Mention chives and most people think of the green, often freeze-dried, baked potato topping offered in restaurants. Cooks who venture to try fresh or freeze-dried, store-bought chives may balk at their cost. However, those who grow these perennial herbs can fully enjoy fresh chive flavor – at minimal cost – from spring through fall.
Chives grow best in rich, well-drained locations, in full to part sun, forming 12 to 18 inch tall clumps. This, plus their eye-catching flowers make them attractive additions to herb, perennial, and vegetable beds. Chives also grow well in containers and, like many herbs, are rarely attacked by harmful insects or nibbled by deer. As a companion plant, chives purportedly benefit roses, carrots, grapes, and tomatoes when adjacently planted. Just be sure to place your nursery-purchased or seed-grown chives where they are easily reached – once you experience them fresh from the garden, you’ll never be satisfied with freeze dried substitutes again.
The globe shaped flowers of Allium schoenoprasum are just now opening in my Connecticut gardens. Their lilac to mauve tinted blossoms blend nicely with iris, and with blue and pink flowers. As I mentioned in my Herbs cultivate gardeners post, chive blossoms are also stunning with orange Oriental poppies – a combination I pulled off many years ago, before the age of digital photography.
Both chive flowers and leaves are edible. Use whole flowers as a garnish or to make tasty chive vinegar (watch for a near future post on this), or break the flower globes into smaller pieces to add to green or pasta salads.
When freshly snipped, the oniony flavor of chives season marinades, and just about any type of vegetable, pasta, chicken, tuna, or egg salad. Hint: cut chive leaves from the back, or unseen, side of the plant to keep clumps looking good; also, rather than slicing on a cutting board, simply hold a bunch of cut chives in one hand while snipping, with kitchen shears, from the tips of the bunch. Snipped chives also freeze well in an airtight container, but use these in winter soups and cooked recipes, since thawed chives tend to become unappetizingly soft. For a winter baked potato topping, either grow chives in pots in a sunny window and snip as needed, or sprinkle still frozen chives over baked potatoes.
Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) which, as you might expect, taste more like garlic, grow much like their oniony cousins and can be similarly used. But I’ve found garlic chives don’t freeze well and, unlike their spring blooming cousins, the enchanting white blossoms of garlic chives open in late summer. My one word of caution– read about my garlic chive faux pas – is to not let garlic chives go to seed unless you want many, many ‘volunteer’ plants in subsequent years.