What are Garlic Chives?

Henry Gaudet

Garlic chives — also known as Allium tuberosum, ku chai, gow choy, oriental garlic Chinese chives, Chinese leeks and nira — are an herb native to Asia and a common ingredient in Asian cooking. Unlike the tubular leaves of chives, they have thick, flat, bladelike leaves, the part of the plant most often used in cooking. All parts of the plant, including the flower, can be used in recipes as an herb, spice or garnish.

Japanese miso soup requires garlic chives.
Japanese miso soup requires garlic chives.

As the name implies, garlic chives have a taste similar to chives, though with a sharper taste similar to garlic. They are not as strong as garlic, though, and are especially useful for salads and uncooked dishes where some garlic flavor is needed but raw garlic would be too strong. In fact, when cooking, it is important to add garlic chives quite late, because they lose flavor when cooked for too long.

Some fragrant Asian soups feature garlic chives alongside other vegetables.
Some fragrant Asian soups feature garlic chives alongside other vegetables.

Stir fry dishes often include garlic chives for flavor and garnish. It is a critical ingredient for Japanese miso soup. In western cooking, they make a tasty stand-in for chives and can be used in soups, salads, sauces or entrées. The root can be used as a substitute for garlic, with a softer, more delicate flavor.

Flavorful garlic chives can be added to Chinese stir-fry dishes.
Flavorful garlic chives can be added to Chinese stir-fry dishes.

A ready supply of garlic chives can be found by growing them in an herb garden, where they grow in tight clumps. Seeds are tiny and must be fresh for good growth. Garlic chives can survive dry spells, but they do best with regular watering. They prefer direct sunlight but will grow well in slight shade. White clusters of flowers, which can be used to season and garnish meals, blossom during the summer.

Garlic chives may be added to salads.
Garlic chives may be added to salads.

Plants must be trimmed back regularly to prevent them from self-seeding and taking over the garden. When harvesting, the plant should be trimmed close to the ground to control seeding. Even if the herbs are not being used, regular harvesting still is recommended to control growth. Some growers also cover the plants with straw after harvesting, a process known as blanching, to further control growth. This not only will slow the plant’s growth, but it causes any new leaves to appear white.

Garlic chives are commonly used in a wide variety of Asian dishes.
Garlic chives are commonly used in a wide variety of Asian dishes.

Topical and oral folk cures using garlic chives have been used to treat fatigue, anemia, cuts and insect bites, and they even have been used as a poison antidote. Seeds also have been used to treat liver and kidney conditions and digestive complaints. Garlic chives are rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, calcium and iron.

Garlic chives have been used to treat insect bites.
Garlic chives have been used to treat insect bites.

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