Chives are part of the allium family of vegetables and herbs. This family also includes garlic, scallions, onions and leeks. Allium vegetables have been cultivated for centuries for their characteristic, pungent flavors and for their medicinal properties.
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.
Chives will add an onion or garlic flavour to omelettes, salads, soups and sauces. They contain vitamins A and C, minerals such as potassium and manganese and dietary fibre. In Victoria, chives are at their peak between November and March.
When preparing chives, use a sharp knife and cut gently. Using a dull knife or over-chopping will bruise the herb, and much of the flavor will be misplaced onto the cutting board surface.
Apart from egg and cheese dishes, chives go well with creamy vegetable dips and as a topping for soups and salads.
The flowers are also edible, and they can be used in salads.
Another kind of chive, known as garlic chives, or Chinese chives, have a flat leaf and a garlic flavor. They can be used dried or fresh, in the same way as the more familiar chives.