Wild Edible Plants: Chickweed (Stellaria Media)

Chickweed (Stellaria Media)Chickweed is another plant of Eurasian origin that’s made itself quite at home in the States and everywhere else that European people have traveled. It is now a common weed almost world-wide. Chickweed is an annual, but is somewhat unusual in that it often germinates in the fall (though it also germinates year-round), and hangs on through the winter, flowering and setting seed in the early spring, and dying off by summer. It’s at its best in the spring and fall, as it greatly prefers cool and damp conditions, and will not survive where it’s dry and hot.

Chickweed has shallow, fibrous, fragile roots. It’s easy to uproot accidentally, but will quickly recover if put back. The plant’s weak stems mostly trail along the ground (for up to about sixteen inches), but the growing ends may be upright (up to eight inches high). The stems branch very frequently and take root at the leaf junctions. If you look very closely at the stems, you’ll see a single line of hairs running up the side, and you’ll notice that the line changes sides at each leaf junction. The leaves are opposite, smooth, and oval (with a point at the tip), and the older leaves are stalked, while the new leaves are not.

Chickweed is just about always flowering, except in the dead of winter. It has tiny white flowers, about a quarter inch in diameter, in the leaf axils or in terminal clusters, with five deeply notched petals that look like ten, and five green sepals that are longer than the petals. The flowers close at night and open in the morning. They also close when it’s about to rain. Possibly they respond to changes in air pressure. It does seem that the flowers don’t open at all when a low pressure system is lingering. Chickweed also reacts to nightfall by folding its leaves over the growing tip to protect it.

It is not to be dispised as a mere weed, for many European authors are enthusiastic in their praises of it as a substitute for spinach. Thus Mrs. Lankester went so far as to say; “When boiled, it forms an excellent green vegetable resembling spinach in flavour, and is very wholesome.” Others speak of it as having little taste, but as being a good padding to add bulk to other spinaches. Only the young, vigorously growing tips should be used, since the older bases of the plant become stringy with age.

Edible Parts

  • Leaves
  • Stems
  • Flowers
  • Seeds

The leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds of chickweed are all edible. It has a very inviting flavor, mild and very green. It tastes like spring. Some people compare the flavor to cornsilk. It’s a wonderful one to balance out some of the bitter greens you might have in your salad.

Most people agree with me that the very best way to eat chickweed is raw. It’s a delicate plant that much more suited for dropping into a salad that putting in a pot of boiling water. But it can be used in soup, and it is sometimes stir-fried.

Uses

Chickweed (Stellaria Media) Salad

Chickweed is generally used as food. I often nibble on it when I’m out in the yard. It has a mild, refreshing flavor. The leaves and stems can be added to salads, cooked as greens, or added to anything you might add greens to (which, to me, is just about everything). Just don’t cook it for more than a few minutes.

Chickweed is particularly high in ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and mucilage, and also provides rutin, para amino benzoic acid (PABA), gamma linolenic acid (GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid derivative), niacin, riboflavin (B2), thiamin (B1), beta carotene (A), magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, manganese, sodium, selenium, and silicon.

The seeds are also edible. The plant can be dried for storage.

Chickweed is a fairly safe food, however, as almost everything is somehow toxic if you use enough of it, over-consumption of this plant may give you diarrhea.

Medicinal Uses

Medicinally, chickweed is tonic, diuretic, demulcent, expectorant, and mildly laxative. It’s often recommended for asthma, bronchitis, or congestion. It’s also said to help control obesity and is an ingredient in some herbal weight loss preparations. Externally, chickweed relieves itching and inflammation and is generally soothing and moisturizing. It can be used for any minor skin infections or irritations, and is an ingredient in a number of commercial skin care products. As far as I’ve been able to discover, this common plant has yet to be thoroughly scientifically studied.

However, the benefits ascribed to chickweed may simply be the result of its high nutritional value, especially the presence of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). The medicinal effects of this fatty acid read much like the values ascribed to chickweed. GLA is recommended for a variety of skin problems, for hormone imbalances as in PMS, and for arthritis. It clears congestion, controls obesity, reduces inflammation, reduces water retention, acts as tonic for the liver, and reduces the negative effects of alcohol abuse.

For Feeding Chickens

Chickens and many other birds love chickweed, and eat both the plants and the seeds, which is how it gets its name. If you keep birds as pets, you can feed it to them too.

Where Does Chickweed (Stellaria Media) Grow?

Chickweed (Stellaria Media) Grow Area Map

How To Identify Chickweed (Stellaria Media)

Chickweed (Stellaria Media) Wild Edible

Chickweed likes to grow in dense, tangled mats low to the ground. It has pointed oval leaves that grow in pairs along the stem.

A very cute characteristic of chickweed is a line of fine hairs that will be present on only one side of the stem. You’ll see the line of hairs going up one side of the stem until it reaches a node (where the leaves branch off), then the line of hairs will switch to the opposite side of the stem.

When broken, the chickweed stem does not exude any sap. If you have something with white sap in the stem, it’s not chickweed.

Chickweed has a white flower with five petals, but each petals is so deeply notched that it looks like there are ten petals instead of five.

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