Chives, botanical name Allium schoenoprasum, is basically edible onion. In fact, they are the tiniest onion species that are fit for eating. This is a perennially growing herb that is indigenous to Asia, Europe and North America. Interestingly, this edible onion is the only Allium species that is indigenous to the Old as well as the New Worlds.
This species has derived its name from two Greek terms - skhoinos (meaning sedge) and práson (denoting leek). The English name of this species - chives, has its origin in the French word 'cive', which again has been derived from the Latin word 'cepa' meaning onion.
Chives are a very common herb that is sold at grocery stores and also grown by many in their home gardens. The scapes (leafless flower stalks) and unopened young flower buds of this herb are used for culinary purposes, especially in soups, potato, fish and other preparations.
These parts of the plants are chopped and used for adding flavour to these dishes. In addition, chives also possess insect-repellent attributes and may be used to control pests in gardens.
The flowers of Allium schoenoprasum comprise many florets and have resemblance to the globe. The chives flowers usually blossom during the period between April and May. The color of the florets may vary - white, light lavender, pink and some of them may also have a dark stripe in the middle.
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Each floret consists of several petals whose shape is lanceolate (lance-shaped) and/ or ovate and they are acutely pointed at the ends. The flower's sheath comprises two or three flaps, which are wide-ovate and shorter compared to the flower.
These sheaths may have a white or reddish hue. The perianth or the floral arrangement comprising the corolla and calyx, particularly when two whorls are merged, encircles the capsule akin to a balloon.
Chives leaves are similar to grass and they emerge from an incomplete bulb. The leaves are hollow, acutely pointed and develop in clumps. The length of chives leaves may be anything between one to two feet (maximum 60 cm).
People who are not experts are likely to wrongly identify these plants to be wild onions. Nevertheless, chives do not possess the potent scent of onions.
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Chives are mainly used therapeutically and for culinary purposes. As this herb contains a number of valuable nutrients, it is used to treat a number of health conditions.
This Allium species possesses a number of therapeutic attributes that are akin to the medicinal properties of garlic, but comparatively less potent. In fact, chives are not very extensively used for therapeutic purposes, as their medicinal properties are very mild compared to those of garlic.
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Plants of this species enclose several oraganosulfur chemicals, including alkyl sulfoxides and allyl sulfides. It is said that consumption of chives is beneficial for the circulatory system. In addition, chives also possess gentle antiseptic, diuretic, and stimulant properties.
People consuming chives seldom experience any adverse effects, as this herb is generally used in very little amounts and never used in the form of a main dish. However, consuming this herb in excessive amounts may result in problems related to the digestive tract.
It has been discovered that chives also contain rich amounts of vitamin A and vitamin C, a tinge of sulfur and are loaded with iron and calcium. Herbalists in China use chives to treat exhaustion as well as to control bleeding.
The leaves of this herb may also be used topically to wounds, cuts and body areas affected by insect bites. In addition, the seeds of chives are used to treat various health problems, especially those associated with kidney, liver and digestive problems.
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Chives may possibly also aid in combating cancer, as this species encloses several antioxidants that assist in eliminating the harmful free radicals and, at the same time, put off the growth of tumours and cancerous cells.
On the other hand, the calorie content of Allium schoenoprasum - 100 grams of fresh chives leaves supply us with just 30 calories. However, this species encloses numerous vital flavonoid antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and plant fiber that have proved to be beneficial for our overall health.
Similar to scallions and unlike other members of the genus Allium, chives also enclose added dietary fiber derived from plants. For instance, it contains more dietary fiber than onions, leeks, shallots and other species of the genus. About 100 grams of fresh chives leaves supply us with about 2.5 grams or 7% of the dietary fiber that we should ideally intake every day.
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Nevertheless, similar to other species belonging to the genus Allium, chives also enclose thio-sulfinites antioxidants, for instance diallyl trisulfide, diallyl disulfide and allyl propyl disulfide.
When the leaves of this herb are cut, crushed or disturbed by any other way, these thio-sulfinites convert to allicin by means of enzymatic reactions. Studies undertaken in laboratories have demonstrated that allicin works to lower the cholesterol level in the bloodstream.
In fact, allicin lessens the production of cholesterol by means of holding back an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase in the cells of our liver. In addition, it has also been discovered that chives have anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal actions.
Moreover, allicin is also beneficial for the cardio-vascular system. It works to lessen the stiffness of blood vessels by discharging nitric oxide (NO), a compound that dilates the blood vessels. Thereby, allicin aids in lowering the total blood pressure.
Allicin also hinders the formation of platelet clots and also works to remove clots (fibrinolytic action) within the blood vessels, thereby reducing the overall chances of developing a coronary artery disease (CAD), stroke, and peripheral vascular diseases (PVD).
It is surprising to note that chives enclose additional vitamin A compared to any other herb belonging to the genus Allium. Only 100 grams of fresh chives leaves enclose 4353 IU (international unit) of vitamin A, which is a whopping 145 per cent of our daily recommended amount of this vitamin.
Additionally, the fresh green leaves of chives enclose various flavonoid-phenolic antioxidants, for instance, carotenes, lutein and zeaxanthin. Working collectively, these phytochemicals provide our body with protection from lung cancer. They also protect us from cancer of the oral cavity.
Chives also enclose a number of other vitamins essential for our well-being, including vitamin C and vitamin K. Precisely speaking, chive is one plant that contains maximum amount of vitamin K - much more compared to what is found in scallions.
Just 100 grams of freshly obtained green leaves of the herb supply us with about 212.7 µg of this vitamin, or roughly 177 per cent of our daily recommended levels of vitamin K. Findings of studies undertaken by scientists hint that vitamin K plays a potential role in sustaining the health of our bones by encouraging an action known as osteotrophic activity (formation and reinforcing the bones).
Fresh green chives are also packed with folates. Just 100 grams of fresh chives leaves supply us with 105 µg or about 26% of our daily recommended levels of folates. It is important to note here that folic acid is necessary for cell division as well as DNA synthesis. It has been found that including sufficient amounts of folates in the diet of pregnant women may possibly aid in preventing defects in the neural tube of the newborn infants.
In addition, chive leaves enclose loads of different B-complex vitamins and also a number of essential minerals, including iron, calcium, copper, zinc and manganese. The green leaves of this herb enclose numerous essential vitamins, for instance niacin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, riboflavin and pyridoxine in adequate amounts. All these are beneficial for our overall health as well as for protecting us from various diseases.
Chives have a number of culinary uses. The leaves of this herb may be consumed fresh, after cooking or dried up and stored for use later. The leaves of chives possess a gentle onion flavour and they are wonderful when added to salads. These leaves may also be used to enhance flavours of soups and others.
Generally, the leaves are available from the later part of winter and the plants keep producing leaves till the early part of the next winter, particularly when the plants are grown in a sheltered and warm place. The leaves of chives are an excellent resource of iron and sulfur.
The bulbs of chives are somewhat small and are seldom more than 10 mm in width. You may harvest the bulbs along with the leaves and use them in the way spring onions are used. As mentioned earlier, the flavour of chives bulbs is akin to that of onions, but comparatively much milder.
Even the flowers of this plant can be used to garnish salads and other items. Chives flowers are somewhat dry and not as much desirable as the flowers of several other species belonging to the genus Allium.
Chives are readily available in nearly all markets. In fact, this is one herb that is available throughout the year. You may also dry freeze chives without altering its flavour to a great extent. Owing to this, people who grow chives in their garden can harvest and store large amounts of the herb for use whenever necessary.
Chives are one plant that can be grown very easily. This herb has a preference for a fertile and moist soil having an excellent drainage. It thrives well when grown in a place that receives full sunlight. While chives grow excellently in heavy clay soils, these plants have the aptitude to succeed in nearly all types of soils as well as in partial shade.
This Allium species can withstand a pH ranging between 5.2 and 8.3. People generally grow chives in their garden for the plants' leaves, which are edible. These leaves can be availed for almost throughout the year - beginning from the later part of winter to the early winter next year. The bulbs of this species divide very fast and develop large clusters in a very short period.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) possess the ability to withstand heavy harvesting. In fact, cutting the leaves of the herb at regular intervals guarantees a steady supply of tender leaves and, at the same time, stops the plants from flowering.
Generally, the flowers of this plant are not used for edible purposes, as they do not have a desirable flavour. During autumn, you may shift the plants into a frame or any other sheltered environment. Doing so will enable the plants to produce new leaves during the entire winter months.
However, it is advisable that you should not undertake this exercise every year, as it will make the plants weak. While transplanting chives you should ensure that the bulbs of the plant are positioned somewhat deep into the soil. In addition, chives are an excellent bee plant.
This Allium species grows very well along with nearly all other types of plants, particularly, beet, carrots, chamomile and roses. However, when grown along with legumes, chives inhibit the former's growth. When chives are grown beneath apple trees, they help in lessening the occurrence of scabs (a plant disease responsible for causing crusty marks).
It is worth mentioning here that chives and alfalfa do not go well when grown together - each species has a negative influence on the other. Plants belonging to the genus Allium are seldom affected or disturbed by browsing deer.
Chives are propagated by means of seeds, which are ideally sown in a cold frame during spring. Generally, the new plants germinate very easily and freely. The seedlings should be transplanted in pots immediately when they have grown sufficiently large for easy handling.
The young plants should be transplanted into their permanent position during the subsequent spring. The species can also be propagated through division throughout the year. However, ideally division of the clumps should be undertaken during spring.
It is advisable that you undertake division of the clumps of chives at least once in three or four years with a view to sustain the vitality of the plants. You can directly plant the divisions in their permanent positions outdoors.
Chemical analysis of chives has revealed that this herb contains a number of nutriments, including carbohydrates, fat, protein and dietary fibers. In addition, chives also enclose a number of essential minerals, such as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. This herb also contains a number of vital vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, vitamin B2 (also called thiamine) and vitamin B2 (also known as riboflavin).
While no one has seen any individual cases of adverse effects of using chives, there have been some instances of poisoning among some animals due to consuming excessive amounts of some members of the genus Allium. In fact, it has been found that dogs are more vulnerable to poisoning due to consumption of large amounts of plants belonging to Allium.