Chickweed Chic

by Green Deane

in Edible Raw, Flowers, Greens/Pot Herb, Plants, Recipes, Salad

Chickweed has an elastic core

Chickweed Connoisseurs

My being green really paid off this spring: For the first time (2009) I have chickweed in my lawn. I don’t know how it got there but it is time to eat a little and celebrate.

A tangle of chickweed

Of course, few lawn owners feel that way. Decapitated grass has given chickweed a bad rap.  Instead of lawn lovers pulling out a clump of chickweed and having it for dinner, they spend a lot of green to get rid of the green. Its demise is a million-dollar business, which is a large expense and a waste of food.

Fine line of hair flips sides at nodes

Chickweed tastes good and is good for you with ascorbic-acid, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, niacin, potassium, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, zinc, copper, and Gamma-linolenic-acid.  That’s a win win as they used to say. Raw, it tastes exactly like corn silk, if you’ve ever tried that. Cooked it is similar to spinach though the texture is different. It can be added to soups or stews, but in the last five minutes to prevent overcooking. Unlike many wild edibles, the chickweed’s stems, leaves, flowers and seeds are all edible. It does hold nitrates and people with allergies to daisies might want to pass it by. Only the Mouse-ear chickweed has to be cooked. The rest can be eaten raw, but I think it tastes better cooked.

Chickweed’s scientific name is Stellaria media (Stel-LAY-ree-uh MEED-ee-uh which means “little star in the mist.” Probably from Eurasia, it is now found around the world, even in the arctic circle and Greenland, as are thistles, mustards, clover, and blackberries. Chickweed is also a back yard barometer. Its leaves fold up when it’s going to rain. The leaves also fold up at night. Cute. Also, chickweed is not an early riser, blossoms open late in the morning. By the way, it is called chickweed because chickens love it.

There are some reasonably close look-alikes, but three things separates chickweed from poisonous pretenders. First, it does NOT have milky sap. Next, it has one line of hairs on its stem, that changes sides with each pair of leaves. Lastly, if you bend the stem, rotate each end counter each other, and pull gently the outer part of the stem will separated but the elastic inner part will not and you will have a stretched inner part between the two stem ends. See picture.

Lastly, if you have chickweed but it doesn’t quite fit the description, look at my article on Drymaria coradata, a chickweed cousin that shares some characteristics.

Chickweed 10-petal blossom

2 cups of chopped chickweed leaves and stems.

¼ cup minced onion

2 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons honey, fruit juice concentrate, or sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups wheat flour

¾ cup warm water

1 packet yeast

Sauté onion and chickweed until tender (not brown). Dissolve honey and yeast into the warm water and then the salt. Mix the yeast mixture with the cooled sautéed chickweed and onions and slowly add the flour until the dough no longer sticks to your fingers Form into a ball and let it rise to twice its volume. Shape into loaves and let rise again. Bake at 375 .F for 40-45 minutes.

 Chickweed Pie is best hot; it will keep one to two days in the refrigerator and can be reheated in a microwave oven.

One 10-inch pie crust

3 cups chopped chickweed

1 cup diced slab bacon

½ cup finely chopped onion

3 large eggs

1½ cups sour cream

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 10-inch pie dish with crust and make a raised border around the rim to prevent filling from overflowing during baking.

To prepare chickweed, remove all leaves, twigs and root ends, reserving only the greenest, leafiest parts. Rinse thoroughly in a colander and gently dry with paper towels. Bunch the chickweed together into a ball and chop it with a sharp knife until reduced to a confetti texture. Measure, then put chickweed in a large bowl.

Fry diced bacon in a skillet until it begins to brown, then add onion. Cook about 3 minutes, or until onion wilts. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon and onions to bowl with chickweed. Discard drippings from pan.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs until lemon colored, then add sour cream, flour and nutmeg. Add egg mixture to chickweed, onions and bacon. Spread filling evenly in the pie shell and pat down firmly with a spoon. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until pie has set in center and top looks golden.

—Adapted from Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking by William Woys Weaver (Abbeville Press, 1993).

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION:

Annual herb with slender, smooth stems to about a foot long, one row of tiny hairs growing in a row on one side of the stem, switching to other side at each pair of opposite, oval pointed leaves. Old leaves have stalks, young leaves do not. Flowers, small, white with five petals so deeply notched that they look like ten petals.  Does NOT have milky sap. If you have a plant you think is chickweed and it has milky sap you have the wrong plant.

TIME OF YEAR:

During the cool weather of spring, which in Florida is February.  Dislike heat, germinates in the winter.

ENVIRONMENT:

Likes moist soil and or shady areas.

METHOD OF PREPARATION:

Numerous, usually chopped and boiled or fried, or added raw to salad.  Chickweed can be stringy so it is often  chopped.   Has many herbal uses, too numerous to mention.  (Also see Drymaria cordata else where on this site.)

 

 

 

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Leila February 2, 2016 at 12:23

Do you know if the edible type chickweed grows in S E Arizona, or if I buy seeds it will naturalize?

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Jesse June 15, 2015 at 01:02

I would think “media” in the name Stellaria Media would refer to the inner cord inside the stem. I can not figure out how it would mean “in the mist” maybe “in the midst” but that still seems confusing. I think media in English is borrowed directly from the Latin.

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Charity Becker May 9, 2015 at 16:06

I just discovered your website while searching Google for “chickweed identification”, and I’m hooked! Thanks for all the great info. I’ll be bookmarking your site and reading every article. I’m also excited to say, after reading this article, I know for certain I have almost a full acre of chickweed, plus about 10X10 feet of it inside my garden on the fallow side! I’m completely stoked about this–after 4 years working this rocky, dry land, I’m finally seeing some really interesting things popping up <3

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Vivienne Palmer October 12, 2014 at 10:16

Hi,

I’m writing a piece on Chickweed this week for my blog, do you mind if I link to this? I like the idea of Chickweed Pie….

Thanks

Vivienne

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Green Deane October 13, 2014 at 18:14

You may link to it.

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Alla July 14, 2014 at 16:02

Hi, I have some plants on my yard that look similar to chickweed. Is there any way that I can send you a picture so you can tell me if those are really a chickweed. Thank you very much!

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Green Deane July 14, 2014 at 18:46

Yes, and where are you? You can post them on the Green Deane Forum UFO page (unidentified flowering objects.)

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Aimee June 14, 2014 at 19:09

Im in Canada. I have found many patches of mouse-eared chickweed in my yard this year. But today, while looking closely at a small patch, I saw among them a similar plant. The flowers are almost identical, they grew side by side, but the mystery weed’s stem and leaves had no hairs. The leaves were smooth and slender, not the shape of chickweed, but almost like wide pine needles, and grew in opposites. What is this new little weed trying to hide among my chickweed?

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Jeremy May 8, 2014 at 20:06

Why does mouse ear chickweed have to be cooked?

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Green Deane May 9, 2014 at 08:33

It’s hairy texture is moderated by cooking.

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cucumber202 January 3, 2014 at 18:40

I am sooo excited …I found and identified chickweed. my first wild edible. !!!!! I have been trying for sooo long to do this. I stir fried it with some green onions and butter and oil. then added lemon. It was amazing!!!! tasted just like spinach. I have a lot of it in my yard and I am going out in the morning searching for more to freeze. I can’t thank you enough for being so precise on your identification. I feel at ease because I couldn’t find anyone around the area to help me. I live in N. Charleston, SC.

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farouk November 22, 2013 at 10:29

After conferming that I’ve the correct identity of this plant ( please see my comment in Eattheweeds issue 19Nov.2013) I’ve cooked the following per one person: good mixing of : one handful of the plant well washed with hot water and carefully sliced; one medium size tomato cut into small slices; about fifty grams of non salty cheese; one egg; garlic, coriander, black pepper, cinnamon and salt. After thorough mixing fry with sun flower -vegetable- oil for three to five minutes .

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SG Griffith October 20, 2013 at 17:45

Thank you! I was able to find the tiny hairs on my chickweed, and the stem pulled apart just like the picture.

I’m impressed!

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Daniel August 15, 2013 at 22:10

It may be a good idea to reference scarlet pimpernel as a look alike. They appear very similar if there are no flowers present. Make sure people know to avoid tiny purplish spots on the undersides of the leaves and a square stem that definitely does not pull apart as you mentioned.

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David July 27, 2013 at 18:06

Do or can you eat the whole plant including the small flowers from chickweed Thanks

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Green Deane July 27, 2013 at 21:38

All the above-ground parts of the plant are edible.

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Paulo June 25, 2013 at 16:14

Stellaria or chickweed have a soft and moist soapy texture in their leaves. while cerastium is very hairy. Once you learn how to spot their difference, it is rather easy. Their flowers are rather similar, white, small, numerous and 10 petals.

Stellaria grows often as a weed, as a carpet, in fertile cultivated soils.

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Bob May 28, 2012 at 13:13

Ok,
Elastic inner core check,
Leave placement check,
10 petaled white flower check,
Tastes simil. to cornsilk check,
No milk check,
Looks like every chickweed pic. I see,
However the stems and leaves are covered in hair no single row is evident.

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Green Deane May 28, 2012 at 17:40

Let’s try Cerastium vulgatum, Mouse ear chickweed. Couplan says on page 107 of his Encyclopedia of edible plants of North America that young plants are edible. They are picked before they bloom.

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Joe Sal May 23, 2012 at 09:43

I found a plant that is a close look alike to chickweed in the garden. It has about the right size/height and the leafs were opposite and appeared the correct shape.
Thanks to your ITEMIZE the square stalk ruled it as something different. also the lack of alternating hairline. Still not sure if it is Anagallis monelli or Anagallis arvensis. The flowers are blue and form in pairs above the leaves, their arrangement has them appear as if the flowers are in hugging position.
When it first appeared in the garden, it looked very presentable so I let it be. A very hardy plant and has done well into the current heat of summer. Although the heat has started to get the best of it and is about to go to seed.
I am finding little information in the about these, and would like to know the origins, and which portions are edible if any?

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Green Deane May 23, 2012 at 15:16

As far as I know Anagallis are not edible.

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Joy May 23, 2012 at 07:28

Thank you, thanks to your itemized profile I will be adding a patch of chickweed to the soup I am just about to make!

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Jeff March 26, 2012 at 06:59

great stuff,makes great wild salad with some henbit and peppergrass and dandelion flowers…got anymore recipes for chickweed?

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Virginia March 9, 2012 at 10:18

Is the level of nitrates dangerous in this herb?

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Green Deane March 9, 2012 at 11:08

I’ve never heard of this plant collecting nitrates.

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Beau October 26, 2011 at 23:01

Chickweed was one of the first edibles I identified. I live in OK and the “weed” was everywhere in a shaded spot in my yard. The alternating hair lines was the kicker for me and got me interested in wild edibles.

My eyes aren’t that great, so I carry a magnifying glass with me when I forage (i.e. chickweed hair lines….) The fun thing about chickweed is that once you learn to identify it without a doubt, you can spot it a mile away!

Love this edible. I’ve put it into everything from soups to salads to mashed potatoes!

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Daniel October 25, 2011 at 22:37

Is the ability to reveal the elastic core a characteristic unique to chickweed? I was able to so something similar with what I thought were young catchweeds. Now I’m not so sure. Any thoughts?

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Green Deane October 26, 2011 at 04:33

thanks for writing… no, the stretchy core is not unique to chickweed (a Stellaria) Drymria also has a stretchy core as does the lichen usnea. There may be more but I know of those three genera.

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