The Edible and Tasty Chickweed
By Maria Price
Chickweed or Stellaria media, is a delicious delicate low-growing wild plant that will please your palate. It’s abundant this year with all the rainy weather we’ve experienced. When gathered appropriately, it has one of the freshest, most delicate flavors and textures, great for salads or pesto.
Chickweed is a moisture-loving, cold-tolerant plant that thrives in soft rich soil. It’s native to Europe and is commonly found in lawns, gardens, pastures and fields. Chickweed grows in massive spurts in the spring and will grow lushly as long as the weather is cool and there is plenty of moisture.
One of the single most important identifying features of chickweed is the Mohawk-style hairs running along the length of each stem segment. If you can’t see the stem-hairs clearly, hold the plant up to the light. Leaf blades range in shape from elliptical to egg-shaped with a pointed tip. The flowers are distinctive and tiny with five bright white petals in the shape of bunny ears. The petals are so deeply cleft that, at first glance, one would think there are 10. Chickweed is high in both iron and zinc, higher than any domesticated greens. It is also very high in potassium, higher than spinach, Swiss chard and broccoli. The juice from the crushed leaves can be used to soothe irritate skin or eyes. The tender 2-inch-long young leafy stem tips are edible, raw or cooked. Use them like lettuce or alfalfa sprouts.
Mouse-ear chickweed, Cerastium fontanum, is an edible look-alike. It grows flatter and has more hairs. Cumin chickweed has a single line of hairs along the stem. There is a poisonous look-alike known as scarlet pimpernel or Anagallis arvensis, it has square stems, lacks the prominent hairs and has reddish flowers. Common chickweed has white flowers.
Collect the top two inches of common chickweed to make a great spring pesto. Put 2 cups of packed chickweed into a food processor. Pulse until chopped and add ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, two garlic cloves, a dash of salt, 2 teaspoons rice vinegar, ½ cup of parmesan cheese, ¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds and ¼ cup walnuts. Blend well and pour over whole wheat pasta.