3 Herb Mamas

CHICKWEED…Harbinger of Spring

on March 10, 2014

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Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed is the first wild green I eat every year. As soon as the snow cover recedes and I can look for it, I am all over it. Sometimes I can even find it under the snow in sheltered spots under the trees. This year the temperatures were so low and the snow and ice such constant companions that I never even bothered to look for it in February. I’ve been enjoying sprouted Alfalfa and Red Clover instead and they offer a similar taste and crunch but nothing beats that delicious, sweet green flavor after a long winter of heavier grains, roots and meat based meals.

Chickweed is the perfect palate and digestive “cleanser” to enjoy between “courses” of seasonal feasting, and it is at its tastiest in the cool days of early spring or the final ones of autumn. Seeds germinate in the fall and the leaves overwinter. It actually goes dormant during the high heat of summer when other greens and vegetables are abundant. Its flavor is sweet and green, somewhat reminiscent of Romaine and the texture is crunchy, rather like sprouts. Chickweed makes an excellent salad green or a perfect replacement for lettuce or sprouts in sandwiches, wraps, tacos, etc. You can replace some or all of the basil called for in pesto with Chickweed for a creamy, mild condiment, dip or pasta topping. I also like to mince a quart or more of fresh Chickweed along with wild onions, garlic or chives, finely chopped, to add to fold into omelettes or quiches.

Chickweed is emollient (soothing to external skin tissue) and demulcent (soothing to internal tissue) so it is a common ingredient in salves and creams as well as teas. It makes a soothing eye wash for tired, inflamed eyes as well. It is rich in vitamins A, D, B-complex, C, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, zinc, manganese and iron. Chickweed is a mild diuretic and is often included in “diet teas”, perhaps for this reason. But save your money. Chickweed has an extremely short shelf life once dried. Eat it fresh or use fresh herb for your tea or soup, sauce or dressing bases. If you want to preserve it, tincturing (steeping in alcohol) is probably the best method.

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Early in the spring you will find Chickweed in clumps or little leafy green bundles of deliciousness. As it produces flowers and eventually seeds, the stems will become elongated and leggy. Both the stems and the leaves are edible so I never waste time picking the leaves off. I chop both leaves and stems and the occasional flower to toss into my wild salads.

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That single row of hairs along the stems are an identifying characteristic I look for. You’ll find Chickweed prefers shady, damp places but it comes in almost anywhere the soil has been disturbed. Almost every gardener who attends my weed walks recognizes this plant from weeding it out of their gardens. I always encourage them to “weed” it into their salad bowls.

Happy Spring! ~Leenie


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