All About Chives: Growing, Harvesting and Using These Simple Herbs

Discover the many healthy ways to use this attractive, easy-to-grow, cancer-fighting perennial.

Fresh Chives

In addition to being a tasty ingredient and colorful garnish, chives make an attractive addition to your garden.

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When most people think of chives (if they think of them at all) they primarily think of a garnish atop a baked potato, soup or salad. But chives are much more than just a garnish and warrant consideration as both a dietary and medicinal staple, particularly as we deal with increasingly virulent infection strains and rapidly rising cancer rates. Chives, a member of the Allium family, which includes garlic and onions, have been found to be effective against serious bacterial infections and are useful in cancer prevention and treatment. This beautiful perennial herb is a great addition to almost any meal and any garden.

A Brief History of Chives

People have used chives for more than 5,000 years. Native to Asia, chives were originally consumed by the Chinese and now are a part of many cuisines throughout Asia, Europe and North America. Colonists brought chives with them to America. More than a century ago, the Roma used chives in fortune telling.

A person would take a bunch of leaves and toss them onto a bare wooden table. Then the fortune-teller would determine his or her future prospects based on the configuration of the leaves.

How to Grow Chives

Chives are grown from bulbs that return every year with minimal care. The bulbs are so tiny you may not even know they are there. The foliage grows about 18 inches high in clusters, similar to grass, except the blades are circular and hollow inside. Chives thrive in most climates. When in bloom, they produce beautiful pink to purple flowers, making them a lovely decorative addition to edible gardens.

Chives prefer well-drained and thoroughly weeded soil, as they need adequate space. Plant about six bulbs in a cluster about 8 inches from other plants or additional chive clusters. Every few years, divide up some of the chive bulbs and move them to a new location. They require minimal water. The easiest way to tell when chives need watering is to pay attention to the tips of the leaves. If they look a bit dry, it’s time to water the plant. Avoid any heavy applications of nitrogen fertilizers. In the garden, chives help repel some insects and mildew. They are also easy to grow in pots indoors or outdoors. 

Harvesting and Using Chives

Using scissors, snip outer leaves of chives as needed about two inches above the base of the plant. After the plant has flowered, snip the flowering stems back to about two inches as well. To dry chives, cut off sprigs about two inches above the soil, wash, lay out on a baking sheet and dry in a 200-degree oven for an hour or two, or until completely dry. Once dry, store whole or cut into small pieces in an airtight container for up to a year. Fresh chive flowers are also edible (just ask the deer in my area) and are delicious and beautiful atop a mixed green salad or soup. The fresh or dried leaves are a delicious addition to potato and fish dishes. Chives are traditional in the Russian and Polish soft cheese known as tvorog, but can be used to flavor any soft cheese. Chives are also a delicious addition to gravies and sauces.

Antibacterial wonder: In a study published in the medical journal Molecules, French scientists found that chives demonstrated antibacterial action against the five tested strains of bacteria, including Staphylococcus, Listeria, Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli. They also found that chives were most effective against these bacteria when the chives were in their raw state and that they lost effectiveness as they were heated.

Cancer prevention powerhouse: Exciting new research published in the medical journal Cancer Prevention Research found that chives have potent cancer-prevention properties, particularly against gastrointestinal cancers. The researchers at the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture believe that the plant’s naturally present sulfur compounds are likely responsible for its impressive anti-cancer effects.

Cancer Fighter: Not only do chives help prevent cancer, the herb has also been found to stop existing cancer cells from proliferating, thereby halting or slowing the spread of cancer. While most studies explore the use of chive leaves, in a study published in the medical journal Molecules, researchers determined that chive flowers are not only pretty, but also have this potent anti-cancer ability.

Sore throat aid: Scientists at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Romania assessed the longstanding traditional use of chives as a sore throat aid. Their findings, published in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, indicate that an extract of chives is an effective sore throat remedy, largely due to the herb’s anti-inflammatory properties.

Use your new chive knowledge by trying out a new recipe: Dairy-Free Soft Cheese with Chives Recipe.

Michelle Schoffro Cook is the international best-selling author of 60 Seconds to Slim and The Probiotic Promise. Visit her website: Dr. Michelle Cook.