Late Winter / Early Spring: Common Chickweed

chickweed-1.JPG

Who: 

Common chickweed

Stellaria media

Caryophyllaceae (Carnation / Pink) family


young-chickweed.jpg

What:

Very common edible wild ground cover; all parts are edible. 

“Microgreens” of the edible wild plant world.

Where:

Common in lawns and gardens, marginal and recently disturbed soils; prefers cooler, wetter conditions of spring and fall. 

chickweed-2.JPG

When:

Will tolerate light freezes and germinate anytime soil temperature is above freezing. 

Doesn’t love dry or hot conditions above the mid-80s F.

For most of the temperate eastern US, chickweed will be present somewhere on the land late in winter through midsummer, possibly persisting in shady areas through the summer. It will germinate again when temperatures cool in the fall, and may be present through most of winter in places where the land thaws periodically.

Why:

Chickweed is one of the most ubiquitous and abundant edible wild greens on Earth. It outcompetes essentially all of our cultivated greens in terms of nutrient density. All parts are edible raw, it is very easy to identify, and there is no risk of harming the plant population or the local ecosystem by harvesting it.

Many farmers and gardeners consider chickweed an unwanted nuisance, but in fact it is providing valuable services to your soil and your crops by carpeting the bare ground and holding warmth and moisture down at surface level.

chickweed-4.JPG

How:

When you stumble upon young chickweed sprouts, you can pull up the whole plant and consume it raw. You might opt to separate the root from the stem.

As the plant matures, it grows in a trailing, matted vine-like habit, and becomes too stringy and fibrous beyond the top inch or two at the tips of the stems. At this point it’s best to harvest by clipping off those tops with scissors or a sharp blade.

The flavor is very mellow with a light crunch, not unlike a mild lettuce or young spinach.

Consume it raw whenever you stumble upon it, or gather it and add to salads, sandwiches, or anywhere else you’d use leafy salad greens.

Store it in a plastic bag in the fridge so it can stay cool and retain moisture, and it’ll generally keep that way for a few days. But chances are good that there’s plenty more waiting for you wherever you look.

chickweed-3-flower.JPG

Key characteristics:

  • easily recognizable pointed-oval leaf shape; opposite leaves

  • tiny 5-petaled white flowers, deeply cleft so as to look like 10

  • 5 hairy sepals

  • single line of hairs running down each stem and leaf stem

Lookalikes:

mouse-ear.jpg

Mouse-ear chickweed, Cerastium spp. (often C. vulgatum or sometimes C. arvense, also known as field chickweed)

Caryophyllaceae family

  • edible lookalike; comparable flavor

  • similar size and growth habit

  • all parts completely covered in fine hairs; this trait may make it unpalatable to some

http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/WEEDS/mouseear_chickweed.html

https://oregonstate.edu/dept/nursery-weeds/weedspeciespage/mouseear_chickweed/field_chickweed_vs_mouseear.html


Photo: Joaquim Alvares Gaspar, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Joaquim Alvares Gaspar, via Wikimedia Commons

Scarlet pimpernel, Anagallis arvensis

Primulaceae family

  • toxic lookalike

  • similar growth habit; prefers similar growing conditions

  • sometimes found growing among or adjacent to patches of S. media

  • flowers are shades of pink, orange and red — S. media always has white flowers

  • no hairs on stems — S. media always has one line of hairs on its stems

  • often has dark red spots on underside of leaves — S. media never has red spots

  • flavor is sharply bitter and unpleasant — S. media has a very mild and pleasant flavor

  • will cause gastric distress in small doses; potentially fatal to humans and grazing animals

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anagallis_arvensis

http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/WEEDS/scarlet_pimpernel.html

SamComment