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A Special Herb

This specialty crop was believed to bring physical strength in ancient Rome, so it was fed to racehorses, wrestlers, and workers. Hung from the rafters, it is said to prevent bad luck. And it was also thought to improve appetite, kidney function, and blood pressure, plus help relieve sunburn and throat pain. Can you guess which specialty crop I’m writing about today?


The Herb Society of America shares all of those facts about the humble chive! The University of Wisconsin-Madison goes on to share that chives are native to Europe, Asia, and potentially North America, though they’re not certain if they’re truly native or just naturalized. For more than 3,000 years, the Chinese have used chives medicinally and in their cooking, helping bring some more flavor to their dishes. Today, the use of chives is primarily culinary, but they can also be used in landscaping, with their foliage and flowers providing texture and a nice pop of color when in season.



Chives can be started with seeds or by dividing existing plants, and they will return year after year as a perennial. It’s helpful to remove the foliage before the spring to give the new growth a clean start on the season. The plant goes blooms in mid-spring and the flowers are a big attractant for pollinators, especially bees. Chives self-seed an area after pollination occurs, but removing the flowers after they fade, called deadheading, can reduce that. Chives prefer full sun, are drought tolerant, and have low nutrient requirements. They do have a shallow root system, though, so care must be taken when weeding the area so as to not accidentally pull up the chive plant.


Once the leaves have reached about six inches long, chives can be harvested at any time during the harvest season. Cutting a handful of leaves as they are needed from a selection of the plant allow a continued harvest. If the entire clump is cut, it will take several weeks to be ready for another cutting. Using scissors or a knife, just cut the selected leaves about two inches from the soil. You can use the chives right away, store them in your fridge, freeze them, or dry them, though they are at peak flavor and condition when used shortly after harvest.


Chives are often cut into smaller pieces and then included in recipes or used as a topping. The light onion flavor of the chive goes great with eggs, potatoes, breads, butters, sauces, and even Wisconsin cheeses!


Whether growing your own chives, buying them from a grocery store, or finding them at your local farmers market, they are the perfect addition to many recipes. As the old saying goes, “The chef whose potato salad lacks chives is a chef who himself lacks soul.”

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