Plants with a pur­pose

Why you need gar­lic chives

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - WORDS JENNY SOMERVELL

Gar­lic chives are an edi­ble that are def­i­nitely more gar­lic than chives.

They look sim­i­lar to or­di­nary chives at first glance too. But look more closely and the leaf tex­ture is solid, flat, and rather chewy, quite dif­fer­ent from the soft, rolled, hol­low leaves of chives.

Their mis­lead­ing com­mon name has led Western cooks to use gar­lic chives raw, with un­for­tu­nate re­sults, and they've never taken off as an edi­ble. It seems they need to take lessons from the cooks of south-east Asia who know the best thing to do is to add some heat.

Cook­ing meth­ods are di­verse, but gen­er­ally gar­lic chives (or Chi­nese chives as they are called over­seas) will be lightly cooked, both flow­ers and leaves. If over­cooked they lose their sub­tle flavour.

They can also be blanched, stir-fried, or in­cor­po­rated as part of a clear soup, in the same way you would use onion or gar­lic.

Va­ri­eties have been de­vel­oped for im­proved leaf, ten­der flower stems, and with broad leaves for grow­ing in the dark. The last kind are sold in bun­dles of pale, very ten­der leaves and are sought af­ter to ac­com­pany fried noo­dles.

When grown rapidly in ideal con­di­tions, gar­lic chives have a mildly gar­lic with a hint of onion, pleasant, flavour. The flow­ers or flo­rets have a sweet, mild, al­most rose-like scent and a pleasant taste. Once you taste them at their best, you will want more than one plant.

How gar­lic chives can im­prove your health

Gar­lic chives have been used as a crude ‘drug’ since 770BC. The part used is the seed, called kyushi, kyu­saichi or kyu­sai­jin.

Tra­di­tional uses were to help with lack of en­ergy, uri­nary in­con­ti­nence, kid­ney and blad­der weak­ness, lower back pain, swelling, pain in the knees, as a tonic, and as an anti-ag­ing sup­ple­ment.

They are rich in carotene, vi­ta­mins B, C and E, and sul­phuric com­pounds, in­clud­ing al­lyl sul­phide (also found in onions and gar­lic) that con­trib­utes to their dis­tinc­tive smell. Re­search shows al­lyl sul­phide is a pre­ven­ta­tive in skin cancer, liver cancer and cancer of the large in­tes­tine.

Re­search on gar­lic chives seed ex­tract shows prom­ise as an en­ergy en­hancer, im­mune booster, and for main­tain­ing healthy neu­ro­trans­mit­ters af­ter stress.

The added edi­ble bonus: the flow­ers

There is another rea­son to grow gar­lic chives. The flow­ers are star-shaped and creamy-white, held in heads or um­bels on long, straight, 60cm-high stems. They ap­pear in late sum­mer-early au­tumn when other flow­ers are wan­ing, and last for ages.

Even if they are not used in cook­ing, plants are worth in­clud­ing on the edges of the herb gar­den or veg­etable plot for their or­na­men­tal value. Bees and but­ter­flies love them and they are a use­ful late sea­son nec­tar source for ben­e­fi­cial in­sects.

Th­ese lit­tle blooms are de­light­ful in flower ar­range­ments and can also be dried for flo­ral dis­plays.

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