scent can ward off unwanted pests to the herb and vegetable garden. Chives are excellent container herbs either in the garden or inside on the windowsill.
Chives are one of the simplest herbs to use in recipes since most preparations call for a quick chop. The addition of fresh chives is an easy way to add taste and texture to many dishes.