I love the time of year when everything suddenly turns green and there is a burst of grass and weeds and buds and a riot of neon yellows and chartreuse as things slowly gain darker color. I think living in the north we like winter as much for the stark beauty of snow and ice and indoor time as much as we love how spring comes with such intensity and a complete change of palette.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is one of the early weeds that is a multifaceted and useful medicinal and culinary treat. It has a long history of use and it grows in pretty much all climates. It is a very nutrient rich plant and is enjoyed in pestos and salads for its nutritive and diuretic properties, it is cooling, soothing and demulcent. It can easily be added to smoothies and salads and it is rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. It is also often used externally for skin inflammation, acne, irritated eyes, and diaper rash - any hot irritations and inflammation.
Chickweed is a plant that likely is growing somewhere in your yard or along your borders. The best time to pick it is just when it starts to flower, before it is stringy and seeding. Harvesting is simple - pick from a spot you know is safe (no pet traffic, pesticides, or runoff). You can cut it a few inches from the central base, leaving a few inches behind so it will grow enough for a few more harvests. Once you have snipped a bowl full, be sure to clean and dry it and sort out any bits of grass or other plant material that may have hitched a ride.
Chickweed is pretty easy to identify. It has 5 petals that are so deep that it looks like 10 petals. And along the stem there is a fine line of hairs growing vertically up ONE side of the stem. Look closely - the little line of hairs is only on one side to each node, and then past the junction the hairs grow on another side. Leaves are oval and grow in alternate patterns up the stem.
After harvest, you have many options of how to use it. You can simply chop and add to a salad or put into your morning smoothie. I happen to have a family who is not as enthusiastic as I am about picking weeds in the yard and eating them so I have a few ways to use them that my family is OK with.
Chickweed Salad Dressing
Chickweed Salad Dressing
Chickweed is a nutrient rich and delicious plant that you can find in most yards. This salad dressing is a great way to use chickweed - especially if it is a new foraged "weed" for you!
This is an easy dressing to blend into a jar.
Infused Chickweed Oil
I love using chickweed to make salve. It is easy to infuse an oil with fresh chickweed. Most herbal infusions recommend using dry herbs to minimize the potential for spoilage due to water content. Chickweed is one of the few herbs that doesn't dry very well and so I use it fresh. There are a few tips to ensure the best outcome.
First, after rinsing the chickweed let it dry out. Chop it up a little spread it out on a screen or tray and let it dry out a bit for a few hours or overnight.
Second, use a low and slow heat infusion method. Pre-heat your oven to 250F. Put your wilted/slightly dry chickweed into an oven safe pan and pour over a carrier oil to cover. I use olive oil sometimes, but it carries a smell, so I often use safflower, grapeseed, or some other neutral oil. Once your oven is preheated put the pan in the oven, turn the oven OFF and let it infuse in the warm environment for several hours or overnight.
Third, strain well. I like to strain through a very fine mesh strainer first, and then through a nut bag second (a few layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter would work too). This strains out as much plant material as possible.
Store this oil in the fridge to prolong shelf life. You can use this as a culinary oil as well, but I use it to make a salve. A simple chickweed salve only needs your infused oil and beeswax. You can add lavender essential oil to it too. Or you can blend a few infused oils together such as calendula, comfrey, and lavender along with beeswax to make a blended healing salve.
Chickweed will keep growing all summer long, especially in the shady spots along garden beds and rock walls. I will keep harvesting, but it is always the most exciting finding and cutting the first bowlful every spring!
Here are a few recipes if you are interested in using chickweed in more ways:
River Cottage Chickweed Pakoras
Chickweed Pesto from Rosalee de la Forêt at Learning Herbs
Chickweed Salad from Mark Bittman
More general chickweed info from the Practical Herbalist.
I am a certified aromatherapist, clinical herbalist, organic gardener, plant conservationist, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, permaculture designer, health justice activist, whole foods maker, and mother of two unschooled boys in south central Wisconsin.