Pantry Profile: Chives {Allium schoenoprasum}

With its bright green stalks and vibrant, lavender-pink and spiky blossoms, chives are a lovely ornamental plant and herb garden staple. Found fresh in the yard in summer and dried in cupboards in the cooler months of fall and winter, chives hold surprising medicinal and nutritional benefits. A member of the Amaryllidaceae family {Amaryllis}, which includes familiar alliums garlic and onions, chives have a mild and pleasant onion-garlic flavor.

Chives have played a role in medicine and protection for more than 5,000 years. The ancient Romans used chives to relieve sore throats, lower blood pressure, and increase urination, while Traditional Chinese Medicine turned to it for coughs, colds, and congestion. In the Middle Ages, it was a popular remedy for melancholy.

A traditional Romani custom was to use chives in fortune telling and to hang them in the home to ward off disease and evil influences. Planting chives in the dooryard garden purportedly brought good luck and prevented evil spirits from entering the house.

For the Body

Like onion and garlic, chives contain the active property allicin, giving it similar antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal, and cholesterol-lowering properties, yet on a slightly milder scale. Nutrient dense, chives contain impressive amounts of vitamin A, a potent antioxidant that helps prevent degenerative diseases such as cancer and heart disease; calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K, which support muscle and bone health; and choline, which aids sleep, learning, and memory. It also provides iron, folate, and high amounts of vitamin C. And we can’t forget its array of sulfur compounds, which are responsible for its pungent scent, contribute to its heart-healthy benefits.

Recent research has confirmed the healing properties of chive. A 2017 review of the plant’s phytochemistry for the journal Natural Product Research confirmed traditional claims as to the herb’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiparasitic, and antihypertensive properties.

The whole aerial part of the plant benefits the digestive system, stimulating appetite and easing the symptoms of indigestion. Its high levels of vitamin C, along with its antiviral, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory action helps combat viral infections and ease the pain of sore throats as well as skin irritations.

Grow It

Chives are perennials that are easy to grow and care for and will thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 10. A natural insect repellent thanks to its sulfur content, chive wards off aphids and a host of other garden pests, which is especially useful when planted near vulnerable species. Sow seeds indoors for four to six weeks before the last expected hard frost. When the seedlings are about two inches tall transfer them outdoors. Plant six to eight inches apart in rich, moist soil. Chives love full sun but will tolerate slight shade. Expect it to grow to about 12 inches high, with blossoms blooming from May through June. Chives will spread as they grow and get larger each year. To control growth, divide the plant in spring or plant it in containers.

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Though chives grow to 12 inches high, you can harvest them when the plant reaches six inches. Clip leaves from the outside of the plant to the inside, one to two inches above the soil. Chives grow quickly and will soon be ready to harvest again. Harvest blossoms at their peak when they are bright violet-pink.

Keep It Fresh

Chives are best used fresh, but storing them is easy. Stand them up in a jar with a small amount of water or keep them in the fridge or freezer in a sealable plastic bag. As with basil, you can also chop chives, place them in an ice cube tray, and cover with olive oil to freeze.

Eat It

Chives blend well with most foods; egg dishes, potatoes, soft cheeses, soups, and salads. Combine them with butter for a savory spread, or use the edible blossoms for flavorful {and beautiful} herb vinegar. To preserve chive’s delicate flavor, snip with kitchen shears instead of chopping. Rinse and pat chives dry right before using to keep them from wilting. Heat can destroy chive’s flavor and nutritional benefits, so add them right at the end of cook time.

chive blossom vinegar

Chive Blossom Vinegar

Pick chive blossoms at their peak when they are bright and have not yet begun to fade. Use white wine or champagne vinegar for their mild flavor and to showcase the beautiful pink color of the finished vinegar.

Lightly crush blossoms to release flavor. Fill a glass jar three-quarters full with blossoms and cover with vinegar, leaving a half-inch space at the top. Use a plastic lid to cover {vinegar is corrosive}. Store in a cool, dark place for two weeks, shaking occasionally. Strain, bottle, and store in the fridge, where it should last at least six months. Discard at the first sign of spoilage.

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8 comments

  • do you grow these chives. they look wonderful

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  • It took me a while to find out how easily chives bloomed! We kept them cut so regularly that they never bothered. I divided them frequently too. When they finally bloomed, I was amazed that seedlings came up everywhere! It was great at first, but then there were too many! I think I have a handle on them now, letting them bloom, but not letting all the seedlings develop. I did not know that anyone else used the flowers. We put them in some types of pickles, but it was not my idea.

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  • Are the roots and good or is it perennial and best kept alive?

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    • Chives grow great in containers; just sow seeds in organic potting soil in the late spring or transplant young plants from the nursery as we did. You can bring them inside in the winter, or leave them out; they’ll die back but their roots should live on and they’ll come back in the spring.

      Snip flowers and stalks no closer than 3 or 4 inches to the bottom of the plant and they should keep regrowing like weeds all summer.

      Chives also reproduce well; to propagate at the end of the summer just gently dig up a cluster and separate into individual bulbs, then plant about 8″ apart in a new pot.

      Eating
      The entire chive plant is edible – the clustered pompoms can be picked apart into their individual flowerets and scattered in salads. The flowers are funny; they smell fragrant, like a wildflower, but also faintly of garlic and scallions!

      It’s actually best to remove the flowers frequently since this will help the bulbs (also edible) to produce more freely. The primary edible part of the chives, though, are the long stalks, which are great snipped into salads and other dishes. They shouldn’t be cooked; they’re too delicate for that.

      Chives are one of the hardiest, easiest to grow herbs in most of the Midwest and Northern zones, as well as most of California. Give them a try for their pretty flowers and delicious flavor.

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