Uses Of Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) - image to repin / share
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Chives - Botany And History

Chives are a relatively ancient and well-known bulb-forming perennial culinary herb, directly related to garlic, onion, scallions, and leeks, although among all of those spices, it is the second (next to scallions) that is referred to and predominantly employed as an herb, technically due to the fact that chives are actually a type of vegetable - albeit an only recently introduced one when it comes to the Western culinary and medicinal sentiment. Chives were once initially very well-employed and much-used herbs for various styles of cooking, although modern applications for the herb tends to be somewhat few and far-flung, with the exception of some types of cuisines (i. e. Chinese or French) which continue to use chives as an integral part of their 'flavour palette'.

Chives are generally used for milder types of cuisines which call for only very trifling amounts of pungency, as the herb's flavour profile itself veers between that of garlic and onions, with only a hint of scallions, the whole of which is generally muted and reduced to only half-hearted pungency that is perfect for foodstuffs such as seafood, salad-greens, and even some types of dessert. While chives all belong to one distinct type of the Allium species, there are a number of distinct varietals, many of which often possess unique flavour profiles wholly distinct from other similar species. Chives are also the only specie of the Allium family which is found in both the Old and the New World. Two of the most popular varietals of chives are garlic chives, and common chives, although these tend to be used interchangeably, and are often mistaken for one another, especially in Western cuisine.

Chives are commonly believed to be a native of the British Isles, although they are in fact a predominantly Chinese herb which grows profusely in the wild throughout much of China, having been harvested as a wild-crafted herb, and later, cultivated for trade and commerce since prior to the Spring and Autumn Periods (circa 771 - 476 BC) until well into the Industrial Period, with continuous usage (albeit with subtle changes to its purpose and employment) lasting to this day.

Chives are characterized by their gaudy, lavender, grey, or pale-yellow hued inflorescence, which is among the most noticeable parts of the whole plant, aside from the long, tough-looking, glossy hollow stock that measures thirty to a maximum of fifty centimetres in length upon maturity. The flowers typically grow in clumps of some ten to thirty florets, typified by their six-petaled spread, although some species of chives, especially the ones in the New World, grow only solitary inflorescences and are less gaudily hued than Old World varietals. Because it belongs to the onion and garlic family, chive also possesses a unique root system which develops (upon maturity) into a sizeable bulb, that, like the bulbs found in its relatives, can also be employed as a culinary spice. Unlike onions and garlic however, chives are predominantly grown for their leaves, with the tiny bulbs which ensue from its root-system being taken into consideration as being part of the leaf system instead of separate from it. Chives are also grown for their gaudy flower-clusters, which are often employed more for horticultural aesthetics than for any medicinal or culinary usage, although has (and continues to be used) for such applications, albeit in lesser instances, and only for a distinct range of cuisines. [1]

Due to the sulfur compounds found throughout much of the constituent parts of the plant, chives are generally repellant to most insects, making it quite pest-resistant. Because it is a mild herb, chives are typically used fresh and are often grown indoors in small pots, to be picked and chopped as needed, as dried chives are usually less flavourful. [2] In countries such as China however, dried chives are commonplace, although it is usually reserved for medicinal rather than culinary purposes. The mature bulbs of the plant may also be dried and powdered, and later employed for both culinary and medicinal use, although such a practice is now becoming less commonplace.

Chives - Herbal Uses

Chives have long been employed in both the culinary and medical world as a spice and an herbal medicine. It's earliest usage hearkens back to Ancient China, where it was primarily employed as a medicinal herb prior to its integration into Chinese cuisine. Because it is the only species of Allium that thrives in both the New and Old World, chives have also been employed by the Ancient Greeks and the aboriginal societies of the Americas, although only on a strictly medicinal range which walked hand-in-hand with its integration to an assortment of foodstuffs, making it, indirectly a culinary herb. [3]

Most modern applications of chives veer towards the culinary more so than the medicinal, with the herb being a preferred complimentary ingredient for light meals and foodstuffs which require only mild flavours and subtle nuances. In general Asiatic cuisine, chives are typically added to poultry-based dishes, or otherwise integrated into sweetmeats or pasty-based desserts. In the West, chives are usually employed as a milder alternative for garlic or onions, and as an even milder alternative for shallots. Due to its trifling flavour, it is often the perfect choice for dishes such as omelettes, salads, Western-style stir-fried foodstuffs, and even meats such as poultry. Chives are also an excellent spice for seafood-based dishes, especially when combined with complimentary herbs such as dill and thyme. Both the leaves and the blossoms of the plant have been employed as complimentary seasonings for a number sauces, although it use for such purposes seems to be more of a mainstay for French and Germanic cuisine. A number of European countries also employ chives as an additive to, or a complimentary herb for various types of cheeses. Due to its mild flavour, chives also play an integral role in the creation of fines herbes - a collection of mild tasting herbs combined into a handy bundle (akin to a bouquet garni) which is a mainstay of French cuisine, and is near indispensible for the creation of soups. [4]

The medicinal usage of chives is generally more pronounced in Traditional Chinese Medicine more so than Western alternative medicine, chiefly due to the fact that the plant grows profusely in China and has been employed for both culinary and medicinal purposes since ancient times. The most popular variety of chives for Chinese cuisine and healing are garlic chives, which tend to be moderately stronger than regular chives, and possesses a distinct garlic-like aroma and flavour imbued within the leaves itself. Garlic chives are either integrated into foodstuffs or otherwise brewed into a mild decoction and drunk as a digestif. Traditional Chinese Medicine purports powerful anti-diarrheal, carminative, expectorant, and antiseptic benefits derived from a decoction of garlic chives. When brewed into a moderate to strong decoctions, it can be employed topically as an antiseptic, a mild analgesic, and a topical disinfectant, although its benefits are far below that of garlic. [5] Foodstuffs containing either regular or garlic chives are often given to anaemic patients to help counteract the condition. This remedy, combined with the consumption of tonifying and 'warming' or 'yang' tonics in order to help rejuvenate the body. It is typically given as a restorative medicine, either by itself, but most commonly as an ingredient in food, due to its stimulatory and nutritive properties (chives contain significant amounts of Vitamins A and C, as well as trace amounts of calcium, sulfur, iron, and trifling amounts of potassium). It's diuretic properties and its capacity to help improve the overall circulatory capacity of the body is touted as among its most beneficial medicinal properties in the light of Traditional Chinese Medicine. [6]

In the Western context, chives are predominantly employed as a culinary herb, usually in accompaniment with eggs, poultry, and seafood, although it can also be integrated in heartier meals such as ones made from beef or pork. In the medicinal sense, the employment of chives tend to be a bit more limited, and sometimes even inextricable from its culinary applications, as most of the Western remedies which include chives are found in food-based 'cures', more than 'medicinal remedies'-proper. Soups and stews which contain chives or that is seasoned by fines herbes are often given to sick or convalescent individuals as a nutritive meal to help hasten healing. In most Western folk remedies, chives are integrated into soups or stews and given to an individual at the first sign of illness, and is generally thought of as a potent remedy for colds, fever, flu, and mild coughing. [8] Its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties have even been employed by Western herbalists as a natural disinfectant, and, if made into a very strong decoction, can even be used as an effective remedy for halitosis and as a means to hasten the healing of minor wounds and other skin injuries. [9] A very strong decoction of chives, if applied topically, can even be used to remedy fungal and bacterial infections. If used as a hairrinse, it not only helps to remedy dandruff and eczema, but also alleviate the oiliness of the scalp while improving the texture and shine of hair. Due to its mild rubifacient properties, it may even help to combat the early signs of alopecia areata and hair fall brought about by nutritional deficiencies, as it helps to increase blood-flow to the scalp - an action which is believed to stimulate hair follicles to flourish, and for hair to grow faster.

In Western folkloric medicine, foodstuffs which contain significant amounts of chives, or even moderately decocted tisanes made from chives are said to help increase the overall metabolic rate of the human body, and is believed to be helpful for individuals who suffer from obesity. Due to these properties, it can even be employed to lower cholesterol levels and to act as a mild, but no less effective cardio-protective tonic. [10] Consumed in small dosages, it may even be helpful for pregnant women, as chives contain significant amounts of folic acid, which helps in the overall development foetuses, and to boost the immune-system of pregnant mothers.

Chives - Contraindications And Safety

While the general moderate consumption of chives in food amounts (and the moderate employment of the herb in medicinal dosages) is considered generally safe, pregnant women should lessen (if not altogether avoid) the consumption of foodstuffs which contain above-trifling amounts of chives, as it may cause complications. Individuals who are under diuretic medication, whether synthetic or natural, should likewise limit their intake of chive and chive-containing foodstuffs to a minimum lest the overconsumption result in complications. There is, so far, no available data with regards to the possible interactions that chives may have on synthetic or organic medication, chiefly due to the fact that it is only rarely employed medicinally in the West, and very little branches of Western medicine encourage its usage as a food supplement. It is therefore advised, for one's general safety, that only moderate amounts of chive be consumed for medicinal or general purposes, and that one not self-medicate or employ the medicinal use of the herb for longer than a week without expert medical supervision.

Chives - Esoteric Uses

Chives have long been employed esoterically in much the same light as its other relatives - the garlic and the onion. While no magickal associations can be culled from Asiatic sources, in the Western context of sympathetic magick, chives were often used as talismanic items said to ward-off evil and drive away illness. In country settings, it was usually planted outside households in the belief that it would not only dispel malevolent spirits, but also guard the inhabitants within against illness and bad-luck. Freshly cut chives were often brought into sickbeds and hung above ailing or bedridden persons in the hopes of it enabling a hastening of healing. Chives were believed to be excellent amulets for children, as it not only protected them from sickness, but it also guarded them against little folk and other entities which may cause them harm. [11]

While the modern employment of chives in current magickal practice has somewhat become nonexistent, some neo-shamanic practitioners still employ its traditional use a talismanic herb. When burnt as a smudge, it can be used in lieu of sweet grass to cleanse one's person of negativity and to help ward against diseases. Any other magickal applications seems to be non-existent, although some branches of magick such as Wicca may employ chives in lieu of garlic if the latter is unavailable.

Chives - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: jiucai / gu-chai / kucai / gau choy fa
Japanese: nira
Korean: buchu
Sanskrit: kudda / kuih
French: ail civette / ail tubereux / brelette / ciboulette / civette / cives / fausse echalote / oignon sauvage / cebollin
Italian: cebolla / cebolleta / cebollino / cebolla China / cebolla de verdeo
Spanish: cebolla (pronounced: 'see-ball-yah')
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Allium schoenoprasum

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Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt.

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