Synonyms: Other names: cives, Spanish garlic Nomenclature: schoenoprasum = a 'rush leek' Nativity / Invasiveness: Montana native plant
General: perennial, onion-smelling, the stem 20-50 cm tall, rather stout, round, from bulbs up to 10 mm thick with membranous outer layers.
Leaves: alternate, usually 2, cylindrical, hollow, 1-7 mm thick, the uppermost usually sheathing the stem for 1/3-1/2 its length, usually shorter than the stem, green during flowering, persistent at maturity.
Flowers: tubular-bell-shaped, up to about 30 in a round, head-like cluster, the 2 bracts lanceolate to broadly ovate, short-pointed, 5- to 11-nerved. Stalks slender, usually shorter than the flowers. Tepals 8-12 mm long, elliptic to lanceolate, pointed, the tips bent out, pale to deep lilac with darker midrib, or white, the midribs not thickened. Stamens 1/2-2/3 the tepal length, the anthers oblong. Ovary crestless, stigma round, entire or obscurely lobed.
Wet meadows, rocky or gravelly streambanks and lake shores, in w. and s.c. parts of MT. Also from AK, B.C., Alberta to OR, ID, CO and e. to MN and NY.
These plants can be used like domestic chives, for flavoring salads, vegetables and meat dishes. Some people find them strong by themselves, but others pickle them or use them as a cooked vegetable, served hot with butter. Care must be taken not to confuse wild chives with its poisonous relative, mountain death-camas, which has no onion-like smell.
The most common medicinal use of chives in the past has been in treating coughs and colds. The juice was either boiled down to a thick syrup or a sliced bulb was placed in sugar, and the resulting syrup was taken. Dried chive bulbs were burned in smudges to fumigate the patient, or they were ground and inhaled like snuff to clear the sinuses. Wild chives were also said to stimulate appetite and aid digestion, though water in which they had been crushed and soaked for 12 hours was swallowed on an empty stomach to rid the system of worms. The juice is somewhat antiseptic and it was used by native peoples and sourdoughs to moisten sphagnum moss for use as a dressing on wounds and sores. Crushed bulbs were also used to treat insect bites and stings, hives, burns, scalds, sores, blemishes and even snakebites.