Grow Chives and Use Them in Cooking

Learn how to grow chives and use them in cooking.

| February/March 2004

Snip fine-flavored, crispy green chive leaves over a salad or a baked potato, or into a bowl of piping hot soup for a colorful garnish that punches up the taste a delicious notch, or maybe two.

The most delicately flavored member of the onion family, chives have been hardy garden plants and tasty kitchen staples for more than 5,000 years. Regular (or "fine") chives (Allium schoenoprasum), are native to northern Europe, Asia and North America. The leaves are shaped like tiny tubes that taper to a point. They grow in clumps and emerge in early spring from winter dormancy, followed quickly by the lilac-to-rosy pink, clover-like blooms on 12- to 24-inch long stems.

Both leaves and flowers are edible; the fresh blooms may be served whole or separated into petals; they can be added to vinegar, to which they impart a lovely pink hue; and they make nice cut flowers, too. When in full bloom, a mature clump is so pretty that you may be reluctant to gather the flowers, yet removing them often prolongs the bloom time while encouraging the plant to expend more energy producing new leaves.

Garlic chives (A. tuberosum) are the other common garden chives and are similar in height to regular chives. Also known as Chinese chives or gow choy, garlic chives are native to eastern Asia and are as hardy and easy to grow as regular chives. The plants have flat, strap-like leaves with a distinct hint of garlic rather than onion, and the delicate, white blooms grow in clusters that appear in late summer after many other flowers have come and gone.

Both leaves and blooms of garlic chives are edible, too, but do not be misled by the tuberosum species name; the roots are knobby but hardly bulbous, and not at all tasty. In this part of the world, garlic chive blossoms are not nearly as popular for eating as those of regular chives. But garlic chives are so pretty and long-lasting that they're often grown as garden ornamentals or for cut flowers rather than as a culinary ingredient. Many beneficial insects also feed on nectar found in the flowers. Garlic chives bloom all at once and seldom complain, even if you gather almost every stem to enjoy indoors.

Sun-loving, extremely cold-hardy (Zone 3) perennials, chives ask only for regular water and reasonably fertile soil to be contented garden residents.

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