Chives (Allium schoenoprasum; Alliaceae)

Description

Perennial bulbous plants with tubular, grasslike leaves to 4— 10 in. (10—25 cm), which die down to ground level in late autumn. Round heads of purple flowers in June-July. There is a giant variety, to (45 cm) tall, much less well-flavoured. Origin, the Northern Hemisphere but rarely found naturally in Britain.

Uses

Almost exclusively in cooking, for the delicate onion flavour of the leaves. Seldom used medicinally, though they are said to have some slight good effect on digestion.

History

The cultivation of chives dates back to their use in 3000 B.C. by the Chinese and they have been used ever since by various civilisations. Introduced to this country by the Romans, the word schoenoprasum gives the plant its other, ancient common name of rush leek, since schoenos is a rush and prason, a leek, both being derived from Greek.

Cultivation

Sow seeds outdoors in spring 10 in. (25 cm) apart in drills in medium to heavy soil and sun or shade; thin to clumps about 6 in. (15 cm) apart. Also increase by dividing in spring or autumn. Remove the flowers to encourage leaf production; water well in dry weather. Mulch in autumn with garden compost. Cover with cloches to protect from frost as long as possible, or pot up and grow in an indoor window sill in 6-in. (15-cm) pots.

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