Feb 23, 2017

Foraging for Chickweed

It may not officially be spring, but the plants in my neck of the woods are acting like it is. And that means (among other things) that a lot of wild spring edibles are popping up. In fact, I seem to find a new forage-worthy weed every day. That makes me happy.

One edible weed I recently discovered on our property is one you're just as likely to find in the city as in the country, on the West Coast as the East Coast, and in the U.S. as elsewhere in the world: Chickweed (otherwise known as Starweed, Chickenwort, Winter weed, or Stellaria media).
Chickweed's 5 petals look like 10.

Identifying Chickweed

Chickweed grows in a wide variety of areas, including lawns and mow strips - and it grows prolifically. It has tiny white flowers with 5 petals each - but the petals are so deeply split, at first glance, it appears the flowers have 10 petals each.

The stems of chickweed are distinctive in that they have a line of white "hairs" on one side. They also do not contain a milky sap - something that differentiates chickweed from similar weeds. Chickweed's smooth leaves are oval with pointed tips.
Chickweed's stems have a line of fine "hairs."

The plant is easy to spot because it grows in clumps or masses that creep along the ground. It tends to
grow most abundantly in the spring and fall, when the weather is cooler and moist, and generally prefers damp and shady areas.

One final test to know whether or not you've got chickweed: Bend a stem and turn each part of the stem in the opposite direction. Gently pull; the outer part of the stem will break and separate, but an inner part will not break. In fact, it will stretch a little.

Chickweed has two poisonous lookalikes (Scarlet Pimpernel and spurge), but if you look for the 5 petals that look like 10, the line of hair on the stem, the lack of milk in the stem, and the stem with the inner stretchy part, you can be sure you have real chickweed.
An important test to make sure you identify chickweed correctly.

There is also mouse-ear chickweed (cerastium vulgatum), which is edible, but only when cooked. It's distinguished from regular chickweed by it's very dark green, mouse ear shaped leaves that, unlike regular chickweed, are covered with fine hairs.

NOTE: Do not consume any plant you cannot positively identify.

Eating Chickweed

Chickweed leaves, stems, and flowers are all edible, either raw or cooked. And it's a superfood! Chickweed is packed with nutrients, having 6 times more vitamin C than spinach, 12 times more calcium, and 83 times more iron.  It also contains Omega-3 fatty acids, bioflavoinoids, beta-carotene, B vitamins, folic acid, niacin, thiamine, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and zinc.



Try chickweed in a salad, or add it to a sandwich, like you would sprouts. It also makes a nice pesto or can be added to soups, omelettes, quiches, or pretty much any dish where you'd normally use spinach. In fact, cooked chickweed tastes similar to spinach. Raw, it tastes like a mild lettuce.
Chickweed grows in a clump.
Mouse Ear Chickweed is distinguished by it's hairy leaves. Courtesy
Stefan.lefnaer and Wikimedia.

Chickweed Medicine

Chickweed has long been used in herbal medicine, too. Taken internally in the form of tea or tincture, it's used for complaints such as stomach and intestinal problems, arthritis, asthma and other lung ailments, kidney disorders, and vitamin C deficiency. In addition, chickweed can be used externally to treat eczema, psoriasis, minor wounds, boils, abscesses, burns, itching, and joint pain.

WARNINGS: Those who are allergic to daisies should not eat chickweed. Never eat any wild food you cannot identify 100%.

Disclaimer 
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