What are chives?
Scrambled eggs with chives and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice is a delicious way to start the day. This versatile herb infuses a mild aroma of garlic or onion to dishes as diverse as omelettes, soups and salads. Chives also complement tarragon, dill and oregano – a favourite combination used extensively in French cuisine.
Chives are native to Europe, Asia and North America and were used up to 5,000 years ago. The Ancient Romans used chives for medicinal purposes. The herb was widely cultivated in Europe during the Middle Ages.
In Australia, onion chives and garlic chives are available.
Onion chives have a mild onion smell and flavour. The herb has hollow, thin leaves (about 30 cm long) and produces purple flowers that can also be eaten.
Garlic chives have flat leaves (a little like blades of grass) and a mild garlic smell and flavour. They produce small, white, edible flowers. Garlic chives are popular in Asian cooking.
Why chives are good to eat
- Chives are a good source of vitamins A (important for growth and development and the maintenance of your immune system) and C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body) and contain vitamin K (important for helping your blood to clot).
- They also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function), magnesium (involved in the regulation of muscle, heart and nerve function and keeping bones strong) and calcium.
- Chives contain dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of chives supplies 110 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Chives grow best in sunny locations that are protected from the wind. They grow in clumps, a little like grass. They form bulbs, which grow in a dense bunch at the base of the plant and they send up hollow, thin stems (or scapes) that taper and end in a sharp point. The scapes can grow to between 30 and 50 cm.
Purple flowers 1–2 cm wide appear at the top of the scape. These are actually a tight bunch of six-petal blossoms that look like a single flower. Removing the flowers stimulates new growth of scapes. To harvest chives, snip the scape at the base of the plant.
Chives can also be grown indoors, in a pot placed in a sunny position.
Choose brightly coloured, fresh-looking onion chives. They should have a faint onion-like smell. Garlic chives should have small, tightly closed flower buds at the top of each stalk. If the flowers have opened that means that the garlic chives are too old to eat. Avoid chives that are wilted or slimy or those that smell bad.
How to store and keep chives
Store chives wrapped in paper towels in a plastic bag in the crisper section of your fridge. They will keep for up to three days when stored this way.
How to use
- Add a punch of flavour to potatoes – bake potatoes with some butter until soft, crush so they are chunky, then add minced garlic, chopped chives, a little butter, salt and pepper and toss before serving.
- Make a delicious pesto – mix chopped garlic, slivered almonds and lemon zest with ground, toasted coriander seeds, then blend in a food processor with chopped basil, rocket and oregano leaves and finally add parmesan cheese and chopped chives before serving on top of grilled beef or stirring through pasta.
- Try baked, stuffed chicken – stuff a chicken breast with a mixture of chopped chives, cream cheese and minced garlic, then bake and serve with a green salad or vegetables.
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