Leaves, stems and flowers are all edible.
Finding and harvesting
Chickweed likes to grow wild in gardens (often on a bed of soil you’ve cleared), as well as in the unmowed areas of parks and reserves. It starts life as a mat of tangly, sprawling stems with small teardrop-shaped leaves. The leaves get bigger and the stems more upright as it grows.
Its tiny, white flowers look like they have ten petals, but if you peer closely you’ll see they’re five petals with splits down their middles.
It’s hard to pull a handful of chickweed up without bringing unwanted bits of grass and other weeds with it. The easiest way to harvest it is to find the tips, pull them upwards, and snip off the best-looking bits.
Chickweed as food
Chickweed contains B vitamins, as well as vitamins C and D. It’s also a respectable source of iron, copper, calcium and sodium.
Raw chickweed snipped up into little pieces (1 or 2 cm long) is a healthy and yummy salad ingredient. It reminds me of alfalfa sprouts.
You can also cook it in a stirfry, a soup, a casserole or a sauce. Add it at the last minute, and preferably cut it up quite small so it doesn’t feel stringy when you eat it. (Or even puree it.)
Cuisine-wise, chickweed really comes into its own in pesto. It’s one of a number of plants that contain saponins – compounds that lather up like soap. (Chickweed's rellie Soapwort contains especially high levels of saponins and is used as as natural soap substitute.) The saponins in chickweed give your pesto an especially creamy quality.
Plus - here's a recipe for chickweed chimichurri, which has been doing the rounds on the internet lately. There's another variation on the the theme here - at Fat of the Land - one of the best US foraging blogs.
Throw chickweed into a smoothie to add nutritional value and make the smoothie extra frothy!
Chickweed as medicine or cosmetic
It’s partly the saponins that make chickweed valuable as a soothing and healing skin treatment. Chickweed poultices or compresses can be good for eczema, insect bites, and other itchy skin conditions.
To make a chickweed compress first make juice from a few handfuls of chickweed. You can do this in a juicer if you have one. Alternatively, whiz up the chickweed in a blender or food processor with a little water, then strain the mix through muslin.
If you prefer to take the unplugged route, pound the chickweed very well in a mortar and pestle, add a bit of water, and strain through muslin to obtain the juice.
Finally, lay a piece of clean cotton on a clean towel, and pour the chickweed juice over it. Place the juice-soaked cotton on the affected area of skin, or wrap it around it.
I've just started experimenting with making chickweed lotion, adding chickweed juice to olive oil and emulsifier from the fantastic Go Native soapmaking supplies. (Friendly and rapid service and good prices. Plus very helpful recipes on their site ... and no, I'm not on their payroll! :) )
All about Chickweed at Wild*crafty
Plants for a Future database
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