GATHER

Photos and text by Jennifer Nu

Got chickweed? Yes? Why thank you for providing a perfect habitat for one of my favorite superfoods. 

Maybe I’ll show up on your doorstep with scissors and a large cloth bag in hand. In past years, I have been blessed to find bags of chickweed show up on my porch. Recently, a generous forager friend gifted me two planters filled with chickweed so I will be able to happily feed my obsession until the fall. 

‘Weeds’ are plants that show up in places where they are not wanted, namely gardens and farms. Yet many of these plants have both medicinal and food uses. Perhaps a voracious forager can keep these populations in check, and certainly with less long-term damage than chemical sprays. For foragers of all levels, chickweed is a good one to learn and gather. Native to Europe and Asia, chickweed can now be found all over the world in disturbed areas, especially in gardens and on farms. Luminously green, tender, and fast-growing, Stellaria media is delicious and fabulously nourishing. It can quickly overshadow direct-seeded crops, such as carrots, so many growers flinch at the mention of chickweed. Ask any gardener or farmer, and they will identify it for you, and hopefully invite you to harvest it. 

Optimal time to harvest chickweed is before the charming white flowers appear as this is when they have good flavor and are still tender. They are still good after they flower, though, so go for it if you have the chance. You’ll also make your hosts happy by preventing the plants from going to seed and spreading. After a clipping, chickweed will likely grow back again if the roots aren’t pulled out. Ask your farmer friend if they want the full weed eating service, and you can pull the chickweed out, then snip the roots into a different container from your foraging bucket. 

After the flowering stage, chickweed gets tougher and stringier. Hang these up to dry for winter. They reconstitute well in soups and stews. Watch out for tiny seedpods and be mindful to keep seeds contained so that they are not spread to where they are not wanted. You might want to eat these too, sprinkled on salads and other dishes. 

This humble plant packs a nutritious punch with a wide array of minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, and iron) plus vitamins (vitamin C, B, and more). Medicinally, it is cooling, demulcent, and can break up congestion and blockages. You can crush fresh chickweed and apply as a poultice to bug bites and other skin irritations, in a healing salve, or vinegar tincture. As with other foraging, avoid gathering chickweed from places that are contaminated or sprayed with chemicals. 

Consider this a call for gardeners and foragers to create a mutually beneficial arrangement for transporting this wonderful food from a place where it is not wanted to where it can nourish and be appreciated. 

Please email us at localfoodschallenge.seak@gmail.com if you are:

a) farmer or gardener who wants to get rid of chickweed and dandelion removed from their fields

b) someone who is looking to help out a farmer or gardener by weeding their fields and eating the weeds

Chickweed Pesto Recipe

Ingredients

  • Several cups of fresh chickweed, washed and drained
  • A cup of nuts such as walnuts or pine nuts
  • One or two cloves of garlic, minced
  • Several pours (tablespoons) of oil (olive recommended)
  • Several squeezes of citrus (lemon or lime) juice or a few teaspoons of vinegar
  • A few pinches of salt

Preparation

  • Combine all the ingredients in a food processor. 
  • Adjust proportions of each as you wish. 
  • More chickweed results in a greener, moister paste. Balance proportions of oil to vinegar to be 2:1. 
  • Add more oil if you wish to freeze for winter.