Chives provide many pluses to your herb garden


Many people like the pungent flavor onions and garlic provide. The problem is the flavor is often too strong. Enter chives, which can be regular (similar to onion) or garlic types.

It seems no baked potato is complete without sour cream and chives. Chives liven up almost any sour cream or cream cheese-based dip. They complement but don’t overpower.

Chives are delicious when used fresh in salads or cooking. What makes them even more versatile is that they keep most of their flavor when dried. They don’t lose their texture when reconstituted in sauces either.

Some folks hang and dry them as full length leaves, but I prefer to dry them chopped. Freeze drying is becoming more popular. If drying is not your thing, chives freeze well too.

I cut mine a couple inches above the ground. This also ensures the leaves will be cleaner. Frequent cutting encourages growth and younger growth is always tender. Cutting plants off before going on vacation means young tender chives upon return.

Chives are also desirable for many other reasons. They repel insects, deer and rabbits. Moles don’t care for them either. Chives have antifungal properties and extracts can be used as natural fungicides. They have even been used as moth repellant.

Lastly, chives make an attractive addition to an herb or general perennial garden. Foliage grows in a neat upright fashion usually 12 to 24 inches tall. Chives are hardy but don’t become invasive.

Bright pink flower clusters are showy and also edible. They add delicate color to a salad. Some folks even use them as a tea. Garlic chive flowers are usually white.

For those aspiring gardeners with less than green thumbs, chives are easy to grow. They establish equally well from seed or transplants. Lack of well-drained soil is the main problem some people face, but other than that chives are tough. Those with clay soils might want to consider growing chives in pots or raised beds.

Chives thrive best in full sun, but they tolerate partial shade. Once established, they withstand periods of drought very well. After a few years the clumps should be divided to preserve vigor.

Chives, like onions, garlic, leek, shallots and scallions contain a chemical called allicin, which has many health benefits including cholesterol reduction. Chives are also high in Vitamin A and K.

Natural plant oils contain these fat soluble vitamins as well as the pungent flavor. Chives even are a rich source of Vitamin C and the antioxidant flavonoids, both water soluble compounds.

Chives aren’t used as much medicinally as their other Allium cousins. This is likely because levels of medicinal chemicals are lower. Since chives are milder flavored that should not be a surprise.

I’ve found few human side-effects for chives. Since they are high in Vitamin K, in extremely large amounts they could interfere with blood thinning prescriptions. I’m not going to get paranoid about that.

Still the same, we shouldn’t feed food containing chives, onions or especially garlic to dogs or cats. It could damage their red blood cells. Sometimes we don’t consider things like that.

Garlic chives in a pot of perennial hibiscus

Garlic chive inflorescence

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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