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What are chives

Updated on September 15, 2015
illustration of Allium schoenoprasum
illustration of Allium schoenoprasum


Chive is a perennial plant of the Liliaceae family, Allium species. The formal name of Chives is Allium schoenoprasum L., although there are other related species also, that come under the definition of chives. Chives are the smallest species of the edible onions that finds wide usage across the globe. Chives can be cultivated and harvested many times throughout the year as they are tolerant of cold and hot temperatures, grow rapidly and have ability to adapt to different environment. They are also easy to propagate, either from seeds or from division of clumps all year round. The long, cylindrical leaves of chives are used extensively for culinary purposes across the world. Their flowers at times are used for decorative purposes or for dressing salads. Traditionally, herbs of the Allium species have been considered a healthy food for their special spicy flavour. Unlike the pungent flavour of garlic and onions, the flavour of chives is milder and more delicate, and more easily acceptable to the palate.

Chives are rich in vitamins and mineral nutrients3 as well as flavonoid compounds, which act as antioxidants and protect us against oxidative toxins. Chives have the highest content of vitamin C and beta-carotene in comparison to other members of Allium species. Chives have green leaves that are soft in texture and are easily kept fresh and transported using drying and freezing techniques, this makes it an attractive crop for cultivation.

Allium schoenoprasum L.
Allium L.
Liliaceae (Lily family)
Liliopsida (Monocotyledons)
Magnoliophyta (Flowering plants)
Spermatophyta (Seed plants)
Tracheobionta (Vascular plants)
Plantae (Plants)
Scientific Classification of Allium schoenoprasum L. (Source: United States Department of Agriculture)

Synonyms : cive, chive, schnittlaugh, Allium schoenoprasum, Graslauk

Geographical source:

Wild chives are widely distributed from the Arctic regions to Asia, Europe and North America 1. At present chives are cultivated as vegetables or seasoning herbs all around the world, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. It is native to Europe, Asia and North America.

History of Chives

The species name originates from Greek root skhoínos (sedge) and práson (leek). Its English name, chive, derives from the French word cive, from cepa, which means onion in latin2. Chives originated in the north temperate zone. John Gerard (1545–1612), English botanist and barber-surgeon, included chives in his herbal list, published in 1597. Described in 1683 as a pleasant sauce and food potherb, and listed as part of seedsmen’s supplies in 1726,chives were losing favor in England by 178329. However, botanist E. Louis Sturtevant reported in the nineteenth century that Scottish families were still heavy chive consumers. Many consider them an indispensable ingredient in omelets.They have been much used for flavoring in continental Europe, especially in Catholic countries. Chives were also included in an 1806 list of American esculents29. In East Asia chives have been domesticated since ancient times 1

Chemical Composition and Nutritional Value

The key chemical constituents of chives are carbohydrates, proteins and amino acids, additionally they also contain many vitamins and minerals. The characteristic odor is due to volatile sulphur, glucosides and other chemical constituents. Studies into the chemistry of Allium flavour began in the 18th century.

Although a lot has been learned about Allium chemistry many questions still are to answered4. It is now known that the characteristic flavour of chive is the result of a multifaceted interaction among compounds. The flavour substances of various Allium species depend on the quantitative differences in the S-alk(en)yl cysteine sulphoxides (ACSOs). The Salk(en)yl cysteine sulphoxides (ACSOs), when hydrolyzed by the enzyme allinase, give rise to the flavour and pungency characteristic of the Allium plants 5. When the tissues of Allium are disrupted, the enzyme allinase hydrolyzes the flavour precursors. Sulphur compounds are present in the cytoplasm ofAllium cells in such a way that makes them physically separated from the enzyme allinase 6.

In Allium species, four different Salk(en)yl cysteine sulphoxides or ACSOs have been identified 6,7,8, 9, these are 2-methyl-2-butenal, 2-methyl-2-pentenal, methyl-propyldisulphide, and dipropyldisuphide present in the green leaves of chives. Besides this propencyl-propyldisulphide is present in chives, while allyl disulphide is definitely absent10. The principal thiosulfinate found in chive have n-propyl groups, methyl and 1-propenl groups.

When thiosulfates found in chives were studied, it was found that, 77 (75)% contain the n-propyl group, 10 (12)%contain the methyl and 12% contain the 1-Propyl group. Total thiosufates quantified was found to be 0.19 micromole/gram in wet (fresh) sample, about the middle level of the edible species of Allium. The n-propyl group in chives is more abundant than methyl, with the methyl/propyl 1:5.8. Chives have an onion-like flavour. The pungent and stimulating flavour of chives and onions is mainly due to the propyl group, but it is the quantitative and qualitative differences in the thiosulfates that give each species its own characteristic flavour. The flavour and lachrymatory properties of chives are due to the high n-propyl content, while the flavour of onions is due to the high proportion the 1-propyl that it contains.

The factors that affect flavour intensity and quality of chives include genetic, ecological and employed cultivation techniques. Chives grown in different years, areas and different cultivars, with different cultivation techniques, may have distinct flavour intensities.

Chives also contain flavonoid glycosides, principal ones are Quercetin glucoside, Isorhamnetin glucoside, Kaempferol glucoside 11and potentially more. The biological activities of flavonoids are mainly due to their antioxidant function. They are also known to inhibit several enzymes, including lipoxgenases and cyclo-oxygenase, etc. The green leaves of chive mainly contain kaempferol glucosides (di- and tri-glycosides), dominant as glucose and galactose. The 3-beta-D-glucosides of kaempferol, quercetin and isorthamnetin were isolated 12.

When chives are grown under different light conditions like Parabolic aluminized reflector light PAR or UV-B light, they exhibit variation in flavonoid response. Total flavonoids from the chives were calculated to be16.7 mg/10 g-1 f.w. The ratio of the kaempferol glucoside, quercetin glucoside and isorhamnetin glucoside was found to be 4:1:2. Exposure of PAR increased 30% of total flavonoids, and additional UV-B even by more than 80%. 13

Green leaves of chive mainly contain kaempferol glycosides with di- and triglycosides, the 3-beta-D-glocosides of kaemferol, quercetin and isorhamnetin as byglycosides from chive. The structures of eight anthocyanins have been determined in acidified methanolic extract of the pale-purple flowers of chives. Four of them have been identified as the anthocyanin-flavonol complexes, with the other four, anthocyanins were found. The covalent anthocyanin-flavonol complexes show intermolecular association between the anthocyanidin (cyandin) and flavonol (kaempferol) units, which influences the colour 14.

Nutrients in chives

Chives Raw (Value per 100.0g)
Chives Freeze dried (Value per 100.0g)
Total lipid (fat)
Carbohydrate, by difference
Fiber, total dietary
Sugars, total
Potassium, K
Calcium, Ca
Magnesium, Mg
Phosphorus, P
Sodium, Na
Iron, Fe
Zinc, Zn
Vitamin A, IU
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid
Folate, DFE
Vitamin B-6
Vitamin B-12
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)
Vitamin D
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated
Fatty acids, total saturated
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated
Nutritional value of chives (Source: National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 24)
Chive Flowers
Chive Flowers
Chive Seeds
Chive Seeds

Botany of Chives

Chives are cultivated as a biennial plants, although they are perennial plants. It becomes productive within a year of plantation. It has oval shaped Bulbs that are often clumped together. The leaves are 2 to 6mm wide that grow in clumps of 2 to 5. Leaves are slightly shorter than scape, terete, fistulose, smooth or scabrous denticulate.

The skin of the bulbs has a grayish brown colour, with yellow or purplish tints. The development of elongated rhizomes and clustered false bulbs are advanced character states ,usually clustered, ovoid-cylindric, 0.5–1 cm in diameter; tunic brown or tinged with yellow, papery, laciniate, sometimes fibrous at apex.

Chives start to flower by second year after seeding. The flower scape is cylindrical, thin hollow and smooth as shown in picture. Chives usually are out-crosser, and flowers are insect pollinated, but selfing frequently occurs as well Chives can easily be cultivated from seeds or from divisions.

Wild chives are little more interesting than the cultivated counterparts, they are often seen in mexerophytic habitats; meadows, forests and high mountain zones. Wild chives grow continuously all year round with no apparent dormant stage, and low winter temperatures only slow this down <sup>19</sup>. Chives exhibit a monopodial growth habit, and only become sympodial after the formation of the first generative meristem. Thereafter, Allium plants produce renewal bulbs and flowers every year.

Temperatures and light have marked affect on physical and chemical characteristics of this plant. Flowering usually does not occur if temperatures are above 18 <sup>o</sup> <sup>3</sup>. Chives also require cold exposure for floral induction like other members of Allium species.

Important Varieties of chives

The formal name of Chives is Allium schoenoprasum L. Syn. A. sibiricum 15, there are other species that are closely related and come under the definition of chives, the prominent ones are.

  1. Allium. schoenoprasum L. var. schoenoprasum, also known as Allium. raddeanum Regel; it flowers and fluits during July to September. Has one or two leaves that are shorter than scape. Grows abuduntly at an altitude of 2000 to 3000 meters above sea level, hence found in meadows, valleys, damp slopes in Xinjiang in China, Japan, Kazakhstan, India, Korea,Mongolia, Russia, Pakistan, Europe, and North America 16.
  2. Allium schoenoprasum L. var. scaberrimum Regel,17 Leaves, leaf sheaths, and scap are scabrous that denticulate along angles, the plant flowers in August is found widely in Russia, Kazakhstan, china and Mongolia. It grows at an altitude of 2000 to 2500 m along frest water streams.
  3. Allium schoenoprasum L. var. foliosum Mutel. This variety is native of the Mediterranean region and has two to five smooth leaves 18.
  4. Allium schoenoprasum L. var. orientale Regel. Bulbs of this species are usually solitary or paired and rarely clustered 16

When a section of Allium schoenoprasum is observed under microscope it shows several closely related speices, with partly unclear species status. This demonstrates its polyploid nature of Allium species. It is not certain whether geographical varietals exist, in this respect potential for further research exists.

Nowadays there are a few plants commonly called ‘chives’ or ‘green onions’ are available, but some of them are not Allium schoenoprasum. For example, Allium. cepiform, a ‘chive’ 3from China with tender leaves commonly known as xi-xiang-cong, is possibly a cross of Allium. cepa and Allium festival. Many people also call A. fistulosum L. var. aespitosum Makino ‘chive’. These varietals are different in flavour from chives, and usually have only white flowers, or no flowers.

Suggested method for harvesting chives manually

Chive Harvester For Large scale commercial cultivation

Chopped Freeze Dried Chives
Chopped Freeze Dried Chives | Source

Cultivation of Chives

A well-drained, fertile soil with medium acidity , PH around 6 to 6.5 is best for growing chives. Temperatures between 17–25oC are best suited, although it is tolerant to high temperatures. Tolerant of cold temperature,chives can germinate slowly when daily temperature averages 3–5 oC. Because of its shallow root system, care must be taken to maintain soil moisture, especially to prevent flooding. The plants will start to flower after staying dormant for a period in cold temperatures.

For commercial large scale cultivation, seeding in spring or autumn is preffered. Although Chives grow all year around and can be cultivated and harvested in batches throughout the four seasons. Division or seeding can be employed effectively. Once Seedlings attain a hight of 15 cm, it can be transplanted into soil pockets of 20 x10 cm in batch of 4-5 seedling in each pocket.

When the plant reaches 30 to 50 cm in height, usually in two months it can be harvested. The first harvest will produce a relatively low yield. Chives can be harvested about once each month, and more frequently after the second harvest, to about 5–7 times per year in warm areas, and 2–4 times per year in colder climates. Yeild In cold areas is about 15 ton/ha. Commercial scale harvesters are avilable as shown in video. When processing, do not cut to the sheath (4 cm above ground). On average, reseeding or dividing the clumps every four years will keep the productivity high. In some areas, harvesting is done by plucking the plants by the roots rather than cutting.

For chive farming a well drained, fertile sandy or clay soil is selected; cleanliness is maintained by regular weeding. Often soil is treated with high quality organic compost with appropriate N.P.K. Ratios. Chives are susceptible to root diseseas hence it is important to practice crop rotation and Integrated pest management(IPM). Integrated pest management(IPM) is a sustainable approach to managing diseases and arthropod pests. IPM promotes the use of a variety of strategies and tactics, including pest-resistant varieties and biological, cultural and chemical controls, in a way that reduces costs, conserves natural resources and minimizes health and environmental risks.

Rotations are a key aspect for a sustainable agricultural production system, a rotation of at least five years is recommended. Although chives can be grown in all kinds of soils, the most suitable soils are sandy loams to loams with a fair content of organic matter and good soil structure. Soil pH of 6–6.5 is considered sufficient. Chives demand a high nutrient level. In the years following planting, the annual uptakes in yield are 185–200 kg/ha for nitrogen, 17–20 kg/ha for phosphorus, and 120–140 kg/ha for potassium in the most intensively fertilized treatment producing the highest yield. Black plastic mulch is effective in increasing yield, controlling weeds and maintaining soil moisture.

Selected productive cultivars or populations produced 10–20% higher yields than the less productive cultivars. The results show that chive is feasible for commercial production with improving cultivation techniques 20.

Post harvest Processing of chives

Since predominant use of chives are for seasoning vegetables and other food products, special care is taken to preserve the fresh green appearance along with its unique aroma.

This is achieved by immediately storing the harvest at temperatures as low as 0 oC, but not lower in order to prevent freezing. Chives remain fresh for 7 to 14 days when stored at near 0 oC, with humidity of 95–100% 21.The respiration rate of chives increases with temperature. At 0 oC, mg CO2 kg-1h-1 is 22, which increases to 110 at 10 oC, and 540 at 20 oC 22. At temperatures above 10 oC, chives wilt quickly 24

Chives are also processed by heat or freeze drying. Heat drying is carried out at 50 oC. The cost of freeze drying is more than heat drying, but it preserves the flavor well. Mark reduction in vital nutrients is observed after drying/freeze drying chives, Almost 24–34% vitamin C, 19–21% chlorophyll, 11–18% beta-carotene, and 47–82% volatile sulphur is lost as a result of processing and exposure to atmosphere. Chive leaves for freezing contained 13.9 g dry matter, 133 mg vitamin C, 4.7mg beta-carotene, 121 mg chlorophylls (a + b), 40.4 mg nitrates, and 0.19 mg nitrites in 100 g of edible part. Blanching of the raw material before freezing reduced the level of dry by 22%, vitamin C 29%, beta carotene 20%, chlorophylls 21%, and nitrates 26%, while the nitrites increased three times. A further enhancement of losses was observed with a storage temperature at –20 oC, After 12 months storage of frozen chive, the preserved content of vitamin C ranged from 11 to 66%, beta carotene 37 to 65%, chlorophylls 65 to 75% and the nitrates 58 to 81%. 23

Post harvest Packaging and transportation of Chives

For the purpose of transportation chives are usually packed into 1–3 kg packets, containing bunches of 10–50 g and kept moist in wax cartons at around 2–6 oC. Pre-cooling is recommended 25. In an experiment, green tops were bunched, 25–30 g per bunch, packed in perforated or non-polythene bags (20x25 cm) and stored at 2, 5, 10, 15 or 20 oC 26

The control was kept unpacked. It was established that non-perforated bags were more suitable for storing tops than perforated bags and the longest satisfactory storage of 14–21 days was in nonperforated bags at 2 oC was observed. However rate of detoriation is higher when temperature increases.

Studies have been conducted on freshly harvested chives under simulated conditions of air transport from Israel to Europe, and also with an actual shipment, during which temperatures fluctuated between 4 and 15 oC 25. Packaging in sealed polyethylene-lined cartons resulted in a marked retardation of both yellowing and decay. However, sealed film packaging was applicable only if the temperature during transit and storage was well controlled, otherwise perforated polyethylene was better.

A dish containing chopped chives
A dish containing chopped chives

Uses of Chives

Chives are used as seasoning for many dishes, or as garnish. Chives especially add flavor to fish preparations. There is a very delicious Chinese dish known simply as fish with chives. Chives is frequently used in preparation of food items such as pancakes, buns, dumplings, and cookies. It can also be used in many dairy and meat products. Chives add flavor to veg. Fried rice served at Chinese restraints across the globe.

The development of the catering business and industrial preparation of ready-to-cook food, most frequently pizza and au gratin dishes, has increased the demand for chives throughout the year. This demand can be met by preserving the vegetable as a dried or frozen product.

Medicinal properties of Chives

Allium schoenoprasum L. exhibits following pharmacological effects namely Anthelminthic, Antiseptic, Aphrodisiac, Cardiodepressant, Carminative, Digestive, Diuretic, Expectorant, Hematinic , Hypotensive and Stimulant.27

It can be used in treatment or management of Blister, Boil, Dermatosis, Dysentery,Gas,High Blood Pressure, Hyperlipidemia, Infection,Obesity, Ophthalmia, Otosis, Parasite and Worm infestation.27

In flok medicine Chives are believed to improve digestion and stimulate appetite. They may be effective in releiving stomach upset, clear a stuffy nose, reduce flatulence and prevent bad breath. Chives help lower high blood pressure when used in combination with low salt diet. Additionally, it exhibits mild diuretic effect and antibacterial properties.28


Handbook of herbs and spices Volume 3 Edited by K. V. Peter, chapter 19 ,Chives
by H. Chen, Beijing Vegetable Research Centre, China
Other references
1. MCCOLLUM, G.D. (1976), Allium Liliaceae. In: Simmouds, N.W. (ed.) Evolution of Crop Plants. N.Y. Longman Inc., pp. 186–196.
3. RUBATZKY, V.E. and YAMAGUCHI, M. (1997), World Vegetables, second edition, N.Y. Chapman & Hall, pp. 325–326.
4. BLOCK, E. (1992), The organosulfur chemistry of the genus Allium – implications for the organic chemistry of sulfur, Angewandte Chem. International edition in England, 31, pp. 1135–1178.
5. RANDLE, W.M. and LANCASTER, J.E. (2002), Sulphur Compounds in Alliums in Relation to Flavour Quality. In Rabinowitch, H.D. and Currah, L. (eds) Allium Crop Science: Recent Advances CAB International, pp. 329–356
6. LANCASTER, J.E. and COLLIN, H.A. (1981), Presence of allinase in isolated vacuoles and alkyl cysteine sulphoxides in the cytoplasm of bulbs in onion (A. cepa). Plant Science Letters 22, 169–176.
7. BERNHARD, R.A. (1970), Chemotaxonomy, distribution studies of sulphur compounds in Allium. phytochemistry, 9, 2019–2027.
8. FREEMAN, G.G. and WHENHAM, W.J. (1975), A survey of volatile components of some Allium species in terms of S-alk(en)yl-L-cysteine sulphoxides present as flavour precursors. J. of the Science of food and Agriculture 26, pp. 1869–1886
9. YOO, K.S. and PIKE, L.M. (1998), Deter of flavor precursor compound S-ak(en) yl-L-cysteine sulfoxides by a HPLC method and their distribution in Allium species. Scientia Horticulture, 75, pp. 1–10.
10. WAHLROOS, O. and VIRTANEN, A.I. (1965), Volatiles from Chives (Allium schoenoprasum). Acta Chem. Scand., no. 6.
11. JUSTESEN, U. (2000), Negative atmospheric pressure chemical ionisation low-energy collision activation mass spectrometry for the characterisation of flavonoids in extracts of fresh herbs. Journal of Chromatography, A.902. pp. 369–397.
12 STARKE, H. and HERRMANN, K. (1976), Flavonois and favones of vegetables, VII, Flavonois of leek, chive and garlic (author’s trans.) (Flavonole und Flavone der Gem rten. VII. Flavonole des Porrees, Schnittlauchs und Knoblauchs) Zeitschrift für Lebensmittel-untersuchung und -forschung, 161 (1), pp. 25–30
13. NITZ, G.M., GRUBMULLER, E. and SCHNITZLE, W.H. (2001), Differential Flavonoid Response to Par and UV-B Light in Chive. ISHS Acta Horticulture 659: VII I. S.
14. FOSSEN, T., SLIMESTAD, R., OVSTEDAL, D.O. and ANDERSEN, O.M. (2000), Covalent anthocyanin-flavonol complexes from flowers of chive, Allium schoenoprasum L. Phytochemistry, 54 (3), pp. 317–323.
15. KAMENETSKY, R. and RABINNOWITCH, H.D. (2002), Florogenesis. In: Rabinnowitch, H.D. and Currah,L. (eds) Allium Crop Science: Recent Advances CAB International, pp. 31–68.
16. XU, J. and KAMELIN, R.V. (2000), Alluim Linnaeus, Sp. PI: 294, 1753. In: Wu Z.D. and Raven, P.H.(eds) Flora of China, Vol. 24. Chin Science Press and Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Beijing and St Louis, Missouri, pp. 165–202.
17. Trudy Imp. S. –Peterburgsk. Bot. Sada 3(2): 80. 1875)
18. MUTEL, A. (1834), Flora Francaise F.T. Levrault, Paris, Table 74.
19 CHEREMUSHKINA, V.A. (1992), Evolution of life forms of species in subgenus Rhizirideum (Koch)Wendelbo, genus Allium L. In: Hammer, K. and Knupffer, H. (eds). The Genus Allium – Taxonomic problems and Genetic Resources. Proceedings of an International Symposium, 11–13 June 1991. IPK, Gartersteben, Germany, pp.27–34.
20.SUOJALA, T. (2003), Yield potential of chive: Effects of cultivar, plastic mulch, and fertilization. Agricultural and Food Science in Finland, 12 (2), pp. 95–10.
21. SNOWDON, A.L. (1992), A Colour Atlas of Postharvest Diseases and Disorders of Fruits and Vegetables, Vol. 2, Vegetables, Wolfe Scientific, 416.
22. PEIRIS, K., MALLON, J.L. and KAYS, S.J. (1997), Respiration rate and vital heat of some specialty vegetables and various storage temperatures. Hort. Technology, 7: 46–49.
23. KMIECIK, W. and LISIEWSKA, Z. (1999), Effect of pretreatment and conditions and period of storage on some quality indices of frozen chive (Allium schoenoprasum L.). Food chemistry, 67 (1), 61–65.
24. CANTWELL, D. and REID, M. (1993), Postharvest Physiology and Handling of Fresh culinary herbs, J.Herbs, Spices, Med. Plant. 1: 83–127.
25. AHARONI, N., REUVENI, A. and DRIR, O. (1989), Modified atmospheres in film packages delay senescence and decay of fresh herbs, Acta Hort., 258, 255–262.
26. UMIECKA, L. (1973), Studies on the natural losses and marketable value of dill, parsley and chive top in relation to storage conditions and type of packing. (Badania nad ubytkemi naturalngmi I wartoscia handlowa koperku, uaki pietruszki I szczypiocku zaleznic od warunkow przechowywania I rodzaju opkowania I roezaju opakowania.) Biuletyn warzywniczy, 14, 231–257.
27. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs by James A. Duke with Mary Jo Bogenschutz-Godwin Judi duCellier Peggy-Ann K. Duke, 2nd Edition, CHIVES (Allium schoenoprasum L.) +++ ,page 191.
29. The Allium Species, The Cambridge World History of Food pg. 264


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      Bijender 3 years ago

      Where did you get this information from? This is incredible. I really appreciate such a detailed article on chives? By the way where do you get lyophylised chives in india?

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      naturalmedicines 3 years ago

      May be Chinese fast food shops ! Never bought it in India!

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