What Are Garlic Chives?

This bright green herb adds a hint of garlic to any dish

Garlic Chives or Chinese Chives

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We are all familiar with chives, the bright green, grass-like herb often appearing as a garnish, adding a hint of onion flavor to dishes. But did you know there are also garlic chives? Garlic chives (botanical name Allium tuberosum) may look like onion chives—also referred to as simply "chives"—but they actually taste like garlic. And whereas onion chives are hollow, garlic chives are distinguishable from chives by their flat, broader leaves and fragrant white flowers.

Garlic chives are also known as Chinese chives, Oriental garlic, Asian chives, and Chinese leek. This is because they are native to southwestern China, have been around for more than 4,000 years, and have been cultivated in other parts of Asia as well as around the world for culinary use. Garlic chives are also known for being ornamental plants. 

Identifying Garlic Chives

The garlic chive is a perennial plant that is grown from a fibrous bulb. Unlike other onions and types of garlic, however, the garlic chive's bulb is inedible. The grass-like leaves and abundant flowers grow to be between 12 and 15 inches tall and are often seen in borders or containers, as well as the herb garden. Besides adding a pleasant fragrance, they also attract butterflies. The flowers can be dried and used in arrangements.

Cooking With Garlic Chives

As you would expect from the name, garlic chives have a delicate garlic flavor. Garlic chives are a good choice for those who shy away from full-flavored garlic, just as regular chives are happily consumed by those who do not care for the strong taste of fresh onions or scallions. They are used extensively in Asian dishes, such as Cantonese spring rolls with pork and shrimp, and vegetarian potstickers. If you have a bunch of garlic chives that have flowered, stir-fry them in a simple sauce and serve with noodles. They are also delicious in a healthy chicken chow mein as well as an Asian-flavored dish of scrambled eggs.

But you can also use garlic chives as you would regular chives—in salad dressings, soups, and as a garnish. They are also delicious mixed with soft cheeses and incorporated in herb butter. When buying at the market, make sure you look for uniform, green leaves with a fresh scent.

Growing Garlic Chives

The beauty of growing your own garlic chives—besides that they are at hand whenever you need them—is that they are perennial, so you only need to plant them once, yet you will be able to enjoy them every Spring through Summer. Every three years you should divide the plant and either replant elsewhere or dry one bunch—otherwise, the garlic chive plant will take over your garden. When cutting the garlic chives, snip close to the ground to allow new growth. If you would like to preserve the fresh garlic chives for the winter, you can either dry or freeze them.

Benefits of Garlic Chives

Garlic chives are not only beautiful and tasty, but they also have several health benefits. They can stimulate the appetite, help your digestive system, have diuretic properties, and promote blood circulation.