Chives are a commonly used herb and can be found in grocery stores or grown in home gardens. In culinary use, the scapes and the unopened, immature flower buds are diced and used as an ingredient for fish, potatoes, soups, and other dishes. The edible flowers can be used in salads. Chives have insect-repelling properties that can be used in gardens to control pests.
The plant provides a great deal of nectar for pollinators. It was rated in the top 10 for most nectar production (nectar per unit cover per year) in a UK plants survey conducted by the AgriLand project which is supported by the UK Insect Pollinators Initiative.
Chives are a bulb-forming herbaceous perennial plant, growing to 30-50 cm (12-20 in) tall. The bulbs are slender, conical, 2-3 cm (- in) long and 1 cm ( in) broad, and grow in dense clusters from the roots. The scapes (or stems) are hollow and tubular, up to 50 cm (20 in) long and 2-3 mm (- in) across, with a soft texture, although, prior to the emergence of a flower, they may appear stiffer than usual. The grass-like leaves, which are shorter than the scapes, are also hollow and tubular, or terete, (round in cross-section) which distinguishes it at a glance from garlic chives (Allium tuberosum). The flowers are pale purple, and star-shaped with six petals, 1-2 cm (- in) wide, and produced in a dense inflorescence of 10-30 together; before opening, the inflorescence is surrounded by a papery bract. The seeds are produced in a small, three-valved capsule, maturing in summer. The herb flowers from April to May in the southern parts of its habitat zones and in June in the northern parts.
Chives are the only species of Allium native to both the New and the Old Worlds. Sometimes, the plants found in North America are classified as A. schoenoprasum var. sibiricum, although this is disputed. Differences between specimens are significant. One example was found in northern Maine growing solitary, instead of in clumps, also exhibiting dingy grey flowers.
The name of the species derives from the Greek ?, skhoínos (sedge or rush) and , práson (leek). Its English name, chives, derives from the French word cive, from cepa, the Latin word for onion. In the Middle Ages, it was known as 'rush leek'.
It has two known subspecies; Allium schoenoprasum subsp. gredense (Rivas Goday) Rivas Mart., Fern.Gonz. & Sánchez Mata and Allium schoenoprasum subsp. latiorifolium (Pau) Rivas Mart., Fern.Gonz. & Sánchez Mata.
It is found in Asia within the Caucasus (in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia), also in China, Iran, Iraq, Japan (within the provinces of Hokkaido and Honshu), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russian Federation (within the provinces of Kamchatka, Khabarovsk, and Primorye) Siberia and Turkey.
In middle Europe, it is found within Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland. In northern Europe, in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In southeastern Europe, within Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Romania. It is also found in southwestern Europe, in France, Portugal and Spain.
In Northern America, it is found in Canada (within the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nunavut, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Yukon ), in the United States (with the states of Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming).
Chives have a wide variety of culinary uses, such as in traditional dishes in France, Sweden, and elsewhere. In his 1806 book Attempt at a Flora (Försök til en flora), Retzius describes how chives are used with pancakes, soups, fish, and sandwiches. They are also an ingredient of the gräddfil sauce with the traditional herring dish served at Swedish midsummer celebrations. The flowers may also be used to garnish dishes. In Poland and Germany, chives are served with quark cheese. Chives are one of the fines herbes of French cuisine, the others being tarragon, chervil and parsley. Chives can be found fresh at most markets year-round, making them readily available; they can also be dry-frozen without much impairment to the taste, giving home growers the opportunity to store large quantities harvested from their own gardens.
Retzius also describes how farmers would plant chives between the rocks making up the borders of their flowerbeds, to keep the plants free from pests (such as Japanese beetles). The growing plant repels unwanted insect life, and the juice of the leaves can be used for the same purpose, as well as fighting fungal infections, mildew, and scab.
The medicinal properties of chives are similar to those of garlic, but weaker; the faint effects in comparison with garlic are probably the main reason for their limited use as a medicinal herb. They also have mild stimulant, diuretic, and antiseptic properties. As chives are usually served in small amounts and never as the main dish, negative effects are rarely encountered, although digestive problems may occur following overconsumption.
Chives are cultivated both for their culinary uses and their ornamental value; the violet flowers are often used in ornamental dry bouquets. The flowers are also edible and are used in salads, or used to make Blossom vinegars.
Chives thrive in well-drained soil, rich in organic matter, with a pH of 6-7 and full sun. They can be grown from seed and mature in summer, or early the following spring. Typically, chives need to be germinated at a temperature of 15 to 20 °C (60-70 °F) and kept moist. They can also be planted under a cloche or germinated indoors in cooler climates, then planted out later. After at least four weeks, the young shoots should be ready to be planted out. They are also easily propagated by division.
In cold regions, chives die back to the underground bulbs in winter, with the new leaves appearing in early spring. Chives starting to look old can be cut back to about 2-5 cm. When harvesting, the needed number of stalks should be cut to the base. During the growing season, the plant continually regrows leaves, allowing for a continuous harvest.
It was mentioned in 80 A.D. by Marcus Valerius Martialis in his "Epigrams".
He who bears chives on his breathe, Is safe from being kissed to death.