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Where the Wild Things Are, part 4: Chickweed

chickweed

It’s been a while since I’ve done an installment in this series.  I took the winter off since many plants are either dormant or not in their most familiar form.  With this spring’s early arrival, I’m almost too late to get pictures of some of my favorites before they take a hiatus.

This new one is such a great all-around plant that I was conflicted about whether to title this as a food plant or a medicinal, because really it is both.  Once you read about it, you’ll be thrilled to find this weed growing rampant in your yard!

A Nutritional Powerhouse Just Waiting for Appreciation

One of the best all around “weeds” you can eat is the delicate, but prolific chickweed.  This annual is very quick to announce the arrival of spring with quick growth and tiny white blooms.  It is mat-like in its growth habit and it gets 6-8 inches high by about 16 inches around.    It is an airy-looking plant with long, thin wisp-like stems and small leaves.  There is a fine line of “hairs” along the stem that may switch sides as they reach leaf pairs.

Right now in our area the plant is a medium green color and at this point is almost beginning to yellow a bit as temps in the 80’s have been frequent lately. It seems to enjoy partial shade.  The leaves are small ovals with pointed ends.  The edges of the leaves are smooth rather than toothed.  They appear in pairs on opposites sides of the stem.  New leaves will have no leaf stems visible, though older, larger ones may.

Chickweed often has a huge growth spurt in early spring and then dies back some for the hottest months.  It frequently has another good run when temps begin to drop off in the fall.  Some form of this plant grows nearly everywhere and can be found (if you know what to look for) at almost all times of the year.

When chickweed’s stem is broken, there is NO milky sap-  this characteristic helps to differentiate it from other similar plants.  Also, there is a slightly stretchy center core inside the stem when you begin to pick it.  It is possible to crease the stem with your nail enough to separate the outside tube while leaving the core intact.  That core will usually withstand a slight amount of pulling before breaking.

chickweed has a lot of beneficial propertiesThe flowers are only 1/8 – 1/4 inch wide and often open only while the sun shines on them.   At night, the leaves fold over the flowers and tender buds.  Technically, they have 5 petals, but they are so deeply notched that they look more like 10 or even like “fringe.”  Another noteworthy characteristic is that forming buds are often downward-facing, especially on the  Star Chickweed that is most common here.  The buds are also oval shaped and “hairy.”

Chickweed gets is name from the fact that chickens are said to love it.  I’ve never seen our “free range” birds eat it, but it may be they just eat from patches I don’t know about.  The one area I know about that is completely covered with this plant is not part of their usual rounds.

Uses for Chickweed

One of our favorite “wild food” meals is Chickweed, Violet, & Dandelion Salad.  All three “weeds” are at their peak at about the same time and we have more than we could ever eat.  Chickweed is one of few plants that have leaves, flowers, and stems that all taste good- no need to strip the stems off.  They’re so delicate that you can grab handfuls and use all the aerial parts, though new growth is always most tender.

Chickweed can be eaten raw (as in a salad).  It has a taste reminiscent of corn silk.  It is also good lightly cooked like spinach, which it will taste like also.  Much like spinach, it will shrink quite a bit in cooking.  If adding to soups for extra nutrition, do so shortly before serving to avoid overcooking.

Chickweed is one of the most nutrient-dense wild edibles you can find.  It is full of vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as a flavonoid called rutin.  It also contains the minerals calcium, copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus, silica, sodium, and zinc.

Chickweed is credited with many healing properties in addition to nutritional ones.  For many years, it has been used as a warm poultice for all kinds of skin irritations, itching, swelling, diaper rash, and infections.  The water chickweed is cooked in is used for washing wounds also.   It is considered useful whether fresh, dried, powdered, or mixed as a salve.

Many think if it is eaten is will help with cold symptoms, indigestion, rheumatoid arthritis, and “blood poisoning.”  A strong tea is made for constipation to be drunk repeatedly until the problem is resolved.  It is used for post-partum recovery and other “female complaints,” kidney problems, as well as a circulatory “tonic.”  It has shown promise recently as an antihistamine.

Those allergic to daisies may want to avoid chickweed to prevent contact dermatitis.  As always, pregnant or nursing women and children should use caution and consider not taking it internally.

Here is a video that “Green Deane” made to help you learn to identify and use this marvelous plant.  If you ever get a chance to attend one of his walking identification tours, I highly recommend them!

Got a favorite chickweed recipe?  Please share.

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21 Comments on “Where the Wild Things Are, part 4: Chickweed”

  1. Stan Morris Says:

    Nice post. I wish that I had read these before writing my book, Surviving the Fog.

    Reply

    • Laura Says:

      You know, I keep meaning to get around to reviewing that one. I read it a while back in the midst of a string of other books. I didn’t put it together with your name on previous comments, though.

      I thought it was an interesting perspective- almost solely teenagers. I liked how you wrote the interpersonal dynamics of the characters. I also thought it had a good balance of the various survival elements. Nice job on the book!

      I wrote the first 25,000 words of a story that has been bouncing around in my head for years. Then I got a terrible cold and couldn’t write for a while. I’d been doing pretty well- probably averaging more than a chapter a day up until then- but I lost my momentum and now spring is here. There is so much to do and, honestly, keeping up this blog is almost more than we can manage sometimes. With farming, a “full quiver” of children, homeschooling, etc., we are a bit overextended. 🙂

      I’d like to get back to the novel and finish it, but with another baby due in a few months, I can’t imagine when I’ll have time. It is a different kind of story than others I’ve read. The national food supply is contaminated for one thing. I was pleased with how it was shaping up, but alas, I have not even looked at it in over a month. Oh well. Maybe if I ever finish it, I can get your feedback on it before we publish.

      Reply

      • poormansprepper Says:

        You know Laura

        you might consider a snall not pad or tape recorder, I find that when I am out doing mundane work that my mind works best, i get snipits of things to write and how to write them. Just pop out the recorder or jot them down really fast and keep going. Youwould be suprised at how much progress you make so even if it is months before youget back to the actual writing you have been working on it and just have to solidify all those thoughts into a whole.

        Just a thought

        Good luck!

        Jeff

        Reply

        • poormansprepper Says:

          That would be SMALL NOTE pad …sorry

          Reply

        • Laura Says:

          That is a good point Jeff. I may try that. Most of the major plot elements I have planned out, but I know I need to go back and do more character development and so on. I did at least print out a copy of what I have so far in case the computer crashes or a child deletes it, or whatever (why are the children so drawn to the computer I use? There is no telling what the toddler has inserted in there by now!).

          Keeping a notepad with me would be helpful for a myriad of other things too. Maybe I wouldn’t show up at a destination in the house and have forgotten why I went there so often. I’ve blamed that on pregnancy, distractions from children, and the years I drank diet drinks with sweeteners the govt insisted were safe. Whatever the reason, maybe I could be more productive if I wrote more things down.

          Thanks for your continued support of our efforts here!

          Reply

  2. poormansprepper Says:

    Great post again

    I lived in Arkansas for a year or two, age 9-10, and I lived off of chickweed. I was always outside and never wanting to come indoors when I got hungry I started pulling up this weed and munching on it.

    I don’t know if it grows as abundantly around here (Pacific Northwest) I will have to start looking around and see if I can find it…out here if you get hungry you just start eating blackberries, they are considered a pest plant up here.

    Thank you for the great childhood memories

    Jeff

    Reply

    • Laura Says:

      How did you originally learn about chickweed? Did your parents encourage you to eat it? One variety or another is supposed to grow just about everywhere. I hope you find some where you are now.

      We have plenty of blackberries here too. Well, we used to, before we got goats. Nearly every fence line had them when we moved in and any areas not regularly bushhogged can be quickly taken over. I understand in Minnesota and surrounding states, wild blueberries are considered weeds.

      Reply

      • poormansprepper Says:

        My brother-in-law (16 years my elder) taught me about chickweed, my sister (15 years my elder) taught me about dandelions, and my father taught me about honeysuckle (YUM!). We are not really an outdoorsy family we just have lots of eclectic knowledge lol. It is amazing just how much food there is out there when you know what you are looking for.

        Jeff

        Reply

  3. Mike Says:

    I just found your site last night and I have been looking for this for months. Field guides with a b/w photo and a brief description are no help. I learned more from you in ten minutes than in hours of reading other material.

    I went out today and found chickweed in abundance at my mother’s place while I brought my daughter to visit grandma. Mom said they spray for weeds, so sadly we could not try it. I told her we can eat a lot of what she is spraying for.

    If you would put all of your videos on dvd (preferably bluray) I would buy them all.

    Thanks again!
    Ready in Lake Norman

    Reply

    • Laura Says:

      You are very kind- thanks!

      I really am far from an expert, though. I have been studying on my own for years, but I have no one local to learn from in the field. Our family did go on one “plant walk” with a park ranger, but his focus was on native plants rather than edible ones. He obviously knew his topic, but had never given thought to whether they had nutritional or medicinal value.

      I found this again recently when going on a “wildflower walk.” The lady could identify quite a few spring time flowers and encouraged people to collect them to make their own ID book. I was surprised to realize she was completely unaware that the May Apple she told children to pick is extremely toxic (all parts except the fully ripe fruit).

      Green Deane’s videos on YouTube are great, I think. I drove a very long way to go on one of his walking/teaching tours and it was well worth it. I took copious pictures and notes and was astounded at how many edible plants there were just on an average college campus.

      Your comment also makes me realize that I really need to do a post soon on some of the helpful books I’ve found. I agree that black and white photos leave me uncertain and if the plant has a poisonous “look-alike,” I wouldn’t dare try it without someone to verify it for me.

      I wish the quality of my pictures was better. You give me more credit than I deserve because I didn’t think they were particularly helpful since our zoom has its limits. I also got concerned because I see some leaves of an adjacent plant peaking through and I didn’t want to confuse anyone.

      I’m planning to do wild violet, henbit, and lamb’s quarters before long.

      Thanks again for the encouragement.

      Reply

      • Mike Says:

        I got the impression you and Green Deane collaborated on this. I should probably give him the same comment on his YouTube site.

        I also tried to find the North Star a million times before and your simple diagrams made it easy. Thanks for that as well.

        I haven’t read the whole site, of course, but I’d like to get your take on reading a compass and collecting water.

        Reply

        • Laura Says:

          I did not mean to mislead or take credit for his great work. I apologize to both you and Deane if the piece sounded that way. Please do post your praises on his site! He is such a great, down-to-earth guy and has offered his knowledge for free on YouTube, but you are right- it would be very handy to have physical copies to study. Our internet connection out here in the sticks is such that I can only very occasionally view his videos without “exceeding our allotted bandwidth” and getting charged a big ugly fee from the service provider. I’d buy his videos too!

          As for the compass and constellation topics, I’ll make sure my husband Joe sees your comment. That is his area. For the sake of collectively learning as much as possible, we’ve kind of divided survival topics to attempt to master between the two of us. I concentrate on food, plants, medicine, and some others. He focuses on weapons, orienteering (with compass and stars), ham radio, and so on. We try to cross-train each other when possible, but it seems like there is just so much to learn!

          Thanks for taking the time to comment. I hope you find more useful things here.

          Reply

          • Mike Says:

            I don’t think you implied anything improper. That was my incorrect assumption and really I just thought you guys worked in association. It was me not paying attention.

            The real reason I want me own copies is that when we need this the most, we won’t have an internet connection.

            Mike

            Reply

        • Joe Says:

          Thanks for the comments and the ideas, Mike!

          I recently taught a basic orienteering course to a group of young men and their fathers. I was amazed and encouraged by the interest that both age groups had in the subject. I’ll put together some thoughts for the blog and post soon.

          Water collection is another great topic as well. Thanks!

          Joe

          Reply

  4. poormansprepper Says:

    Laura

    I was wondering what you wuld consider the best rescourse for wild edibles/medical plants?
    Also are there any rescourses that are regional I.E. specific to differant regoins of the country.

    Thank you for any help

    Jeff

    Reply

    • Laura Says:

      If you mean books, I need to get a list of the ones I find most useful posted. If you mean online, I think the Green Dean’s YouTube videos are the best things I’ve found and he has an associated blog where he will answer questions. He is just a super nice guy and a wealth of info.

      As far as an educational group/company that offers classes around the country, I haven’t found one. One of our local parks has occasionally offered Weeds Walks, but unfortunately, I haven’t been able to attend most since I am unable to carry a toddler that far while pregnant. I should check into REI and other sporting goods stores. They did sponsor some wilderness first aid classes last winter

      I’ll see about getting a list of those books on the blog soon. Thanks for the question.

      Reply

  5. pregnancy Says:

    Hi! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebookk group?

    There’s a lot of people that Ithink would realoly appreciate your content.
    Please let me know. Many thanks

    Reply

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