Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are one of my favourite and most used garden herbs. I’ve just taken this photo of the chives in my garden and as you can see the bees are loving the flowers and the apothecary rose that they are planted around seems to thrive with their presence.
This article previously appeared in my newsletter and covers how to grow, harvest and use chives.
Leaves, flowers and bulbs.
A decorative, clump-forming and fully hardy perennial, with slender clustered bulbs, cylindrical hollow green leaves resembling thick blades of grass with decorative purplish-pink flowers in summer. The flowers come in several colours: white, yellow, pink but more commonly purplish-pink.
Site: Sunny or partial shade, Soil: Moist, fertile and well drained, will tolerate poorer soil.
Height: 10 to 60 cm, Spread: 30cm
Can be used as an edging plant.
Sow seed in March or April in trays or pots in a cold frame covered with glass or polythene. They can also be grown in windowboxes if kept well watered.
Transplant in small clumps when the seedlings are large enough to handle into pots and grow on until ready to plant out. Alternatively, thin out to approximately 20 cm apart. Water in dry weather and mulch the soil each year or more often during the growing season.
It is best to remove the flowers to promote the growth of the leaves and improve their flavour.
Existing clumps can be divided into clumps of 3 to 6 bulbs and re-planted every 3 to 4 years. Chives die down in the winter so a clump can be potted up in Autumn to provide an indoor supply.
Chives can be grown in pots indoors but they need a cold period, so when the leaves die down, place the pot outside for a month until the roots freeze before bringing indoors again. (Tip: if you water them with warm water they will think it is spring and start growing again thus giving you a winter crop).
You can cut the leaves once the plant has reached at least 15 cm in height, always leave approximately 5cm on the plant for regrowth. The easiest way is to grab a bunch and cut across with scissors or a sharp knife. Flowers can be cut as they open. Cut back 3 to 4 times during the growing season and give a slight ‘haircut’ at least once a month to encourage growth.
Put chive leaves in a sealed plastic bag to retain crispness and refrigerate for up to 7 days.
To freeze chopped chives, put them in ice cube trays, fill with water and freeze. Once frozen, pop out the cubes and store in a freezer bags. These can be added direct into soups or stews.
Alternatively, wash and place in a freezer bag, remove air, seal and freeze. Crumble frozen chives before thawing and adding to your cooking.
Chive leaves and flowers give a mild onion flavour so they can be added generously to various dishes. They are best uncooked or added towards the end of the cooking time (they tend to lose their colour and flavour if cooked too long). If you are using the flowers make sure that you separate out the petals and sprinkle them over your dish; if you add a whole flowerhead to your salad it will be too strong!
Chive leaves snipped or chopped finely taste great sprinkled over salads, in egg dishes, sandwiches, soups, rice dishes, potatoes (especially potato salad or on baked potato), avocado, courgettes, fish and seafood. They can also be made into a chive butter or used to flavour cream cheese.
Sprinkled on food they are said to stimulate the appetite and aid digestion. They contain some iron and vitamins and are mildly antiseptic.
As a Companion plant
Plant to deter aphids, apple scab and mildew.
Grow near to carrots to enhance their flavour and deter carrot fly.
Plant near roses, grapes or tomatoes.
An infusion of chives left overnight then strained can be made and sprayed on roses to prevent black spot and to get rid of aphids. It needs to be sprayed on 3 times a day and also after heavy rain to be effective.
Chive flowers look attractive in arrangements and dry well. The flowers usually retain their colour when dry.
Chives make a useful and neat edging for a border or herb bed.
An infusion of chives can be used to rid a bathroom of mildew, any excess should be refrigerated.
Dried chives also repel moths.
Copyright 2007-2011 Madeleine Giddens