Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

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 close cousin 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.

Chickweed chimmichurri is popular too. There's a recipe here - at Fat of the Land.

Or just throw chickweed into a smoothie to add nutritional value and extra froth!

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 Go Native soapmaking supplies.

Chickweed links:

All about Chickweed at Wild*crafty
Plants for a Future database
Pesto recipe


Heather said...

Ooo! Exciting :-) I've just realised that this is the dominant weed in one of our garden beds, and was about to pull it all out this afternoon. I'll have to get experimenting with it instead :-)

--Heather :-)

Cally said...

Read this blog this morning. After lunch, took my father's tranny (at least 30 years old!) and went to weed my lemon balm which i just showing a few tiny new leaves. This Way Up was on. You were talking chickweed - how could I pull all the chickweed out while listening to you?!! But then I turned around and realised that the entire compost heap is covered in chickweed, so kept on - lemon balm is the only herb I have found that I like as a herb tea.

Johanna Knox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johanna Knox said...

Okay, I'll try that again ...

@ Heather - it's amazing how abundantly it grows!!

@ Cally - oh that's so funny. Yay for old radios!!!

Ambrosia said...

Great blog! I've always thought chickweed looked edible, but I wasn't sure!
Will now go and munch!Ta!

Johanna Knox said...

Hi Ambrosia - thanks for your kind comment - I have been poring over your gorgeous blog lately ...

Maggie Mahboubian said...

Finally discovered your wonderful blog and I will have to read through your posts. I love to forage for food, medicine or perfume. We're in the Hudson Valley now and every day I discover a new plant. Yesterday I finally saw and identified poison hemlock. It's such a pretty and unassuming plant; hard to imagine it's so deadly. I only pick what I know, but over the years I'd have to say the plants have revealed themselves to me. It makes driving down a country road somewhat hazardous . . . "oh, look, there's some evening primrose in bloom . . ."!

rebelwithoutakitchen said...

my mother used to feed it to the budgies