I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here in WNC early spring has arrived! This warm, wet weather means the spring ephemerals like Toothwort, Dutchman’s Breeches, and Spring Beauty are coming soon, and the beautiful Bloodroot flowers are beginning to cover hillsides (picture on the right). The daffodils are tapering off as fruit trees, like the peach and cherry trees in my garden, come into bloom.
Even if you still have snow on the ground, it’s time to start thinking about harvesting from the wild! Fresh new greens are popping up – chickweed, nettles, the unrelated dead nettles, and young cleavers. If you live further south they’ve been up a while, and even in the cooler northern regions, you might see some of these beginning to unfurl their leaves. I have seen chickweed, green and lush, encircled by snow.
To me, Chickweed (Stellaria media) is the sign of spring, and the taste of spring, too. Abundant in cool wet places, this “weed” often takes over areas of a garden or a shady, grassy hillside. In the south, depending where you are, it flowers and then goes to seed by late April or May. As the stems grow long and stringy, it becomes much less tasty. Up north, you can find it in the middle of summer.
Chickweed has small opposite leaves that come to a slight point at the tip. It is smooth, unlike Speedwell (Veronica) that is slightly hairy and becomes more toothed as it grows. Speedwell is not toxic, but it is also not chickweed. Both crawl along the ground before arching up 6-10 inches.
I harvest chickweed by taking a knife and slicing it just above ground level. If you yank it up, you’ll still get plenty of good plant but you may also get more roots and dirt that need to get picked out. Either way, you do need to go through and garble out any unwanted parts before using it for food – it’s too easy to get other plants mixed in.
You can use chickweed in a salad, but my favorite way to eat it is as a pesto, often mixed with fresh nettles. See the recipe below.
My other favorite way to prepare it is as a juice. Buy a wheatgrass juicer (hand cranks start at $30) and bundle the plant as you slowly feed it in. Be careful not to feed it in too fast; I have seen chickweed explosions before!
I love to drink an ounce or two at a time – it is much tastier than wheatgrass and possibly even more energizing. When I drink it, I just feel bright and perky and ready for springtime. Next time I’ll talk about more spring greens including Stinging Nettles, one of my favorites for both food and medicine.
- Handful (about 1 cup) of packed Nettle leaves
- Handful (about 1 cup) of Chickweed above ground parts, well garbled
- Extra-virgin olive oil, as much as needed
- Garlic, 1-2 cloves. Or tender field garlic tops
- Nuts (optional) – I prefer pecans but whatever nuts you want. They are more digestible and less astringent if you soak them a few hours, then discard the water.
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor (preferred) or a blender, and process until smooth. Add more olive oil as needed until you get the consistency you desire. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator or freezer and pour a little oil on top to prevent oxidation. Use within a week for best flavor. Can be used on pasta, to top bread, to flavor grains, on top of cooked meats or on sandwiches. Really, the possibilities are endless – Enjoy!!