Allium tuberosum, garlic- or Chinese chives, is a monocot perennial in the onion genus. It ranges over east Asia from Mongolia in north to Phillipines in south, and Japan in east to Thailand in west, but because it is naturalizes easily following escape from cultivation, the center of origin is not clear (Brewster 1994).
Garlic chives grow in dense clumps formed of basal rosettes of 2–8 narrow leaves, up to 1 cm wide and 20 cm tall; the leaves are solid (rather than hollow, as in the related chives, A schoenoprasum) and flattened (Hilty 2011). The flowering stems (scapes) are also sold and sharply angled. The plant forms small or elongated bulbs attached by short rhizomes (FNA 2011, Hilty 2011). The fragrant, star-shaped flowers grow in open umbels, up to 5 cm across, which bloom in the summer or early fall, later than many other Allium species. The flowers do not produce bulbils or aerial bulblets, but instead produce small capsules with seeds. Garlic chives are often grown as ornamentals for the lovely and fragrant flowers, which attract bees, butterflies, and skippers (Hilty 2011).
The leaves of garlic chives are used as a culinary herb, similar to chives but with a more pronounced garlic flavor. Young flowers, which have a similar flavor, are also edible and are often used in salads. The seeds can also be eaten. Garlic chives produce sulfur compounds (including methyl sulfides and disulfides) similar to those found in garlic, but in much smaller amounts. They are considered to have similar medicinal properties (antifungal, antimicrobial, anticancer, improving circulation, etc.), but are not as widely used due to the lower amounts.
Garlic chives have been cultivated in China for 3,000 years and are commercially important throughout east Asia (Brewster 1994). Chive seed is described as medicinal in the “Ben Cao Gang Mu” by Li Shi Zhen, a famous traditional Chinese Materia Medica written during the late 16th century (Ming dynasty), with uses including combating lumbago and slowing frequent micturition. Extracts of Chinese chive seed are marketed today for its “anti-fatigue, anti-aging, and immune boosting properties” and as an aphrodisiac (cf. Oryza 2011).
Garlic chives spread readily by seed or vegetative offsets, and escapes easily from cultivation. Naturalized populations have been documented in parts of the U.S.: Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin (USDA Plants 2011); Illinois (Hilty 2011): and Michigan (Michigan Flora Online 2011). It is also reported to be established in New England (FNA 2011). However, it is not as widely invasive as the related species, A. vineale, crow garlic, or A. canadense, wild garlic (Hilty 2011).
- Brewster, J.L. 1994. Crop production science in horticulture, Volume 15: Onions and other vegetable Alliums. Wallingford, Oxon, Great Britain: CABI Publishing. 2nd ed.
- FNA. 2011. Allium tuberosum. Flora of North America 26: 240. Retrieved 26 October 2011 from http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=200027544.
- Hilty, J. 2011. “Garlic chives.” Illinois Wildflowers. Retrieved 7 October 2011 from http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/weeds/plants/garlic_chives.htm.
- Oryza. 2011. Chinese chive seed extract. Oryza Oil & Fat Chemical Co. Ltd. Retrieved 26 October 2011 from http://www.oryza.co.jp/html/english/pdf/Chinese_Chive_ver.1.2M.pdf.