Monday, 24 January 2011

Growing Society Garlic or Chinese Garlic Chives?

Growing in my parents' garden at the moment is an edible plant with garlicky foliage that is pretty tasty when stir-fried.  They were given a clump of the plant a few years ago, and it has been growing in the garden ever since.  For the longest time, we assumed these were Garlic Chives, also called Chinese Chives (or "Gow Choi" in Chinese).

But then as I was doing research for this blog post, I discovered that Garlic Chives had white flowers, and the plant in our garden had violet flowers!

It turns out that this wasn't a chive plant at all. 

A few days later, as I was sifting through packets of seeds at our local garden centre, I stumbled across a packet with pinky mauve flowers on the front that bore a close resemblance to the flowers on our plant.  The packet was labelled "Society Garlic" seeds.

So the mystery was solved, this was, in fact Society Garlic (also called Social Garlic, Tulbaghia Violacea), a native plant of South Africa and a member of the onion family. 

And it seems that this plant is often confused with the Garlic Chive plant (phew! so we weren't the only ones!), because of their similarities in appearance, odour and taste.  In fact, the only distinguishing feature between the two is their flowers. 

Society Garlic is a perennial plant that is low maintenance and pretty easy to grow.  Once established the plants are quite drought resistant. 

We grew our Society Garlic out of a container in Sydney, Australia.

To harvest the foliage of the Society Garlic, you simply have to cut the leaves with a sharp knife or scissors.  (And then you too, can take lovely photos of yourself grappling with a bunch of fresh greens!)

Uses (Culinary)
The foliage of the society garlic can be used as a herb in Asian style cooking.  The leaves have a pleasant, mild garlicky taste and the younger leaves are used to add flavour and texture to noodle dishes.  Dispose of any larger older leaves as they can get a little tough and fibrousy.

We stir fry them with rice noodles and bean sprouts in the Malaysian dish "Char Kuay Teow" (as pictured above).  Another favourite way to eat them is in spicy noodle soups such as Malaysian "Prawn noodle soup".  

Whilst most reference books I have read list the flowers of Society Garlic as being edible, there is less documentation to be found on the culinary uses of the leaves.  One article I have read even suggests that they are not suitable for eating. 

Green Culture Singapore "Getting to know Society Garlic"
"Organic Vegetable Gardening" by Annette McFarlane/ Gardening Australia (ABC)
"Dig" by Meredith Kirkton

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