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If you can grow grass, you can grow chives

Our herb garden is conveniently situated just a few steps from our kitchen door —and one of our favorite culinary herbs, chives (Allium schoenoprasum), is ready to eat.

The ancient Chinese were the first to document that chive leaves were used for culinary and medical purposes.

In fact, as far back as 5,000 years ago, ancient-Chinese patients were directed to eat the leaves of fresh chives to reduce excessive bleeding, and as an antidote for particular poisons.

Somewhat later, the ancient Greeks and Romans discovered that chive leaves had medicinal properties, too. But more important, the mild and onion-like flavor of chive's hollow and tender leaves made chives an even more popular culinary herb than it is today.

Native to Asia, and a member of the onion family of plants, chives are bulbous and frost-hardy perennials that look like course clumps of grass growing in small bunches. Chive leaves taste best when they're freshly harvested and eaten before they flower. But their leaves can also be harvested and eaten as soon as they sprout.

Which reminds me. Chives can be frozen before being eaten and still taste terrific. But chives that have been dried, prior to being stored, lose their flavor.

Each chive leaf, incidentally, produces a single, edible flower that forms a fluffy, pale-blue, 3/4 -inch sphere.

Chives are so easy to grow, if you can grow grass, you can grow chives —in your garden and as indoor or outdoor potted plants.

In the garden, chives grow best when provided with full sun and soil that drains freely. They can also be grown from seeds sown now, or they can be started from store-bought, potted plants. But chives also readily self-sow themselves, if their tiny black seeds are permitted to ripen.

Besides chives, a few other frost-hardy herbs that can be sown, transplanted and harvested from the garden at this time of year are mints, oregano and parsley.

This week in the garden

Frost-tender plants can sometimes be saved from damaging spring frosts by spraying them with water, because when water freezes on the surface of a plant, the plant's tissues are somewhat insulated from a lower drop in temperature.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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