Chickweed is the winner of “plant of the winter season”! Thanks to “unusual weather patterns” (aka climate change) chickweed season never ended. Typically you see it appear in early spring, dying back in the summer heat, and then reappearing as it cools in the fall. Below freezing temperatures normally cause it to disappear but here in the southeast United States there haven’t been many freezing temperatures this winter. Every cloud has a silver lining as they say, so I get to enjoy chickweed well into the winter months.
This tender little plant is easily identified by its vertical single line of small hairs on the stem. The temperatures have prevented any of the small white blossoms from emerging but if present, the petals are deeply split making the five petals look like ten in a star-like shape. This presentation is where the scientific name Stellaria media came from. If you plan on foraging some chickweed for the first time, look up some resources for good identification pictures. It is always best to be 100% sure of identification before consuming any wild edible. Always remember not to eat any plants that have been exposed to herbicides and chemicals (treated lawns or roadsides).
I use chickweed fresh in sandwiches, salads, and wraps the way you would use any fresh greens. It has a delightful light, sweet and fresh taste. It can also be made into a pesto sauce (recipe below). At this point you may be wondering what the benefits are of eating this particular weedy plant.
Chickweed is high in ascorbic acid, aluminum, copper, iron, manganese, silicon, zinc, potassium, protein, and vitamin A. Eaten liberally as a nutritive green it thought to be useful for joint pain and arthritis. It is said to help with weight loss. Sadly I personally have never see that result even when eaten daily. The weight loss theory is backed by research showing the plant contains a beta-sitosterols that compete with dietary fat in the digestive system, thus reducing fat absorption. Chickweed has wonderful demulcent and antispasmodic properties that are good for the respiratory system and reducing the dry coughs of winter. Overall it is a readily available, highly nutritive and health promoting plant that is free and probably right in your yard. Yay, chickweed!
I will save the skin benefits of using as a poultice or salve for another blog focused on external applications. Today is all about celebrating an incredible edible plant that has survived the winter in many areas. I will not go so far as to say “yay, climate change”. I would be happy to sacrifice a few months of foraging for normal weather patterns and less destruction!
As promised, a Chickweed Pesto recipe:
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 3 cups Chickweed
- 1T fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Pulse above ingredients in a food processor until smooth and enjoy on pasta, bread, or what ever you love your pesto on!