Article and photo by Donna Iverson
Like sprouts? There's a good chance you have nature's wild version in your garden or lawn. It's called chickweed. It's edible, delicious and nutritious. And all you have to do is go outside with a kitchen scissors and clip the top inch off. Rinse it in a colander and pop it on your next sandwich. It doesn't keep well in the refrigerator so the sooner the better.
Chickweed is plentiful right now, as I found out when I walked over to the community garden where I have a raised bed. As if by magic, there was a mat of common chickweed growing. I welcomed it as a sign of fertile soil and also as an early-spring snack of free locally-grown greens.
As an apartment dweller, I definitely love having my own garden bed, to grow lettuce, tomatoes, kale, arugula, and beans. But at heart, I'm a forager. In fact, like a forager, I often find myself nibbling the veggies I grow in my garden bed right there on the spot. It's my own version of farm to table, but in my case, the veggies never make it to the table.
Identification is easy. According to Lisa Rose, who wrote a book about identifying, harvesting and using wild herbs, chickweed is a "low-growing, mat-forming Spring annual. It's small leaves are arranged oppositely on slender stems." The flowers are white with five deeply notched petals. To be sure of identification, a single line of hairs runs along the stem. A magnifying glass may be needed if you need proof positive.
All its parts are edible, including its flowers, leaves and stems. It can be eaten raw or cooked like adding it to soup, for example. While many consider it a weed to eradicate, wild-crafters are contrarians and often deliberately sow the chickweed seeds in the garden, where they will appear year after year. It tends to die back in the summer, but will reappear in the fall as it likes cooler weather.
Medicinally, chickweed is used to treat skin abrasions and wounds. While not an herbalist myself, I have bought salve containing chickweed at my local farmers market and highly recommend it,
While chickweed is not native to North America, it has been naturalized around the world for centuries. Chickweed attracts bees and butterflies, both of which are endangered. It is also food for birds and chickens. Plus you can enjoy a nibble yourself if you are so inclined.