Chives (allium schoenoprasum)

A relative of garlic and onion, chives have been a popular flavoring for nearly 5,000 years. The tender, dark green spears were probably first used in Asia; by the 16th century, the plant had earned a place in European gardens. The name “chives” derives from the French word cive, which comes from the Latin name for onion, cepa. The cooking and healing properties are similar to those of garlic, but milder.


Plant profile

Common Name: Chives

Description: Dark green, hollow, cylindrical leaves up to 10 inches tall; small, pale purple or pink umbel blooms; small perennial bulb

Hardiness: To Zone 3

Family: Amaryllidaceae

Flowering: Late spring to early summer

Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, and bulbs

Range/Habitat: Native to Asia and Europe; moist pastures and along stream banks

Culinary use

Chives impart a mild onionlike flavor to cheese, egg, and potato dishes. This is due to the presence of sulfur-containing compounds known as disulfides. The herb complements artichokes, asparagus, carrots, corn, onions, peas, spinach, and tomatoes, as well as fish and poultry. Both the minced leaves and whole flowers can be used as a garnish and flavoring in soups, salads, spreads, and dips. The flowers are also attractive and tasty in herb vinegars. For an interesting presentation, tie whole chive leaves around individual servings of baby carrots or asparagus. Chives are an ingredient in the popular French herb mixture fines herbes, which also includes chervil, parsley, and tarragon.

Medicinal use

Historically, chives were used to treat colds, flu, and lung congestion because of the herb’s high vitamin C content. The leaves also contain fiber and potassium. Chives are not commonly used in modern herbal medicine.

Ornamental use

Rarely bothered by pests, pink-flowered chives make a neat, edible edging for flower, herb, and vegetable gardens. The leaves and flowers also dry beautifully and make lovely additions to dried herb and flower arrangements.

How to grow it

Plant clumps of up to six bulbs 5 to 8 inches apart in moist, rich soil and full sun. To harvest, snip blades about 2 inches above the ground, cutting no more than two or three blades from each clump. Divide clumps of established, 3- to 5-year-old plants in early spring or fall.

To bring chives indoors for winter use, pot up the plant in late summer but leave it outside until the tops die back. (A cold, dormant period is needed to initiate new growth.) Then bring the pot indoors and set it on a sunny windowsill or below a fluorescent light. Plants will sprout within a few weeks.