Chives, Allium schoenoprasum, have been around for over 5000 years and have been cultivated in Europe since the Middle Ages when it was believed that bunches of herbs hung around your home could ward off evil and disease. The Romans believed that chives could relieve sore throats and sunburn and Romanian gypsies apparently used them in fortune telling.
The chive is a hardy bulb forming herbaceous perennial which grows to between 30cm and 50cm tall. It’s leaves are hollow and 2mm to 3mm in diameter and it’s flowers are purple, produced in a dense inflorescence. The seeds are produced in a small three-valved capsule and mature in summer. Mine, seen here, were bought and planted after flowering so I’ll have to wait a while to see them flowering next year.
Chives are generally free of insect attack due mainly to the sulphur compounds they contain, though thankfully this doesn’t deter the bees.
Chives are known to have a beneficial effect on the circulatory system by lowering blood pressure, much the same as garlic but much weaker which is probably why it has limited use as a medicinal herb. In native North American medicine they are used internally as a spring tonic as well as for worms in children!
The culinary uses of chives are far more familiar as it is commonly used in small amounts for flavouring all kinds of dishes. In England they are used to flavour Cotswold cheese. Over-consumption should be avoided however, as they can cause digestive problems. On the plus side, they are rich in vitamins A and C and contain trace amounts of sulphur and iron. The flowers are also edible and look great in salads.
If you’re more interested in using chives for ornamental purposes here’s one cultivar you should consider :~
Allium schoenoprasum ‘Forescate’
This cultivar is larger than the species, growing to around 45cm and has pink flowers.
On the other hand if you’re wanting to grow chives for either their edible flowers or foliage, here are two further possibilities :~
Otherwise known as Windowsill Chives, has dark green foliage with good flavour, grows well in low light and re-grows readily when cut.
Allium schoenoprasum ‘Profusion’
This cultivar has sterile flowers making it excellent for edible flower production.
Chives grow best in rich, well drained soil in full sun although they will tolerate heavier, wetter soils and a less open position than many other Allium. My soil has a pH of 6.5 (slightly acidic) and they seem to be thriving so far.