Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are a member of the onion family. It is native to Europe where it has been grown since the Middle Ages. Its use dates back even further, to 5,000 years. Chives are one of the ingredients of the French fines herbes.
Chives are rarely used medicinally. They contain the same compounds found in garlic, but in such small quantities as to be nearly useless for herbal medicines. They have been used as a mild diuretic and as an antiseptic.
The sulphur compounds that contribute to their taste repel insects, except bees which find them irresistible. Chives are often grown for their insect repellant properties.
Chives are a perennial that is hardy in zones 3 – 9. They prefer full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Mature plants are 12 to 18 inches tall and grow in clumps which should be divided every three to four years. Chives are more productive when divided regularly. Division is best done in the early spring. Like most alliums, chives grow from bulbs. The foliage, which appears in early spring, dies back completely during the winter.
Chive blossoms are lavender and appear April to June, depending on location. The flowers are also edible and are usually eaten fresh. They have the same mild onion flavor as the foliage. The flowers can be dried and used in crafts.
Growing chives is easy. Sow your seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date. If you prefer to direct sow the seed in your garden, wait until the soil temperature reaches 60⁰F to 70⁰F in early spring. Seeds should be planted 1/4 –inch deep and kept evenly moist until germination. Seedlings can be planted outside after 4 weeks. Chives will also readily self-sow in your garden.
You can harvest your chives either 30 days after you transplant seedlings into your garden or 60 days after direct sown seeds have germinated. When harvesting the foliage, cut the stalks back to within two inches of the soil. Harvest from the outside of the clumps. You will get approximately 3 to 4 harvests of chives during the first year.
Chives lose their flavor when they are dried so they should be used fresh. You can freeze them in airtight bags for use during the winter or preserve them in butters, oils and vinegars.