Chives have been part of my life as far as I can remember. My mother used to add them to soups, vegetables, salads and creamy cheese, wherever the nice taste would enhance the dishes she cooked for us. The secret was to finely chop the small, long leaves and to sprinkle them over the food just before serving.
It was only years later, whilst writing a book about kitchen and healing herbs that I discovered their long history. Chives are related to garlic, leek, onion and shallot and as a part of the lily family, they are also close to hyacinths, lilies of the valley and tulips. Being actually one of the oldest kitchen herbs, chives were used in China’s culinary tradition already 3000 years b.Ch. for the fine and delicate flavor. In the medical field people used them against poisoning and to stop bleeding. The plant then found its place in the ancient Roman world as remedy against sunburns. They also liked the “green pipes” in sauces or as side dish for eggs and meat. Nicolas Culpeper (1616-1654), finally, classified chives under the dominion of Mars and bewared from eating them because …they send up very hurtful vapours to the brain, causing troublesome sleep and spoiling the eyesight.
Today we know that due to its contents in calcium, essential oils, iron, phosphor, potassium, sodium as well as the pro-vitamins A and B2, chives are really good for the health. A mere hundred grams cover the daily need in vitamin C. The kitchen herb is known to be a mild anti-inflammatory and has also some antibiotic properties. It stimulates the production of gastric juices enabling a better digestion of greasy food. Whilst my mother grew this herb for its culinary use, I don’t think she knew what compromising little plant she was cooking with. For centuries it was said that chives provoke “impure thoughts” and that a regular consumption renders women particularly fertile. There must be a reason that the Celtic called it allium meaning “ardent heat”.
As far as cosmetic uses go, for quite a long time the fresh green has been used as a sort of beauty product, too. Soaked in oil and applied onto the face it would hopefully remove spots and freckles. The protecting skin of the tiny onions, boiled in water and applied on the scalp, was considered a valuable preparation against grey hair.
Chives are not often used in the Mediterranean kitchen and I was surprised when I saw it growing wild in fields, meadows and vineyards. Then I found out that formerly, here in Tuscany they used to call it porro di vigna, viz. “vineyard leek” and that it was eaten by farm workers in salads instead of fresh garlic.
As magic art attributes chives remarkable vital energy the following “aphrodisiac consommé” may earn your approbation…
6 garlic cloves (+ 1 for the toasted bread)/1 small onion/½ liter of beef or chicken stock/1 spoonful of minced parsley/2 slices of toasted bread/Parmigiano reggiano/olive oil/salt/1 chilly/2 spoonfuls of finely chopped chives
Sauté the sliced onion and the minced garlic cloves in olive oil. Add salt and chilly and stir for a short while, then add the stock. Make sure that the garlic does not brown too much otherwise it will turn bitter. Leave to cook for thirty minutes then move from heat and stir in the chopped parsley. Leave to rest for a couple of minutes then filter. Rub the garlic clove on the bread, place in two soup dishes, add the consommé, sprinkle with finely chopped chives and parmigiano and serve. (from Storia, scienza e mito delle erbe aromatiche e officinali/Il giardino dei semplici, Anneliese Rabl)
Anneliese Rabl …. finding a life in Tuscany