I sometimes wonder why garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are not as commonly grown as regular chives (Allium schoenoprasum). They are hardy perennials and just as easy to grow. Like regular chives, they can spread and become too much of a good thing. But more likely, they’re just less familiar and slower to creep into our kitchens.
Both plants grow in grass-like clumps, but while the common chive foliage is tube-shaped and grass-green, a garlic chive is a flat, blue-green blade. And its flavor is more garlicky than oniony, though not as strong or harsh as a raw clove of real garlic. Snip the leaves just as you would chives, as a seasoning and as a garnish, but be more liberal with them. These are larger, more robust plants, more vegetable than herb.
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Garlic chives are late, lovely bloomers
You’ll find garlic chives most often in Asian cookbooks; in fact, they are often called Chinese chives or Chinese leeks. Uses range from the meticulous, as in stuffed dumplings, to the ultra-simple, as in broths into which the leaves, cut an inch or two long, have been dropped and briefly simmered. Even the flower stems can be softened in cooking. Heat mellows the garlic taste as well.
The flowers themselves are another great reason to grow garlic chives. Where the familiar chive sends up small, rosy-purple globes in late spring, this one makes larger white star-shaped florets in late summer and early fall.
Both blossoms are fabulously attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinators, and both make pretty and pungent garnishes in salads. But those of garlic chives are much longer-blooming, on strong, straight, two-foot stems that are great for picking when so many other garden flowers have gone by. With both plants, leaves start to turn brown when the plants begin to flower, but because garlic chives are a late-season herb, the decline isn’t as much a drawback, ornamentally. You can cut the plants back any time you like to produce fresh leaves.
Start garlic chives with fresh seed in spring, or acquire a clump or two and divide them each year to increase your supply. Those of you who are laughing riotously at that sentence know that this may not be necessary. I don’t know why garlic chives spread so rampantly in some gardens and not in others. Mine have stood their ground in a tidy grid, planted eight inches apart, in a bed designed for food production. I have seen other herb or flower gardens, in diverse climates, where the plants wander charmingly among the other plants at will and are weeded out when there are too many.
If restraining them is important to you, grow garlic chives in a bed surrounded by mown grass. Keep them away from sites with paving stones, where plants self-sown in the cracks might be hard to pull out. And cut them frequently, for soup.
Damrosch is a freelance writer and the author of “The Garden Primer.”