Perhaps you are pondering which herbs to grow indoors, and you might have encountered chives and lemongrass. Although they might look similar, these two herbs, both suitable for indoor applications, are quite different. You need to know such differences before investing months in growing them for then having something that does not suit you. Let’s dive in!
Hence, what are the differences between chives and lemongrass? Chives and lemongrass are two plants that belong to two different families and they defer for:
1. The physical appearance;
2. Edibility, taste and culinary applications
3. Effects on pets
Chives are an aromatic herb of the Amaryllidaceae family, while lemongrass belongs to the Poaceae family.
Knowing the basic principle of their differences is definitely a good start. However, which one should you plant indoors? Can you use them in the same way in your dishes? Are both safe and the flower in the same way? Are they easy to grow? These and more information will be found below. Let’s dive in!
Let’s dive in the differences of these two plants so you can better decide which one you need to grow for your needs.
Lemongrass and chives are different for the same reason pear and watermelons are. Indeed, chives and lemongrass belong to two different families (a family is a group of plants with similar physical features). Chives belong to the Amaryllidaceae family. They are a very close relative (almost brother) with onion and garlic.
On the other hand, lemongrass belongs to the Poaceae family. This is the scientific name of grass, not related at all to herbs and even less to onion or garlic. Accordingly to the Missouri Organical Garden, the group to which lemongrass belong to (called Commelinids for the curious) originated around 135 million years ago. Hence, they have had lots of time to evolve differently from chives.
This is then reflected in many physical differences:
They are half a cm long large, brown/white in color – Video here
The seeds are tiny (around 1mm), oval, and black in color.
The used culinary variety does not grow from seeds but through propagation
It can be propagated by seeds but not from stem cutting. They can grow easily from bulb-like onions
Up to 2m depending on the variety
Up to 50cm
Very flat (way less fleshy than chives) and light.
Common chives are tubular and hollow, while Chinese chives are flatter and not hollow still fleshy.
A lighter green
An intense green
|Flower||They are brownish and spiky.||Purple and spherical|
Every part of the chives can be eaten: roots, bulbs, leaves, and even its flowers.
However, the same does not apply to lemongrass. The only edible part of lemongrass is the inner core of the base of the herb that comes out from the soil for 10-15cm. Hence you need to cut the herb, remove the hard outer layer until you are left with a white flexible inner core.
Chives have a different taste depending on the variety. Garlic chives have a garlic flavor while in onion chives, a mild taste of onion is what you can taste when you eat it.
On the other hand, lemongrass, as the word suggests, have a fresh lemon taste that many associates with mint as well. Similarly to the onion chives, the flavor is mild.
Hence, given their different tastes, also their use is very different. Chives are often used as an aromatic herb added at the end of dishes due to their mild flavor. They are often used as onion replacement. One of my favorite chives dishes is by far the salmon and scrambled egg on cornbread (great for brunch). Here you can find one of the countless recipes for it. The sky’s the limit, and on the Web, you can find a list of dozens (here 43) recipes that have chives among the ingredients.
Lemongrass, on the other hand, is widely used in East Asia cuisine. Indeed, the lemon taste, not very common in the EU and the USA, is a staple for Thai and Vietnamese dishes. Indeed, if you live in the EU or USA, chances are that hardly ever you have used lemongrass on your home-prepared plates. Nonetheless, I am pretty sure you tasted it in some dish you tried in any Thai or Vietnamese restaurant.
Similar to chives, countless are the recipes that use lemongrass. One of my favorites is the coconut chicken curry with lemongrass (here the recipe). The combination of the coconut sweetness with the mild lemongrass bitterness is a unique treat of East Asian Cuisine. Again, you can easily find hundreds of recipes if you dig-in, here 43 for you. Good if you want to explore more “adventurous” cuisine roads.
To point out that lemongrass is also used in tea thanks to its claimed properties in helping digestion, improving blood pressure, antioxidant content, and others.
Tip: there are countless lemongrass varieties. However, Cochin grass and the West-Indian grass are the lemongrasses you should buy if interested in cooking.
Pro culinary tip: not many people know, but you can prepare a dense and very taste paste from lemongrass called lemongrass paste. This is used to marinate chicken, make soups, and many other Asian dishes.
Finally, both plants can be grown indoors. This implies that your furred friends (cat, dog) might decide to nibble on them out of curiosity.
Chives, especially in cats, are quite toxic and can become damaging in large amounts, even for dogs. This is because, as all members of the Allium family, they contain chemicals that negatively impact the blood system of the animal, as also reported by Pet poison. This also happens for domestic birds.
Lemongrass, on the other hand, is safe for cats and dogs. Hence, if you are mainly concerned about your pets for your indoor garden, go for lemongrass. https://yourindoorherbs.com/can-indoor-herbs-purify-house-air-lies-and-reality/f not, just have a look at some tips on how to create a cat-safe indoor garden.
I quickly illustrated the reasons why chives and lemongrass are different. However, I am sure that you might have gotten confused when checking them as, even if different, they look similar.
This is because they both belong to the same large group of Monocotyledon plants. Without getting into much detail, this is a massive group of 60+ thousand plants, and one of the similarities of many plants that belong to this broad category is the leaves’ shape. These are usually very long, narrow, and with veins that go in parallel along with the leaves. That’s why lemongrass and chives look similar at first glance. They both have long, narrow leaves.
Chives and lemongrass are both perennial plants.
This means that differently from annual (like basil), they can last many years if the temperature does not drop below or -5C. This means that outdoors, lemongrass can survive winters in zone 8b (USA).
For chives, similar to lemongrass, they can naturally survive the cold winter of zone 8b (20F or -12C). Hence, it should not be a problem in your home whose temperature (hopefully) is always higher than that.
Lemongrass and Chives, they go dormant during winter in case of temperature below 50F (10C) for chives and below 40F (4C) for lemongrass.
The dormant state is a very effective defensive mechanism that mother nature has provided those plants to protect themself from potentially damaging low temperatures. Without getting into many details (this university study for the curious) during this state, the plant triggers a complex biological defense mechanism to arrest its growth.
To note that in very cold conditions (but still above -5C), the leaves can get brown and die off. However, your plant is not gone. Once higher temperatures (above 50F or 10C) kicks, your plant will start growing. Remember that, as a consequence, they need way less water than usual as they are not using it. Hence, do not be surprised to water them like once a month or less.
Chives is known to be a pretty fast grower. From seed planting to germination, it takes only 2 weeks and 3-4 for weeks to reach their full growth.
It can grow as fast as around 0.4 inches (2/3cm) a day as you can see yourself in the below timelapse.
Lemongrass is described as a fast grower plant. However, it has a lower rate than chives with around 1cm growth per day. Expect lemongrass (depending on the variety) to grow up to 3-5 feet in 90 days.
They are both not aggressive in their growth and can live in harmony with other plants in the same pot. This is not the case of mint, for instance, that spreads quite aggressively, subtracting nutrients and resources to any plant in the same container.
Lemongrass is native of east and south Asia where are where tropical weather with rainfall and humidity are the norm. Hence, lemongrass needs moist soil, mist plant, and plenty of fertilizer in summer if you want to recreate indoor the same native outdoor conditions. More on the detailed lemongrass guide from the University of Utah. It requires at least 6 hours of direct light, although it gives its best with 8.
Chives, differently from lemongrass, is native of both Asia and Europe. Hence, it can grow successfully even in not tropical conditions. It does require a moist soil with not waterlog like lemongrass. However, it does not need regular misting to give its best. It is generally less demanding than lemongrass for its growth. Similar to lemongrass chives, they do not require a massive amount of sunlight, although 6 is, in general, the minimum if you want to see it grow.
What is a good substitute for lemongrass in dishes? Lemon zest for salty dishes and lemon balm for tea are the best lemongrass substitute given their lemon flavor. However, lemon zest should be used in smaller amounts, given its higher lemon taste compared to lemongrass.
How to harvest lemongrass? Lemongrass needs to be grown at least 1 foot (30cm). With a pair of sharp scissors (or a knife), cut the stalk as close as possible to the soil level, especially if this is for culinary purposes. This because the only edible part of this herb is the inner part of the stalk above soil level.
How to grow chives from the University of Minnesota – https://extension.umn.edu/vegetables/growing-chives
Some lemongrass fact from the University of Florida – http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/nassauco/2017/05/28/fact-sheet-lemongrass/
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