Growing and Using Garlic Chives

Growing and Using Garlic Chives
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chivesGarlic chives, Allium tuberosum, is a hardy perennial (Zones 3-9) that will grow to about 12 inches high. The stems are skinnier and flat, instead of hollow as are regular chives, with greenish white blooms that are about an inch wide and not as rounded. They bloom in the summer rather than spring. The bloom stalks grow much taller than the leaves, sometimes up to 30 inches. The stems and blooms are both edible and have a mild garlic onion taste. I've noticed many writers will list this as primarily as an Asian herb, as they are also known as Chinese chives, Chinese leeks, ku chai (China) or Nira (Japan), but it has many other uses as well!

Garlic chives can be started from seed, but it does need to be fresh to germinate properly, so be sure to buy seeds from a reputable source or harvest your own. To encourage germination the seeds can be put in the refrigerator for a week before planting. The plants do self seed and WILL pop up all over your garden if left to do so. Using the blooms or shearing them off before they scatter is a good way to control the self sowing. Plant them inside in pots or sow outside as soon as you can work the ground in the spring.

The seeds are very tiny, so be sure to sow carefully and mark where you have planted. Plant 1/4 inch deep and about 1 inch apart. I used a good potting soil inside, and outside any soil will do, though they will do better in a fertile spot. Germination can take up to two weeks. They like to be kept evenly moist to do their best, but will tolerate a dry spells. Full sun is preferred but they will grow in light shade. Garlic chives grow in a clump that is closer together than regular chives, and they grow much faster. Again, they self sow rampantly so watch this. The clumps can be divided into sections every 3 years and replanted. To bring your pot of chives in for the winter, leave it outside for about 6 weeks after the first frost, and then bring inside to place in a sunny window. New growth will begin again and continue through the winter.

chivesIt's important to harvest your garlic chives, by clipping them almost to the ground. This keeps the plant producing fresh leaves. If you can't use them all, at least clip them and add to the compost pile or give to a friend. Chinese gardeners will often "blanch" part of their garlic chive crop by harvesting a plant to the ground, then covering with a layer of straw or a paper tent. The chives will still grow but will be white in color. They will then cook these as a vegetable. The flowers are also dried and ground to use as a spice in Asian cooking.

Store garlic chives in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. They may be snipped with scissors and used in both fresh and cooked dishes. The seeds can also be used to grow peppery sprouts for salads. Many people dry chives, but I mostly use them fresh, or I freeze snipped chives in small freezer bags.

Garlic chives can be used just as you use regular chives. They can be snipped into Parmesan cheese and used as a topping for pizza or garlic bread. Gently sauté them in butter and add shrimp for a nice pasta topping. Try adding them to your potato cooking water when making mashed potatoes for a nice flavor too. You can sprinkle a bunch that has been snipped into 1 inch pieces to stir fry or cooked cabbage dishes before serving.

Herbed Cheese Toasts


3/4 pound feta cheese, crumbled
1 tbsp. chopped tarragon
1/4 cup finely chopped garlic chives
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
A fresh baguette or other crusty bread

Crumble the cheese in a bowl. Add the tarragon, garlic chives and pepper. Toss the mixture with the oil and allow it to rest for 1 to 3 hours at room temperature. When ready to serve, preheat the broiler and toast slices of the bread lightly. Spread each piece with a tablespoon or more of the cheese mixture. Place the bread on a baking sheet and broil for about 1 minute, or until the cheese just begins to bubble. Watch carefully as they broil. Serve warm.

On an interesting note, garlic chives were a popular Chinese herb used medicinally to reduce fatigue and have been used as an antidote for ingested poisons! The leaves and roots are suppose to help bug bites as well, though I have not tried this. Garlic chives are a fascinating, useful and ornamental herb to grow in your garden!

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About The Author

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her husband and three kids. She is a mom, grandma, gardener, cook and writer. She blogs on all of these topics at


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