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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Herb of the Week -- Chives

They say that confession is good for the soul, so I have a confession to make.

I have never really known how to use Chives. I have always just grown them because I liked to look at them. I let them flower, because I like the purple blossoms. They look pretty and they make an attractive addition to the garden.
Here are our chives in full bloom:

So writing this weeks article on Chives gave me a chance to learn more about chives than I have ever known before.

Hopefully now, in the future, Chives will be an enhancement to my kitchen, and not just my garden.

Chives are the smallest member of the onion family, a family that also includes leeks and garlic among others.
The English word Chive comes from Latin cepa "onion" via Middle English cyve or cheve, loaned from Old French cive.
In many languages, chives are differentiated as a "grassy" variant of their larger relatives, leek, onion and garlic. Examples are Swedish gräslök, Norwegian grasløk and Finnish ruohosipuli. Other languages use geographical epithets, e.g. Bulgarian luk Sibirski "Siberian onion" or Turkish Frenk soğanı "French onion".
In the Romance languages the names of chives often mean "little onion", e.g. French civette, Spanish cebollana, Italian erba cipolin. German schnittlauch contains the verbal stem schneid meaning "cut", because, unlike onion and garlic, chives are harvested by cutting the leaves.
Source: Aiden Brooks: Trainee Chef

OK, we got the history lesson out of the way, now we can play in the dirt. Let’s plant some Chives.

There are two main varieties of Chives. The most common is the Onion Chive (allium schoenoprasum) Which has vibrant purple blossoms.

The other is the Chinese Chive or Garlic Chive (allium tuberosum) which has bold white blossoms.

Chives grow well in almost all soils and in anything from full sun to partial shade. They do not do as well in full shade.
They don’t require a lot of water, although if allowed to get too dry, they will get tough and woody, and the flavor may get strong and unpleasant.
Chives can be grown from seed or from transplants. They are hardy and reproduce rapidly, so you will have to divide them every couple of years.
The recommended distance between plants when planting, or transplanting them is 4”.
If you start them from seed, start your seeds indoors in March, or outdoors in April (earlier in the month in warmer zones, later in the month in cooler zones.) They can be moved outdoors a month after you plant them. At that point, if the soil is soft and well prepared, (dug and softened to a depth of 6-8” to allow for a strong root base) they are a low maintenance plant and should require little else from you at this time.

Chives should be divided every other year, to keep the bulbs spread out. This allows for healthier bulbs, as they are not fighting each other for water, or squeezing each other for space.
There are few pests that will bother Chives, although if you plant them too near onions, you may see onion flies attacking your chives. These flies generally remain near the onions, and should not bother your Chives if they are planted farther away from the onions.
They should also not be planted too close to beans or peas, as cross pollination will negatively affect the growth and production of your legumes, nor should They be too close to alfalfa, as pollen from the two species will have negative impact on each other.
Research sources:
Garden Action: Growing Chives
Plants For A Future

Harvest chives any time after they are 6” tall. Cut them back to about 2” from the ground. Once they blossom, they may get tough and woody, especially the blossom stems, which are heavier and stronger than the leaves.

Chives should be used fresh or frozen, Although you will see dried chives on the shelf in the grocery store, you should be aware that chives lose most of their flavor when they are dried, so dried chives are mostly a decorative touch used as a garnish.
The best way to freeze chives is to chop them (I’d go about ¼ “ long, but some people like them up to an inch.), then spread them out on a cookie sheet and freeze them. That way, when you put them into a zip lock bags, they aren’t all frozen together in one clump. You can control how much you use.

Of course, you can also choose to run them through a food processor, and then freeze them in ice cube trays. They have enough water, and natural oil in them, that you shouldn’t even have to add olive oil or butter like you would with some of the broader leaf herbs.

How do you use them once you have them? This is the part I have never known.

So here we go, lets learn together.

Medicinal Uses of Chives:

The whole plant has a beneficial effect on the digestive system and the blood circulation. It improves the appetite, is digestive, hypotensive and tonic. It has similar properties to garlic but in a much milder form, and it is rarely used medicinally.
The juice of the plant is used as an insect repellent, it also has fungicidal properties and is effective against scab, mildew etc. The growing plant is said to repel insects and moles and discourage browsing deer.
Chives may be cut and mixed with the food given to fresh hatched poultry, particularly turkeys, as they contain the sulfur necessary in their diet, but are mild enough that they wont upset their stomach like onions or garlic may.

Culinary Uses:

For most cooking purposes here's a rule of thumb to follow:
1t chopped green onion = 1T chopped chives.

~Chives are often used in the preparation of fish and shellfish, also eggs, soups, and poultry. They are combined with soft cheeses like cream cheese or cottage cheese, and often used in cream sauces, They are usually used alone, but a combination of chive, chevril, tarragon and parsley is known in French Cuisine as fines herbs.

~Place a handful of chives in a cheesecloth bag and include it in the water when boiling potatoes for mashing, or for potato salad.

~Slice tomatoes, and cucumbers, arrange the slices alternately on a plate and top with chopped chives, drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

~Cream fresh cut chives with butter and serve on rye or pumpernickel bread. (also good on baked potatoes)

~Stir chopped chives and cottage cheese together, place on tomato slices and toast under broiler.

You may want to try this quick and easy recipe, courtesy of Amanda’s Cookin’

Egg Salad with Chives

6 boiled eggs, chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise (or to taste)
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste
1 small dill pickle, chopped
1 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
Combine all ingredients and keep refrigerated in a tightly covered container.

Or, if you are feeling bold and adventurous, you may even want to try Stir Fried Chive Buds, courtesy of Rasa Malaysiaem>

Stir-fried Chive Buds

1/2 lb chive buds
10 straw mushrooms (cut into half)
5 shrimp (peeled and deveined)
5 scallops (slice each scallop horizontally into 3 pieces of equal size)
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine/rice wine
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 dashes white pepper powder
3 tablespoons water and 1/2 teaspoon corn starch (mixed)
3 tablespoons oil
5 slices peeled fresh ginger

Mix the corn starch with water, set aside. Heat up a wok and add in the oil. Add in the sliced ginger and stir well until you smell the gingery aroma. Add in the shrimp, scallops, and straw mushrooms and stir fry for 1 minute. Add in the chive buds and continue to stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Add in the seasoning (oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar, sesame, wine) and the corn starch water. Do a quick stir for 30 seconds, dish up and serve hot with steamed white rice.

Magical and Superstitious uses:

Chives, like all members of the onion family are said to ward off disease and evil influence, because the blossoms are so vibrant and beautiful, chive blossoms may often be added to a swag or a bouquet for this purpose. Chive blossoms will dry beautifully and can be used in many dried flower arrangements.
Chives may be included in cooking when attempting to break a bad habit, and are said to be useful in helping to heal a broken heart.

Like I said before, I have always just grown them as an ornamental plant, but I decided that I would try a harvest this year, even though mine have already blossomed, so I wanted to clear out some of the blossom stems, leaving the more tender leaves behind to harvest.

I hated the idea, of just throwing them away, so I made a bouquet of chive flowers and brought them into the house.
Now, our house should be well protected from evil as well as disease, and heaven knows we could use a little of that.

Leave me a note and let me know what you do with YOUR chives.

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