A Castle Bromwich Herbiary - Chives

A Castle Bromwich Herbiary - Chives

purple flower sinks ~
bumble bee lights on a chive ~
river of summer

Botanical: Allium schoenoprasum
Family: N.O. Liliaceae
(French) Ail civitte
(Old French) Petit poireau

The Chive is the smallest, though one of the finest-flavoured of the Onion variety, belonging to the botanical group of plants that goes under the name of Allium, which also includes Garlic, Leek and Shallot. 

Allium schoenoprasum - Original book source: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé ''Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Sc. Public Dom


Though said to be a native of Britain, the Chive is only very rarely found growing in an uncultivated state, and then only in the northern and western counties of England and Wales and in Oxfordshire. It grows in rocky pastures throughout temperate and northern Europe. De Candolle says: 'This species occupies an extensive area in the northern hemisphere. It is found all over Europe from Corsica and Greece to the south of Sweden, in Siberia as far as Kamschatka and also in North America. The variety found in the Alps is the nearest to the cultivated form.' Most probably it was known to the Ancients, as it grows wild in Greece and Italy. Dodoens figures it and gives the French name for it in his days: 'Petit poureau,' relating to its rush-like appearance. 

In present day French it is commonly called 'Ail civitte.' The Latin name of this species means 'Rush-Leek.' 

The plant is a hardy perennial. The bulbs grow very close together in dense tufts or clusters, and are of an elongated form, with white, rather firm sheaths, the outer sheath sometimes grey.

The slender leaves appear early in spring and are long, cylindrical and hollow, tapering to a point and about the thickness of a crowsquill. They grow from 6 to 10 inches high.

The flowering stem is usually nipped off with cultivated plants (which are grown solely for the sake of the leaves, or 'grass'), but when allowed to rise, it seldom reaches more than a few inches to at most a foot in height. It is hollow and either has no leaf or one leaf sheathing it below the middle. It supports a close globular head, or umbel, of purple flowers; the numerous flowers are densely packed together on separate, very slender little flower-stalks, shorter than the flowers themselves, which lengthen slightly as the fruit ripens, causing the heads to assume a conical instead of a round shape. 

Allium schoenoprasum. Photograph by Fornax.
The petals of the flowers are nearly half an inch long; when dry, their pale-purple colour, which has in Parts a darker flush, changes to rose-colour. The anthers (the pollen-bearing part of the flower) are of a bluish-purple colour. The seed-vessel, or capsule, is a little larger than a hemp seed and is completely concealed within the petals, which are about twice its length. The small seeds which it contains are black when ripe and similar to Onion seeds.

The flowers are in blossom in June and July, and in the most cold and moist situations will mature their seeds, though rarely allowed to do so under cultivation.

Chives can be found in Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens in various areas, usually in the borders around the Batty Langley Kitchen Garden. 


Seeds of ''Allium schoenoprasum''. Squares have a length of 5 mm. Photograph by Sarefo

Chives will grow in any ordinary garden soil, but will thrive in soil rich in organic matter, with a pH of 6-7 and full sun. Typically, chives need to be germinated at a temperature of 15 to 20°C (60-70°F) and kept moist. They can also be planted under a cloche or germinated indoors in cooler climates, then planted out later. Chives can be raised by seed, but are usually propagated by dividing the clumps in spring or autumn. 

In dividing the clumps, leave about six little bulbs together in a tiny clump, which will spread to a fine clump in the course of a year. Set the clumps from 9 inches to a foot apart each way. For a quick return, propagation by division of the bulb clumps is always to be preferred.

Chives are cultivated both for their culinary uses and their ornamental value; the violet flowers are often used in ornamental dry bouquets.

In cold regions, chives die back to the underground bulbs in winter, with the new leaves appearing in early spring. Chives starting to look old can be cut back to about 2–5cm. When harvesting, the needed number of stalks should be cut to the base. During the growing season, the plant will continually regrow leaves, allowing for a continuous harvest.

Chive seedlings sprouting. Photograph by Norman21

The green from the clumps can be cut three or four times in the season. When required for use, each clump may be cut in turn, fairly close to the ground. The leaves will soon grow again and be found more tender each time of cutting. By carefully cropping, the 'grass' can be obtained quite late in the season, until the early frosts come, when it withers up and disappears through the winter, pushing up again in the first warm days of February. For early crops, a little 'grass' can be forced on the clumps by placing cloches or a 'light' over them.

Beyond weeding between the clumps, no further care or attention is needed after division. Beds should be re-planted at least once in three or four years.

If it is desired to produce seed, grow two plantations, one for producing 'grass' for use, and the other to be left to flower and set seed, as you cannot get the two crops - 'grass' and seed, off the one set of plants. 

A clump of chives flowering. Photograph by Captain-tucker

Culinary Uses:

The Chive contains a pungent volatile oil, rich in sulphur, which gives them its distinctive smell and taste. Chive flowers are also edible, and can be used as a garnish or may be crystallised. Chives provide extra flavour salads - cut fresh and chopped fine, or sprinkled on sliced tomatoes.

They are also excellent in savoury omelettes, and may be chopped and boiled with potatoes that are to be mashed, or chopped fresh and sprinkled, just before serving, on mashed potatoes, both as a garnish and flavouring. They may also be put into soup, either dried, or freshly cut and finely chopped, and are a welcome improvement to homemade sausages, croquettes, etc., as well as an excellent addition to beefsteak puddings and pies.

Chives are also used in traditional dishes in France and Sweden. In his 1806 book Attempt at a Flora (Försök til en flora), Retzius describes how chives are used with pancakes, soups, fish and sandwiches. They are also an ingredient of the gräddfil sauce served with the traditional herring dish served at Swedish midsummer celebrations. The flowers may also be used to garnish dishes. In Poland, chives are served with quark cheese.

Chives are one of the "fines herbes" of French cuisine, which also include tarragon, chervil and/or parsley.
Chives can be found fresh at most markets year-round, making them readily available; they can also be dry-frozen without much impairment to the taste, giving home growers the opportunity to store large quantities harvested from their own gardens. The web is also replete with many intresting and entertaining recipes using chives.

Chive flower close-up. Public Domain.

Medicinal and Folklore:

The ancient Chinese are the first to documented using chives as long ago as 3000 years B.C. and Marco Polo is credited with bringing chives to Europe from China.

Romanian Gypsies have used chives in fortune telling.

It was believed that you should hang bunches of dried chives around your house to ward off disease and evil.
The Romans believed chives could relieve the pain from sunburn or a sore throat. They also believed that eating chives would increase blood pressure and acted as a diuretic. Medical sources do tend to discredit these claims though.

There you go: I managed to get through an article without referring to the Children's programme:


Whoops: Sorry...

Anyway, please come and visit our Chives in the herb gardens next time you visit us. I'm sure they'll be pleased to see you!

This article has been fabricated from several sources to whom grateful thanks are due:

Wikimedia Commons
Granma's Wisdom


Thanks are also due to Chris Hitchcock.

All photographs credited as stated and unless indicated otherwise, are subject to the Creative Commons ShareAlike unported 3.0 licence.


A Castle Bromwich Herbiary - Sage.

Hello everyone and welcome to this latest Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens Herbiary entry. This time around we are featuring Sage:

I'm a rather fat feathery owl called sage,
I'm not at all happy in fact in a rage,
it's bad enough having ones home all upset,
but to make matters worse all my feathers are wet.


Sage was a character in FilmFair's memorable stop-frame animation series 'The Herbs', first broadcast in 1968 under BBC Television's 'Watch With Mother strand. The characters were created and the show written by Michael Bond (creator of Paddington Bear), and the series was particularly noted for its satirical adult edged humour disguised as children's entertainment. This aspect probably explains the shows continued appeal 45 years after it was first broadcast.

Sage was a loud, perpetually vile-tempered Owl who always appeared one step away from committing violence on whoever annoyed him (everyone), or on whatever prevented him from getting what he wanted (everything). An avian version of Verruca Salt, if you will. Sage particularly disliked losing his nest and / or getting wet. Needless to say, both incidents occured frequently.

Sage was voiced by the actor Gordon Rollings: No stranger to left-field humour himself (amongst his appearances he featured in Spike Milligan's post-apocalyptic film 'The Bedsitting Room'), his laconic deadpan delivery imbued the script with an unique.....


er, hang on a second folks...

Well, how was I to know??

Look if I start again nobody will notice, I mean who reads this stuff anyway?



A Castle Bromwich Herbiary - Sage

Hello everyone and welcome to the latest Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens Herbiary entry. This time around we are featuring Sage:

You say, O Sage, when weather-checked,
"I have been favoured so
With cloudless skies, I must expect
This dash of rain or snow."

See. Nobody noticed: Told you.

Native to the Balkan and Mediterranean, sage (Salvia Officinalis to you) is a member of the mint family and its bluish-purple flowers and greyish-green leaves are a familiar sight in many of our UK gardens. 

In favourable conditions in the garden, S. officinalis can grow to a substantial size (1 square metre or more), but a number of cultivars are more compact. As such they are valued as small ornamental flowering shrubs, rather than for their herbal properties. Some provide low ground cover, especially in sunny dry environments. Like many herbs they can be killed by a cold wet winter, especially if the soil is not well drained. But they are easily propagated from summer cuttings, and some cultivars are produced from seeds.

Named cultivars include:

  • 'Alba', a white-flowered cultivar
  • 'Aurea', golden sage
  • 'Berggarten', a cultivar with large leaves, which rarely blooms, extending the useful life of the leaves
  • 'Extrakta', has leaves with higher oil concentrations
  • 'Icterina', a cultivar with yellow-green variegated leaves
  • 'Lavandulaefolia', a small leaved cultivar
  • 'Purpurascens' ('Purpurea'), a purple-leafed cultivar
  • 'Tricolor', a cultivar with white, yellow and green variegated leaves

Sage can be found in Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens in various areas, usually in the borders around the Batty Langley Kitchen Garden.


Salvia officinalis itself has numerous common names. Some of the best known include sage, common sage, garden sage, golden sage, kitchen sage, true sage, culinary sage, Dalmatian sage, and broadleaf sage. Cultivated forms include purple sage and red sage. In Turkey, Salvia officinalis is widely known as adaçay, meaning "island tea". In the Levant its called Maramia. 

Salvia officinalis - Köhler's Medicinal - 1887

Salvia officinalis was described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753. It has been grown for centuries in the Old World for its food and healing properties, and was often described in old herbals for the many miraculous properties attributed to it. The specific epithet, officinalis, refers to the plant's medicinal use—the officina was the traditional storeroom of a monastery where herbs and medicines were stored. S. officinalis has been classified under many other scientific names over the years, including six different names since 1940 alone.

Common sage is grown in parts of Europe for distillation of an essential oil, though other species, such as Salvia fruticosa may also be harvested and distilled with it.

Sage Essential Oil: Although let's face it, it could have anything in there. The pic is Public Domain anyway.

How to Grow Sage:
  • Sunlight: Full Sun
  • Aspect: South-facing, West-facing, or East-facing: Sheltered or exposed
  • Cultivation: Grow in moderately fertile, moist but well-drained soil in full sun or dappled shade.
  • Soil: Moist, but well-drained; Acid, Alkaline, or Neutral; Sand, loam, or chalk.
  • Propagation: Propagate by softwood cuttings in spring or semi-hardwood in late summer.

Folklore and Early Uses:

Salvia officinalis has been used since ancient times for warding off evil, snakebites, increasing women's fertility, and more. Theophrastus wrote about two different sages, a wild undershrub he called sphakos, and a similar cultivated plant he called elelisphakos. Pliny the Elder said the latter plant was called salvia by the Romans, and used as a diuretic, a local anesthetic for the skin, a styptic, and for other uses. Charlemagne recommended the plant for cultivation in the early Middle Ages, and during the Carolingian Empire, it was cultivated in monastery gardens.[Walafrid Strabo described it in his poem Hortulus as having a sweet scent and being useful for many human ailments—he went back to the Greek root for the name and called it lelifagus.

The plant had a high reputation throughout the Middle Ages, with many sayings referring to its healing properties and value. It was sometimes called S. salvatrix (sage the savior), and was one of the ingredients of Four Thieves Vinegar, a blend of herbs which was supposed to ward off the plague. Dioscorides, Pliny, and Galen all recommended sage as a diuretic, hemostatic, emmenagogue, and tonic.

Sage is an unusual herb, in that much of the folklore relates to a specific variety. In general however, "sage" means a wise man, and this term comes from the belief that sage was thought to impart wisdom and improve one's memory. 

The English herbalist, Gerard wrote that, "Sage is singularly good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory, strengtheneth the sinews, restoreth health to those that have the palsy, and taketh away shakey trembling of the members." .

Gardening folklore tells us that the wife will rule the household when Sage grows well in the garden. It also tells us sage will grow well or fail depending on whether the household's business prospers or fails. Put the two folklores together and make of it what you will!

Sage symbolizes domestic virtue, wisdom, skill, esteem, long life, good health, mitigates grief, and increases psychic powers. Apparently.

Medical Uses:

PLEASE NOTE that the information on this page is based on research from the internet, books, articles and studies and/or companies selling herbs online. This section is for entertainment purposes only, and medicinal uses have not necessarily been evaluated. They certainly should not be considered as medical advice. For diagnosis or treatment of ailments always consult your doctor. The use of any medication without professional advice may be dangerous, and Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens Trust will not accept any responsibility for any consequences arising from its use.

Sage should not be used by pregnant or nursing women or by people who have epileptic fits.
The plant is toxic in excess or when taken for extended periods, though the toxic dose is very large.
Sage should not be used to suppress perspiration in fevers.

The oils and tannins in Sage have astringent, antiseptic, and irritant properties. It is therefore an important herb in medications for mouth sores, mouth ulcers, and sore throat medications (make teas and use as a mouth rinse - try a tea with equal parts Chamomile and Sage). For sore throats, try mixing a Sage tea with apple cider vinegar and salt for gargling. Sage is reported to have moisture-drying properties, and can be used as an antiperspirant. It can also be used as a compress on cuts and wounds. Clinical studies have also shown that it can lower blood sugar in cases of diabetes. 

Incidentally, you will often see Sage medicines advertised as Clary Sage. This is just another form of Sage that originates in the Mediterranean but has the same medicinal properties as the other sages. 

As an astringent, Sage can be used as a refreshing after-shave, and there is some indication that an infusion of it can be used to subtly colour silver hair. As with many of the other herbs, Sage can also be tried in a tea for digestive problems and flatulence.

In an exciting new study done in 2003, Scientists at Newcastle and Northumbria found that Sage oil extracts in capsule form produced markedly improved memory function in test subjects, and it is possible that Sage may protect a key chemical destroyed in the brain by Alzheimer's disease.

Sage Tea or infusion of Sage is a valuable agent in the delirium of fevers and in the nervous excitement frequently accompanying brain and nervous diseases. It has a considerable reputation as a remedy, given in small and often-repeated doses. It is highly serviceable as a stimulant tonic in debility of the stomach and nervous system and weakness of digestion generally. It was for this reason that the Chinese valued it, giving it the preference to their own tea. It is considered a useful medicine in typhoid fever and beneficial in biliousness and liver complaints, kidney troubles, haemorrhage from the lungs or stomach, for colds in the head as well as sore throat, quinsy, measles, for pains in the joints, lethargy and palsy.  A cup of the strong infusion will be found good to relieve nervous headache.

The German Commission E approved internal use for mild gastrointestinal upset and excessive sweating as well as for external use in conditions of inflamed mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. Its antiseptic action is of value where there is intestinal infection. Rosmarinic acid contributes to the herb's anti-inflammatory activity.

Sage has an anti-spasmodic action which reduces tension in smooth muscle, and it can be used in a steam inhalation for asthma attacks. It is an excellent remedy for helping to remove mucous congestion in the airways and for checking or preventing secondary infection. It may be taken as a carminative to reduce griping and other symptoms of indigestion, and is also of value in the treatment of dysmenorrhoea. Its bitter component stimulates upper digestive secretions, intestinal mobility, bile flow, and pancreatic function, while the volatile oil has a carminative and stimulating effect on the digestion. It has a vermifuge action. There also seems to be a more general relaxant effect, so that the plant is suitable in the treatment of nervousness, excitability and dizziness. It helps to fortify a generally debilitated nervous system.

It is well documented that Sage leaf helps to reduce menopausal sweats. Sage has a strong anti-hydrotic action, and was a traditional treatment for night sweats in tuberculosis sufferers. 

Research has suggested that the presence of volatile oil in Sage is largely responsible for most of its therapeutic properties, especially its anti-septic, astringent and relaxing actions. Sage is also used internally in the treatment of night sweats, excessive salivation (as in Parkinson's disease), profuse perspiration (as in TB), anxiety and depression. Externally, it is used to treat insect bites, skin, throat, mouth and gum infections.

Cookery (Delia Smith has nothing on us!):

In Britain sage has for generations been listed as one of the essential herbs, along with parsley, rosemary and thyme (as in the folk song "Scarborough Fair"). It has a savoury, slightly peppery flavor. It appears in many European cuisines, notably Italian, Balkan and Middle Eastern cookery. In British and American cooking, it is traditionally served as sage and onion stuffing, an accompaniment to roast turkey or chicken at Christmas or Thanksgiving Day. Other dishes include pork casserole, Sage Derby cheese and Lincolnshire sausages. Despite the common use of traditional and available herbs in French cuisine, sage never found favour there.

For some wondrously fab recipes from none other that Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall, click here.

So there it is. Sage.

Salvia officinalis L. | Blackwell pl.71 - 1737 

Not a fractious little owl at all. In fact, not back for a turkey-stuffing ingredent, what? I could do with some of that stuff myself, with my stupid memory.

Pease go and visit this little miracle worker next time you visit the gardens!

This article has been fabricated (apart from the TV show stuff) from several sources to whom grateful thanks are due:

Wikimedia Commons
Gardens Ablaze.com
The Guardian Online

Thanks are also due to:

Gordon Sammons
Chris Hitchcock
Brian Jennings

All photographs (unless credited elsewhere) are by Yvonne High, and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License