(Allium schoenoprasum L.)
The Chive is the smallest, though one of the finest-flavoured of the Onion tribe, belonging to the botanical group of plants that goes under the name of Allium, which includes also the Garlic, Leek and Shallot. Though said to be a native of Britain, it is only very rarely found growing in an uncultivated state, and then only in the northern and western counties of England and Wales and in Oxfordshire. It grows in rocky pastures throughout temperate and northern Europe.
This species occupies an extensive area in the northern hemisphere. It is found all over Europe from Corsica and Greece to the south of Sweden, in Siberia as far as Kamschatka and also in North America. The variety found in the Alps is the nearest to the cultivated form.’ Most probably it was known to the Ancients, as it grows wild in Greece and Italy. Dodoens figures it and gives the French name for it in his days: ‘Petit poureau,’ relating to its rush-like appearance. In present day French it is commonly called ‘Ail civitte.’ The Latin name of this species means ‘Rush-Leek.’
The plant is a hardy perennial. The bulbs grow very close together in dense tufts or clusters, and are of an elongated form, with white, rather firm sheaths, the outer sheath sometimes grey.
The slender leaves appear early in spring and are long, cylindrical and hollow, tapering to a point and about the thickness of a crowsquill. They grow from 6 to 10 inches high.
The flowering stem is usually nipped off with cultivated plants (which are grown solely for the sake of the leaves, or ‘grass’), but when allowed to rise, it seldom reaches more than a few inches to at most a foot in height. It is hollow and either has no leaf or one leaf sheathing it below the middle. It supports a close globular head, or umbel, of purple flowers; the numerous flowers are densely packed together on separate, very slender little flower-stalks, shorter than the flowers themselves, which lengthen slightly as the fruit ripens, causing the heads to assume a conical instead of a round shape. The petals of the flowers are nearly half an inch long; when dry, their pale-purple colour, which has in Parts a darker flush, changes to rose-colour. The anthers (the pollen-bearing part of the flower) are of a bluish-purple colour. The seed-vessel, or capsule, is a little larger than a hemp seed and is completely concealed within the petals, which are about twice its length. The small seeds which it contains are black when ripe and similar to Onion seeds.
The flowers are in blossom in June and July, and in the most cold and moist situations will mature their seeds, though rarely allowed to do so under cultivation.
Chives are grown as flavouring, as a herb, not as a vegetable in their own right.
Allium schoenprasum is a perennial species, unlike the commonly grown leeks and onions to which it is related, being a member of the allium or onion family.
There is also an Asian variety of chive called Chinese chives, garlic chives or kuchai.
Has a garlicky-onion aroma and the flowers are sweet smelling and beautiful.”The Chive contains a pungent volatile oil, rich in sulphur, which resent in all the Onion tribe and causes their distinctive smell and taste.”
Health Benefits of Chives
There is some evidence that chives can improve digestion and reduce high blood pressure.
Good for anaemia.
Great for an appetizer besides a digestive.
They are not widely used for cures.
High amount of vitamin C and super for colds.
Like other members of the onion family, chives contain useful amounts of potassium, and flavonoids and saponins with valuable anti-oxidant and anti-cholesterol activity.
The oil has antibacterial properties.
Chives have a mild anti-inflammatory and has also some antibiotic properties.
As far as cosmetic uses go, for quite a long time the fresh green has been used as a sort of beauty product, too. Soaked in oil and applied onto the face it would hopefully remove spots and freckles. The protecting skin of the tiny onions, boiled in water and applied on the scalp, was considered a valuable preparation against grey hair.
Today we know that due to its contents in calcium, essential oils, iron, phosphor, potassium, sodium as well as the pro-vitamins A and B2, chives are really good for the health. A mere hundred grams cover the daily need in vitamin C.
Chives were used in China’s culinary tradition already 3000 years b.Ch. for the fine and delicate flavour. In the medical field people used them against poisoning and to stop bleeding. The plant then found its place in the ancient Roman world as remedy against sunburns.
Buying and storing
If you are not growing your own, fresh chives are readily available fresh in most markets year-round. Choose fresh, uniform-sized, evenly green leaves with no signs of wilting, yellowing, or drying. In a pinch, chopped scallion greens may be used as a substitute, but the onion flavour will be more pronounced.
Chives are also available frozen and freeze-dried for instant convenience. If you have an abundance of chives, you might wish to try drying your own at home.
To freeze-dry chives, place chopped chives on a cookie sheet and place them uncovered in the freezer. When the moisture has evaporated and they are dry and brittle, transfer to a glass spice jar and seal tightly. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.
Store fresh chives in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to a week. Do not wash until ready to use them, as excessive moisture will promote decay.
Puree with water and freeze in cubes.
Buy some seeds and get it growing in your garden box!!.
The Chive contains a pungent volatile oil, rich in sulphur, which resent in all the Onion tribe and causes their distinctive smell and taste.
It is a great improvement to salads – cut fresh and chopped fine-and may be put not only into green salads, but also into cucumber salad, or sprinkled on sliced tomatoes.
Chives are also excellent in savoury omelettes, and may be chopped and boiled with potatoes that are to be mashed, or chopped fresh and sprinkled, just before serving, on mashed potatoes, both as a garnish and flavouring.
They may also be put into soup, either dried, or freshly cut and finely chopped, and are a welcome improvement to homemade sausages, croquettes, etc., as well as an excellent addition to beefsteak puddings and pies.
Snip chives with scissors instead of chopping them, and do not subject them to much cooking as they are delicate. Instead, use chives in garnishes, salads, egg mayonnaise sandwiches, vegetable stocks, soups, creamy sauces, potato dishes and omelettes, adding the herb to the dish just before serving.
Purple-blue chive flowers are also eaten and used as a garnish.
“Always use fresh, and avoid subjecting to heat (such as boiling with soup). The common method of chopping it fresh and sprinkling it over food just prior to serving is best.”