Garden Time: Chives and Their Oniony Relatives

Spring onion chives in bloom. Copyright Jill Hendersonby Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz

It’s mid-November and an arctic blast is about to make its way all the way to the Gulf Coast.  But even though it is really beginning to feel like winter, gardening season isn’t over just yet!  Here in Zone 7 – where we’ve already had several hard freezes – the chives and their oniony relatives are still churning out a plethora of tasty leaves and succulent stems for the kitchen.  If you’ve never grown winter onions, you might be surprised how long “stinking rose” family members last in the winter months.  And believe it or not,  early winter is a great time to plant a few seeds of your favorite onion wanna-be!

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a quick look at the oniony herbs in the Allium genus, starting with the most well-known onion, Allium cepa – known variously as cooking- , sweet- , or storage onions.  Onions in the Aggregatum group of A. cepa include perennials such Egyptian Walking onions (A. cepa proliferum), Potato- or Multiplier onions (A. cepa aggregatum), and a few mysterious hybrids like the Wakegi (A. cepa × wakegi) and Triploid (A. cepa × cornutum) onions.

If we look a little further down the lineage we find bunching Welsh or Japanese onions (A. fistulosum), leeks (A. porrum), shallots (A. ascalonicum), and leeks (A. porrum).  And let’s not forget plain old onion chives (A. schoenoprasum) and garlic chives (A. tuberosum), both well-known edibles.

This is but a partial list of oniony relatives, for Alliums also include a wide array of ornamental cultivars, such as the Giant Chive (A. schoenoprasum var. sibiricum), which is grown exclusively for it’s showy flowers, as well as a myriad of wild relatives including ramps (A. tricoccum) and wild onions (Allium canadense).  Of course, no list of alliums is complete without mentioning those healing herbs in the garlic realm (Allium sativum), which includes softneck-, hardneck-, elephant-, and numerous wild garlics.

Egyptian Walking Onions.  Copyright Jill HendersonI think we can all agree that onions are pretty amazing.  And with so many kinds to choose from, there’s absolutely no excuse not to have at least two or three (or eight) growing in your garden!

I probably don’t have to tell you how good Alliums are for eating, or how good they are for your health, but I just can’t resist the healthful part!

Onions and garlic share many of the same chemical constituents and are used in similar ways.  Of the two, garlic is the stronger medicinal.  The full potential of garlic’s ability to heal and promote good health is staggering. Some even call garlic a panacea, or cure-all. My family among them!

To our benefit, garlic and onion both reduce the incidence of blood clots as well as high cholesterol and high triglyceride levels. Both are strong preventatives of heart disease, hypertension, angina, and irregular heartbeat. These two herbs are well-known for their ability to inhibit or destroy bacterial, fungal, and viral infections, reduce inflammation, and to stimulates the immune system. In fact, the antibacterial action of garlic is so strong that its healing action is often compared to penicillin!

These two powerhouse herbs have been used to treat yeast infections, athlete’s foot, colds, flu, pneumonia, staphylococcus, streptococcus, cholera, bacillus typhus, tuberculosis, dysentery, diarrhea, enteritis, stomachache, sinusitis, sore throat, tonsillitis, symptoms of HIV, allergies, upper respiratory disturbances, earache, headache, burns, bites, stings, Lyme disease, ulcers, arthritis, gout, herpes, and worms!  (whew!)  And for common colds and flu, onions can’t be beat for treating fever, cough, and bronchial congestion, or garlic for busting the bugs that caused it in the first place!

Fall-blooming garlic chives. Copyright Jill HendersonAlliums are not only good for us, but they’re also good for our gardens.  When planted in and among vegetables and flowers, the stinking roses steal the show! They simultaneously repel insect and animal pests while attracting beneficials and butterflies.  The plethora of bright white, pink or purple flowers also does wonders for the gardener’s soul.  And Alliums are fierce fungicidal agents used against powdery mildew and other leaf disease.  A simple tea made with Allium leaves can be sprayed on garden plants such as peas and roses with no worries of harming them.  It might even repel a few bugs and a curious deer or two.

If you want to grow onions or chives in your garden (and who wouldn’t?!), you’ll be happy to know that you can probably start at least a few in your garden right now!  They may not come up right away if the weather is very cold, but as soon as it warms up just a little (either during the winter or in very early spring), those seeds will pop up everywhere!  Start with fresh seed, though.  Those that are over a season old probably won’t germinate.  If the ground is already frozen in your neck of the woods,  go ahead and start them indoors and grow them on a windowsill for food and fun!  Sow seed 1/2” deep, 2 in. (5 cm) apart and allow ten to fourteen days for germination. Alliums make for great indoor herbs, too! Just keep the tops trimmed back to about 8 in. (20 cm) tall.  After that, you can plant them outdoors anytime the soil is workable.

Fall and early winter are also prime time for planting garlic in the garden.  Don’t use seed for this, though.  Garlic from seed takes two or three years to form large bulbs (if they ever do).  Better to break apart a clove of garlic, planting only the largest toes for best results.  Grocery store garlic works fine.  You can branch out to fancier varieties later, when you have the time.

Winter sown garlic. Copyright Jill HendersonSow each toe, blunt end down and pointy end up, 6 in. (15 cm) deep and 10 in. (25 cm) apart. Do not remove leaves that grow before freezing weather sets in and be sure to mulch heavily (6”-8” worth) with straw or chopped leaves once the ground has frozen to prevent heaving.  If the weather has already gone south, don’t sweat it.  The roots will grow underground, even if you don’t see any foliage on top.  All you have to do is wait until summer and then harvest!

I think we can all agree that onions are pretty amazing.  And with so many kinds to choose from, there’s absolutely no excuse not to have at least two or three growing in you garden!  So get to know you’re chives and their oniony relatives – you’re health, your garden, and your family will thank you for it!

© 2014 Jill Henderson  Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.


THPOKH-214x321_thumb7The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs

Learn how to grow and use the world’s oldest, safest, and most medicinal herbs with this easy step-by-step guide!  From starting seeds to preparing home remedies, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs is a treasured resource that you will turn to time and time again.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.
Look inside!


Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.


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2 responses to “Garden Time: Chives and Their Oniony Relatives

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I couldn’t cook without garlic and onions.
    Also, I have a little cat that almost died back in July. He has FIV….the vet didn’t expect him to live past the day. I asked the Man who Knows, and he told me to make a certain formula, which went heavily on minced garlic. I did, and my cat resumed eating, and has recovered. I give him a dose of garlic oil periodically, and he looks good again……so garlic works on FIV. Just so you know….

  2. Wow, that’s awesome, Di! I’ve often read that garlic and onions are not good for cats and dogs, but I’ve given them to my pets from time to time for various ailments with success. I guess your kitty is living proof that sometimes garlic is the magic bullet we know it can be!

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