Chickweed: Plant profile
Chickweed, Common Chickweed, Chickenweed, Mouron Blanc
Native to Europe and widely naturalized throughout the world.
Where to find Chickweed
This plant is widely found in grasslands, waste ground, roadsides, gardens and cultivated areas.
When to find Chickweed
Available all year round, but best picked late winter to early spring.
How to identify Chickweed
Chickweed is an annual herbaceous plant that grows in a tangled mat close to the ground. The leaves are soft bright green in colour and are shaped round, while pointed at the top. Stem is round and feature fine hairs on just one side. The flowers are white, tiny and star-shaped, featuring five petals, each one with two lobes.
Chickweed is an easily recognisable and common herb, however it could be a challenge for the novice forager, who will soon recognise different lookalikes.
Mouse Ear species (Cerastium spp.) and Water Chickweed (Stellaria aquatica) have certain similarities and may look like a larger versions of Chickweed. They are both edible, albeit quite bitter.
Chickweed can also be confused with Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) and Yellow Pimpernel (Lysimachia nemorum), which are mildly poisonous. The leaves and overall structure are very similar, but are easy to tell apart by the flowers, which are coloured.
Some varieties of Spurge (Spurge spp.) may resemble Chickweed in the young stages, but do not have a single line of hairs down the stem.
All about Chickweed
Apparently, chickens and other caged birds were regularly fed with Chickweed in the past, hence its name. This common and abundant plant grows in large and dense patches that quickly extend all over the place, which makes it a convenient choice.
Chcikweed grows anytime of the year, even in the depths of winter, but it’s more prolific in early Spring, when plants start to emerge from the ground. This plant pops up everywhere too, but seems to like disturbed soil and shady ground, where its bright green leaves can be clearly seen in the shadow.
Although it may loom like a tiny fragile plant, it’s actually quite hardy, surviving very low temperatures in the midst of the winter and tolerating low light levels when growing under the shade of large trees.
Medicinal properties of Chickweed
Chickweed is a good source of vitamin A, B and C and contains some minerals.
It has long been used for soothing skin problems and healing wounds. A poultice or regular cream application can help with minor complaints such as skin rashes, sunburn and insect stings.
Culinary uses and recipes with Chickweed
Chickweed has a delicate texture and tastes mildly of pea shoots with notes of fresh grass, which makes it an excellent base for a wild salad. Combine with more pungent flavours such as Chicory and Dandelion greens or Bittercress leaves.
Excellent raw, Chickweed works as a great sandwich filling and a good garnish for seasonal dishes. Add into healthy smoothies or turn into herby pesto for a nutritional boost.
Leafy tops are easily incorporated into sauces, dumplings, omellets, quiches, mash potato orscrambled eggs. When cooking with Chickweed, add to soups and stews at the last moment.
Safe foraging of Chickweed
Saponins in the plant are poorly absorbed by the body and so tend to pass through without causing harm, but ingestion of excessive amounts may lead to nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea.
As with many other herbs, it’s best avoided during pregnancy and when breastfeeding, because there is insufficient data to prove safety for both you and your unborn child.
Ecological importance of Chickweed
Chickweed is a source of food for certain insects and seeds are an important part of the diet for birds such as partridge, linnet and bullfinch.