Plants with a purpose
Why you need garlic chives
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.