Don’t Forget to Eat Your Weeds

Google “Chickweed” and you’ll get about 50% articles extolling its virtue as food and medicine, and about 50% articles telling you how to kill it. It’s sort of like Dandelions that way. And y’all know how I feel about Dandelions.

While Dandelions have a special place in my heart because of their charming personalities, and my appreciation of them as food and medicine is secondary. But chickweed is delicious–it has an earthy taste, like fresh spinach. So, first of all let me show you the best way to identify Chickweed (Stellaria media):

Little Tiny Hairs are the Key to Identifying Chickweed

See that line of tiny hairs on the right side of the Chickweed stem? It’s the only plant I know of that has that kind of hair pattern. It’s the surest way to tell that you’ve really got chickweed, since the flowers are fairly indistinct.

Here’s another shot that shows the hairs–they look like a fine white line down the center of the stem.

See the Fine Line of Hairs?

Chickweed is in the Pink family–the same as Carnations and Baby’s Breath. The leaves are small and completely smooth, and grow in opposed pairs.

Teeny Tiny Leaf

They are also very wee, as you can see from the photo above. The flowers are very simple, and very tiny:

Sweet Little Flower

Leaves, stems and flowers are all edible. It’s best to trim the top several inches–the leafiest, lushest part–of the above-ground portion of the plant. This will not only give you the best eating, but also helps the plant to continue branching out and growing lovely, healthy foliage and flowers.

Chickweed isn’t exactly a creeping plant . . . she’s more of a sprawler. But she does tend to grow close to the ground, part of her stems lying prostrate.

The remarkable thing about chickweed is that it loves cool weather. Chickweed is happy and prolific in my garden even in December and January, though it really becomes spectacular in February and March.

Chickweed in late January

I have read that even in really cold climates like upstate New York, Chickweed can be found green and thriving under trees where the snow hasn’t piled up. She loves moist, cool places–which is why she often moves in to well-watered gardens and snuggles up close to taller plants that can provide her with shade. So she’s an EXCELLENT source of free nourishment in the lean winter months–I’m always thrilled to have fresh edibles at those times.

She’s very nourishing, high in vitamins and minerals. And she also has remarkable abilities to dissolve cysts, mucous, benign tumors, and other unwanted things in our bodies. The saponins in chickweed also help with cell permeability, allowing us to absorb and assimilate nutrients better. And Chickweed is an excellent help for all sorts of hot, inlamed conditions. For more detailed information, see this excellent article by Susun Weed. Or read Susun’s book, Healing Wise, or Gail Faith Edwards’ delightful Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs.

So there you go, a way to save weeding, and save money on groceries. You can thank me later.

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6 thoughts on “Don’t Forget to Eat Your Weeds

    1. Ohhhh yes . . . you know, one of my pet peeves in books is when authors decide they’re going to use specific plants, and they get them ALL WRONG!!!! I read one novel where the heroine was gathering lavender in the FOREST . . . at the same time as she was gathering Violets. Um, no. Lavender requires FULL SUN and blooms in JUNE. Violets require shade and bloom in early spring–February and March in places like Oregon, slightly later in cooler climates.

      So yes, pleeeeease, do your research if you decide to use plants.

      One of the things I really appreciated in The Hunger Games was that Suzanne Collins seemed to have at least done enough research to get a basic understanding of wild plants for food. Yay for her!!! đŸ˜€

  1. OK dumb question – is chickweed the same as purslane? My Dad was a conventional potato and onion farmer so he HATES chickweed LOL. I have seen lots of recipes that call for purslane, chickweed not so much.

    1. Nope. purslane is very different! Here’s an article with some great pictures of purslane:

      http://www.mnn.com/local-reports/new-york/local-blog/purslane-an-edible-gem

      I eat chickweed in salads, and on top of stir fry or soups (but I don’t cook it–I just add it at the very end, the heat wilts it just a tiny bit but it doesn’t lose it’s yum). I have also read about chickweed pesto but haven’t tried it. I throw it on my tacos in place of lettuce, on sandwiches, etc. I WANT to try it as a substitute for spinach in hot spinach and artichoke dip, but I haven’t yet. (I have, however, used lambs quarters and wild amaranth/redroot pigweed as a substitute, and fed it to a crowd of people who didn’t know the difference).

  2. Lavender in the forest??!! Ahem….

    I have never eaten chickweed and it is interesting to hear its medicinal uses. I have heard that it can be used in a poultice for calming skin conditions such as eczma.

    BTW, I have sown some borage seeds in my small patch of garden and they have come up and are about 3 inches high with large leaves – can I transplant them (they are very crowded) and will they last the winter outside?

    1. I’m sure you can transplant the borage. I’m NOT sure if it will last the winter in New Zealand–I know it tends to die back here in the winter, after reseeding itself abundantly. I would google it!

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