Allium tuberosum

garlic chives


Allium tuberosum

Rottler ex Spreng. 1825

pronounced: AL-lee-um too-ber-OH-sum

(Amaryllidaceae — the amaryllis family)


common names: garlic chives

Allium is Latin for garlic; tuberosum is from tuberosus, full of lumps.
Originally from south-east Asia, garlic chives has become an invasive weed in some parts of Europe and North America. The clump photographed is in a roadside garden in Yule Street, Picnic Bay.

This allium is grown for its leaves, and not its little bulb. Individual leaves are harvested as needed – the younger leaves are tenderer than the old ones. The tough, fibrous bulb is elongate, and originates from a stout rhizome. The grey-green leaves, unlike those of either onions or garlic, are flat and grasslike, to about 40 cm long by about 8 mm wide. The plant grows in slowly expanding perennial clumps, and the leaves bend down under their own weight. The plant is grown from seed, or by dividing the clumps.

The inflorescence is attractive, standing above the leaf clumps on stalks up to 60 cm in length; there is a rounded umbel about 5 cm across, with a large number of small creamy white, star-shaped, fragrant flowers. Each perianth segment (petal and sepal) has a brown stripe
Garlic chives has a unique flavour, at the same time sweet and garlicky. There are several cultivars, some of which are grown especially for their edible flower-stalks.

All parts of the plant have an oniony smell when cut or crushed, although the flower scent is more suggestive of violets. Both leaves and flower-stalks are used as a flavouring in a similar way to chives, shallots or garlic, and are often used as a stir-fry ingredient. In China, Japan and Korea they are often used to make dumplings with a combination of egg, shrimp and pork. The flowers may also be used as a spice. In Vietnam the leaves are cut up into short pieces and used as the only vegetable in a broth with sliced pork kidneys. In Korea a clear soup is made with garlic chives and clams. In Nepal a curried vegetable dish, dunduko sag, is made from potato and garlic chives. The raw leaves can be used in salads.

The plant spreads by rhizomes and by self-seeding, and makes a good ground-cover or edging plant. It is equally at home in the herb garden, the vegetable garden, a flower bed, or as an edging along a mixed border or a path. It puts up with the heat better than true chives (Allium schoenoprasum), and doesn’t die back in summer. Whether grown for its leaves or as an ornamental, garlic chives is usually treated as a semi-permanent crop, and left in place for several years – most gardeners like to divide the clumps every 3 or 4 years. However, unless you want it to spread invasively, it is best to dead-head before the seeds are set.

Photographs taken Picnic Bay, 2011, 2014
Page last updated 3rd October 2018 2018