Family: Liliaceae, Allium species
Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984.
Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature
on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate
Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.
Onion is the general name for herbs of the genus Allium
and includes chives, Allium schoenoprasum L., garlic,
Allium sativum L., and shallots, Allium cepa var.
aggregatum. Chives, native to Eurasia, have light green,
hollow, cylindrical leaves that reach a height of 0.3 meters.
Dense clumps of bulbs are clustered on a very small rhizome and
the plant has purple, lavender, or rose flowers and small gray
fruit with fertile black seeds. Garlic, formerly classified as
Allium controversum Schrad., Allium sativum
var. controversum (Schrad.) Regel and Allium sativum
var. ophioscorodon (Link) Doll, has flat leaves that reach
a height of 1 meter. Its ovoid bulbs are usually divided into
several cloves, that bear bulblets, and terminal umbels, that
have bulbils. The plant has white flowers, that later abscise.
Shallots, formerly classified as Allium ascalonicum L.,
have hollow cylindrical leaves that reach a height of 0.3 meters,
flowers that are colored from pink to purple and are generally
sterile, and cloves of bulbs produced from a parent bulb. Chives
are usually produced in window boxes, gardens, and pots for consumption
and decorative purposes. Garlic plants are grown commercially
in the western United States, Egypt, Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary,
and Taiwan (11.1-128). Shallots are traditionally produced in
the southern United States.
The reported life zone for Allium species is 6 to 27 degrees
centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.3 to 4.0 meters and
a soil pH of 4.5 to 8.3 (4.1-31). Bulbs are produced in response
to warm temperatures and long days of spring. Chives, hardy plants
adapted to most soils, require full sunlight for best growth.
They can be harvested several times each year. Garlic, a hardy
perennial, grows best in fertile, well-drained clay loams.
For production, garlic cloves are separated from underground parent
bulbs or from bulbils of the inflorescences and then planted in
the spring or from autumn to mid-winter in the western United
States. The underground bulbs are harvested when the leaves wither.
Traditionally, early emerging garlic has cloves that are enclosed
in white scales of the parent bulb while late garlic has cloves
that are enclosed in pinkish scales of the parent bulb. Shallot
culture is similar to that of garlic with lateral bulbs or shoots
generally used to establish plantings. Artificial drying of harvested
material is preferred, as this results in smaller losses of allyl
sulfide, total sulfur, antibacterial activity, and aroma (11.1-126).
The volatile oils of Allium include disulfides and trisulfides
(1.1-53). Garlic oil includes alliin, s-methyl-L-cysteine
sulfoxide, s-propyl-L-cysteine sulfoxide, alliinase,
mucilage, albumin, and other compounds (2.3-236, 14.1-11,
14.1-35). The characteristic flavor, aroma, and active principle
in garlic are found only upon rupture of the cell membranes, which
allows the enzyme alliinase to produce the disulfide of the characteristic
Chives are grown for their delicate, mild, onion-flavored
leaves. Available fresh, dried, and freeze-dried, they are
used in soups, stews, egg dishes, salads, cheese, cream cheese
and garnishes. Chive bulbs are sometimes pickled. The chive plant
is grown as an ornamental, especially a long garden borders. Garlic
bulbs are available fresh or dried and as cloves, powdered, crushed,
dehydrated, or as an ingredient in table salt. The oil and the
oleoresin from garlic are used extensively in the food industry
as a flavoring in soups, stews, sauces, breads, cheeses, vinegars,
pickles, processed foods, meats, sausages, and other dishes. Shallots
are used in salads, sauces, soups, stews, and vinegars.
Medicinally, chives have traditionally been considered a digestive
and used to improve the appetite (11.1 -101). Garlic has
been traditionally considered an antiseptic, anthelmintic, antispasmodic,
carminative, cholagogue, diaphoretic, digestive, diuretic, expectorant,
febrifuge, and insect repellent. The plant has also been used
as a folk remedy against asthma, colds, coughs, ulcers, high blood
pressure, poor circulation, tumors, and leprosy (11.1-126,
14.1-17). The plant is reported to have strong microbial
activity, to reduce blood sugar, and to affect cholesterol levels
and arteriosclerosis (7.6-17, 7.6-21, 7.5-24, 7.6-88,
7.5-90, 7.6-91, 11.1-126). Raw extracts of garlic
are reported to be anthelmintic (7.6-40). Allicin, the active
chemotherapeutic compound, may be an important neoplastic drug
(11.1-96). Contact with garlic can cause dermatitis, and
garlic preparations have been fatal to children (11.1-136).
Chinese chives, garlic chives, and oriental chives are Allium
tuberosum Rottl. ex K. Spreng., native to southeast Asia;
the leaves and flower stalks of these are used as vegetables.
Elephant or great-headed garlic, Allium ampeloprasum
L. Ampeloprasum Group, is a mild novelty-type, large-bulbed
garlic used as a seasoning.
[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].
Last modified 6-Dec-1997