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Three cheers for the two chives

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By Randy Hobson

Many people are familiar with the practice of combining a baked potato with sour cream and chives. Fewer people are aware that two kinds of chives make an excellent addition to a Citrus County edible landscape.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), also known as onion chives, are perennials and the smallest species of the edible onions. Chives are the only species of the genus Allium native to both the Old World and the New World. The grass-green leaves growing from small bulbs are slender, tubular, and hollow. The beautiful, lavender flowers are used both in dried flower arrangements and as culinary garnishes. Bees frequent chive flowers for nectar.

The fibrous bulbs of chives are not eaten, but the tender leaves can be harvested at any time during the growing season. Many years ago, when my parents lived in the Panhandle, we worked together and planted half a whisky barrel with a variety of herbs. Mom and dad harvested the herbs with scissors, and giving the chives a “haircut” was part of the fun.

The leaves are used fresh or dry-frozen. Dehydrating damages the flavor of chives. According to the University of Florida IFAS website, chives are best grown from seeds or sets planted August through March. Division of existing plants is the best method for quickly propagating chives. I prefer container-growing chives; moving the container allows accommodations for extremes of weather. Chives have a reputation for repelling insects and are often used in companion planting.

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), also known as Chinese chives, are native to Southeastern Asia. Garlic chive leaves are flat, not tubular, and blue-green in color. The flowers, found on 1- to 2-foot stalks are star-shaped and white. The edible flowers also attract bees.

Garlic chives are hardy and can be established directly into your edible landscape. In a garden where I grew herbs to harvest for restaurants, I lined the paths with garlic chives. The leaves were harvested, along with the flowers for garnish. Garlic chives will spread in a garden, even serving as a ground cover, but liberal use in the kitchen will keep them corralled.

While onion chives are grown and used in small quantities, garlic chives have been described as more vegetable than herb. Used freely in recipes, the leaves and flower stems of garlic chives grace meals from around the world including China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, India, the Phillipines and others. Some recipes call for garlic chives to be chopped finely. In others, the leaves are cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces and gently simmered. The cooking mellows the flavor.

Choosing between positive alternatives can sometimes be difficult, but in the case of onion chives and garlic chives, you can grow them both and eat them, too. Happy landscaping and happy eating!

Randy Hobson, a licensed landscaper and plant enthusiast, can be reached at 352-613-0542.