Since the ancient times people have been gathering chives from the wild and their cultivation started only during the Middle Ages. Chive is a tough, scattering, herb-like perennial plant that grows to a height of roughly 28 inches or 70 cm. While chives is indigenous to Eurasia and North America, garlic chives is indigenous to Asia and compared to chives is less resilient to winter. Garlic chive (botanical name Allium tuberosum) is also a perennial plant that usually grows to a height of 20 inches (50 cm) and forms an attractive permanent border in the garden.
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The leaves of chives are slender, deep green hued and hollow emerging from dense clumps. The leaves are fragrant and have a subtle onion essence. Thin bulbs covered with a whitish film grow in thick masses at the plant base, while the slender roots appear from the bottom of these bulbs.
The leaves of garlic chives are plane, firm and light green compared to those of other chives varieties. They have a fragrance and flavor similar to that of mild garlic, accompanied by a fairly sweet tinge. A number of garlic chives varieties turn out some bulbs, while most of them do not produce any bulb, or even if they do produce, the bulbs are very small. Garlic chives proliferate through their rhizomes or stems under the ground that somewhat resemble those of the ordinary bearded iris. The roots of garlic chives appear from under these rhizomes.
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Chives also bear petite flowers that appear in round clusters whose color may vary from mauve to rose-purple. These flowers appear at the top of a stalk without any leaf. Chives plants produce flowers during the middle of the spring, while garlic chives bear flowers during the end of the summer. The florets of garlic chives are petite, white-hued and star-shaped appearing in loose bunches.
While it is possible to grow chives indoors with the purpose of using it during the winter months, garlic chive has a propensity to become dormant throughout the winter and, hence, it is not advisable that you grow it indoors in pots.
The flowers as well as the leaves of both chives varieties are edible. You may even consume the garlic chives bulbs.
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Since long chives have been used in Chinese herbal medicine for treating exhaustion, aid in regulating excessive hemorrhages as well as in the form of an antidote for poisons consumed by people. The leaves as well as the bulbs of this herb are applied topically to the areas affected by insect bites and wounds and cuts. The seeds of chives are taken internally to cure disorders related to the liver, kidneys and the digestive tract.
Garlic chives as well as chives contain high levels of vitamin C. In fact, the leaves of chives are an excellent resource for vitamin A, fiber and potassium too. On the other hand, garlic chives contain high amounts of carotene, riboflavin and thiamine. Garlic chives also contain significant amounts of a number of minerals, particularly iron and calcium.
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The young and mild-flavoured leaves of chives may be used to add essence to butter and cheese. In addition, they are used for flavouring soups, sauces, salads, vegetables, meat, poultry, egg preparations and seafood, particularly caviar, salmon and oysters.
Freshly chopped tender chives leaves may be sprinkled over entrees, salads, cold as well as hot soups to garnish them. In fact, no vichyssoise bowl can be served without chives leaves. You may also add chives leaves to extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar.
If you are cooking a dish with chives, you should only add the leaves just during the final five to ten minutes of the cooking process. Exposing the chives leaves to heat for an extended period obliterates their flavour.
You may try using chives flowers in cheese, egg and fish preparations or in the form of a garnish. Since the spicy essence of the whole flowering head may be intense, you may break the flower head into separate florets and include them one at a time till you obtain your desired and tolerable flavour.
Garlic chives leaves too may be used in the same way as you would use that of chives. However, garlic chives leaves have a more potent and sharp flavour. If you are using garlic chives leaves in cooking, you should add them to your dishes just prior to serving them, because the flavour of these leaves will be destroyed and they will become chewy if they are cooked for long.
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In fact, garlic chive is an essential in Asian culinary. However, in Asian countries people only use the fresh garlic chives leaves, which are usually fried with meat and vegetables. In Japan, garlic chives are a staple in miso soup. The little garlic chives bulbs may also be used in the same way as you use garlic, particularly in dishes that require a further subtle essence compared to genuine garlic.
The flower buds of garlic chives are consumed in the same fashion as those of the chives. The flowering stems too may be employed for seasoning dishes. It is worth mentioning here that chives are often employed commercially in salad dressings, soup mixes, savory dips, cottage cheese as well as sour creams.
The purple-hued pompoms of chives as well as the attractive white blooms of garlic chives may be included in any fresh flower summer bouquet.
Chives as well as garlic chives grow well in damp soils. However, both these plants flourish when grown in organic, rich and well-drained soil. While chive is able to tolerate a pH range from 5.0 to 8.2, the tolerable pH range for garlic chives is 4.5 to 8.3.
These two varieties of chives grow most excellently when they receive total sunlight. However, chives cannot grow even in light shade. It is important that the soil should be kept damp all through the growing seasons of chives and garlic chives. However, provide less water to garlic chive in its first growing season with a view to encourage the growth of its root system.
Both, chives as well as garlic chives, can be propagated very well by dividing their existing clumps either in spring or during the fall.
Chives and garlic chives may also be propagated by means of their seeds, which need to be ideally sown indoors in pots made from fiber for roughly eight weeks prior to the last expected spring frost in your area. Sow the seeds 6 mm (1/4 inch) or even less into the soil. After sowing the seeds, keep the pots in a dark area, as it is necessary for them to germinate. Generally, the seedlings come out within seven to 12 days of sowing. In order help the chives clumps to establish rapidly you need to transplant many seedlings collectively.
You may grow both these varieties of chives as annual plants. However, remember that the growth of these plants usually is very sluggish and they do not yield enough harvest during their first year.
Transplant the chives and garlic chives seedling outdoors at a distance of at least 12 inches (30 cm) from one another. It is important that you lift as well as divide the beds of chives once in three years. Division of the clumps will help to put off congestion and also prevent the central part of the chive plants from withering away. In order to avoid reseeding, cut and get rid of the flowering stalks. This will also help to sustain a robust growth of the leaves.
If the plants become too woody, the shoots of garlic chives too require pruning in order to keep their maximum height within one inch (2.5 cm) above the ground. These plants are usually free from pest invasion, but vulnerable to diseases caused by fungi in congested and sodden conditions.
Chives grow wonderfully in containers. In fact, 'Flowerpot with Chives' oil paintings of Vincent van Gogh dating back to 1887, which is now in Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, illustrate this beautifully. This painting shows verdant spears sprouting from a simple terracotta pot placed on a kitchen table. It seems that the dense clump of chives plants have been cut just some time back, probably for inclusion in a soup prepared during the noon. Chives like to be grown in pots containing a malleable organic soil provided the plants are kept in a cool place and supplied with water regularly. It has been found that chives plants grown in pots shrivel up faster compared to those grown in the garden. Therefore, it is important that you make certain that the soil in the pots is always moist. You need to check the pots at least twice or thrice to ensure this. In addition, add some mild fertilizer at least once in every month and snip the chives plants regularly in order to encourage new growths.
You can successfully grow chives in a pot indoors placed on the ledge in winter provided you first allow the clump a chilly dormant period. During the early part of September, place a small chives clump or a part of a bigger cluster in a pot having a depth of anything between 12 cm and 15 cm (5 inches to 6 inches) and keep watering it. Keep the pot outside till a merciless frost nips the leaves and subsequently trim the foliage to just roughly 5 cm (2 inches). Next, set the pot in an open plastic bag, keeping the top exposed to air circulation. In fact, the chives plants put in the pot require remaining in a breezy place that is also frost-free place for about 12 weeks. For instance, you may keep the pots in a cold frame outdoors or in a root cellar indoors or your garage. Alternatively, the pot may also be thrust into the soil and cover liberally with leaves safeguard the chives clump against freezing. You may place the pot on a sunlit windowsill in December. Soon, you will find the plants producing new verdant leaves. If the plants are grown indoors, you need to provide them with any mild fertilizer once in three weeks.
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You may harvest chives throughout their growing season, ideally when the leaves have grown roughly 15 cm or 6 inches in length. Only pick the leaves, because the flowering stalks are likely to be strong. Chive is harvested manually and the leaves are picked from its base. Never use scissors to cut the leaves, because it causes the leaves to decay at the point where they are cut and result in an unsightly brown edge. The blooms of chives should be collected only when they have just opened completely.
It is best if you use chives fresh. While you may freeze the leaves of chives by placing them in ice cubes, dried out leaves of the herb loses its hue as well as essence.
Harvesting garlic chives in the first year of their growth is not recommended, as this will prevent the plants from developing a robust root system. You may collect the leaves of garlic chives in the second year when they have grown roughly 15 cm (6 inches) in length. It may be noted that the leaves of garlic chives are very delicate and give up their freshness very soon. Similar to chives, you may freeze the leaves of garlic chives, but never dry them for storage.
Garlic chives flower buds should be picked and used fresh. The flower buds may also be dried and stored. The flowering stalks of garlic chives are edible too.