How to Grow, Harvest, and Use Chives
"Onion is a humble vegetable, but it has saved countless recipes from mediocrity. Its flavor and aroma can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary."
—Yotam Ottolenghi, British chef and food writer
Belonging to the onion family, chive (Allium schoenoprasum) is a kitchen-friendly perennial herb with countless culinary uses. It has long, thin, green leaves that are grow 12 inches tall and are hollow and tubular in shape, growing in clumps. They grow lavender-colored blossoms that are also edible. It is known for its delicate and slightly sweet, sometimes garlicy, flavor. Chives are easy to grow and one of the first greens to pop up in my spring garden. Chives are sometimes referred to as sweth or rush leeks.
Beneficial Properties and Common Uses
Chive has many beneficial properties including being rich in vitamin C, K, and A, and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. It is used to naturally detoxify the body, boost skin health, lower blood pressure, and regulate cholesterol.
Most commonly used in the kitchen, chives are often minced and sprinkled fresh atop soups, salads, biscuits, baked potato, omelets, scrambles, and other egg dishes, or whipped into cream cheese or compound butter. I most enjoy creating finishing salts with them. Even the pretty blossoms are edible, making a gorgeous, colorful, and bold or delicate vinegars or a beautiful pop of color, texture, and flavor atop salads.
In the garden, chive is prized for being an easy-to-grow perennial with a long growing season, even year-round in some climates. It attracts pollinators including bees and butterflies while repelling garden pests like aphids and Japanese beetles. Chive is naturally deer and rabbit resistant and a good companion to roses, tomatoes, carrots, and strawberries. Chives repel aphids and get along well with pretty much every herb I can think of except fennel. I recommend growing chive with basil, cilantro, and parsley which all prefer moist, rich soil and tolerate partial shade.
If direct seeding, wait until after your zone’s last frost date. Chives prefer fertile, loamy soil. If starting indoors, you can broadcast sow chive seeds any time of the year and successfully grow them indoors or transplant them out once thread of frost has passed. Broadcast sow chive seeds over dampened soil. Press them firmly into the soil but do not cover them, as they require light to germinate. Water carefully with a misting can or bottom water until germination occurs. You can expect germination in 10-14 days. Chives are hardy in USDA zones 3-10.
Alternatively, starter plants are often available at your local garden center and should be planted out after your zone’s last frost date.
Care and Harvest
Chives thrive in bright sunny growing spaces but can also tolerate partial shade. They are happiest in pots and containers, though I also grow them successfully in the corners of my garden beds. Be careful not to over-fertilize as it will weaken their flavor. (I prefer not to fertilize my chives at all.)
When chives grow to be about 12 inches tall, gather a handful of the tubular leaves in one hand and snip with clean kitchen shears about ¾ of the way down the plant. Choose ones that have the boldest greenish blue color for the best flavor and scent. Remove any that are wilting or yellowing along the way.Collect the chive blossoms as well, which are also edible, however the stalk of the blossom is typically too tough and less flavorful, so I clip the blossom off and compost the stalk.
In the fall, you can divide your chives and bring some inside to continue to grow all winter long or cut them to the ground and label the area, so you know where to expect them to reemerge next spring.
Chives can be dried but I do feel they lose some of their flavor when preserving them this way. To dry chives, cut them into very small pieces with your kitchen shears and then laying them flat on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and baking for an hour at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring them from time to time. Let them cool completely before storing in an airtight glass container for up to one year. Alternatively, chives dry well in a dehydrator. Chives can also be infused in oils and vinegars. Lastly, you can fill ice cube trays with chives and then water to freeze them into cubes for individual use throughout the year. I have found that this changes the texture of the herbs and decreases flavor.