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Barbara Pleasant: Garlic Chives

groomed garlic chives
groomed garlic chives

Grooming Garlic Chives

More like tiny leeks than chives, Chinese chives are at their best in spring, when the leaves and stems are young and tender. A vigorous washing under cool water, followed by peeling off the outermost leaf (or two) will give you a clean white shaft. After cleaning, roll damp garlic chives in a paper towel and place it inside a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Use the garlic chives within three days.

Allium tuberosum
Allium tuberosum, 4-year-old clump
Garlic chive focaccia

Garlic chive focaccia got good reviews at my house, teamed up with a salad made from garden-fresh greens.

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garlic chives in garden

The onion family fascinates me, and I've grown garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), also known as Chinese chives, off an on for 30 years. A special food crop with potent nutraceutical properties, garlic chives lead a double life as a late-blooming perennial flower. Making the most of both talents requires special handling. In my garden, I manage several clumps of garlic chives differently, depending on their purpose.


The herb garden is home to the mother clump, which I grow for food, propagation and for flowers. Each spring I take clumps from mama's outside and transplant them to a harvesting bed, then snug in a compost mulch. I want the mother clump to bloom like crazy in August, because garlic chive flowers attract an abundance of beneficial insects. To avoid weakening the plants too much, I cut this clump only once, by using a sharp knife to slice off fistfuls of delicate chives at ground level.


The harvesting bed is a temporary home for small clumps destined for the table. I use a bed being prepared for tomatoes, because Allium tuberosum roots exude chemicals that inhibit the growth of harmful soil-borne bacteria. These little clumps can be harvested twice � first by cutting off the plants at ground level, and again when the plants are pulled prior to tomato planting.


The perennial garden has a clump of garlic chives, too, which I leave uncut because the strappy texture of the leaves flatters nearby plants. This heavy-blooming clump makes a comely companion for pink 'Party Girl' Japanese anemone, which blooms at the same time.

garlic chive flowers

Are Garlic Chives Invasive?

From Starter Vegetable Gardens: "Garlic chive seedlings can invade neighboring beds and gardens because it's an abundant seed producer; garlic chives' invasive tendency is strongest in cold climates. Gathering the vase-worthy white blossom clusters in late summer literally nips this potential problem in the bud."

Allium tuberosum
Allium tuberosum, cut from dug roots

Cooking With Garlic Chives


Asian dipping sauces that normally call for scallions take off in a new direction when infused with plenty of Chinese chives. I favor the Korean approach, which involves searing chopped Chinese chives in sesame oil for less than a minute before mixing them with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, a touch of honey, and lots of red pepper flakes.

→Pot stickers and dumplings are open to endless interpretations because garlic chives combine well with shrimp, pork or braised tofu.

Chinese chives with scrambled eggs is a classic dish that must be enjoyed at least once a year. Saute chopped garlic chives in butter until soft, then add beaten eggs.

Garlic chive quiche or tart is always a possibility, with Guyere most often recommended as the cheese of choice.

→Garlic chive pesto might be in order if you needed to get rid of a lot of garlic chives, but do try Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup, which combines garlic chives with seasonal greens like spinach, mizuna or Chinese cabbage. Regarded as a warming food in Chinese medicine, garlic chives can turn a simple miso soup into something special.