Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Bit on the Wild Side!

I went to a workshop on edible weeds earlier this year. It was really enjoyable! And it reminded me of an amazing little weed that I used to know, back in the days when I had zebra finches and spent most of my day asleep (read: when I first had chronic fatigue). I have reacquainted myself with it and am once again enjoying its benefits.
What is it? Chickweed! Thus called, I am sure, because birds absolutely LOVE it. Mine sure did. And my little bantams do now (the other two chook breeds think it is okay, but the bantams go crazy when they see chickweed!).

I’ve had a few people wonder how to identify it so thought I’d share some photos and descriptions here. It really, truly is a fantastic plant! It grows fast, like a weed. Funny that!
You can use chickweed raw in smoothies, or salads. It is such a mild flavour, no one will notice it in a salad. Seriously, they’d think it was one of those fancy salad greens. Just cut the very ends of the plant, with the plumpest leaves and avoid big stems. You could also throw it into a stirfry or casserole right as you serve it, so the leaves wilt rather than fully cooking.

Apparently chickweed can actually help us absorb nutrients from other foods. It is high in vitamin C and minerals. Wild greens usually are higher in nutrients than their garden contemporaries. Greens that grow wild are often stronger tasting simply because they are packed with more goodness. Greens grown for centuries in gardens tend to be grown for milder taste and longer keeping, which results in less nutrients. My workshop host told us that On average wild edibles have three to seven times more iron, 20 to
30 times more Vitamin C, and 20 to 50 times more Vitamin A. Wild edible plants also contain more Omega-3 than cultivated greens.

I was given some great advice at the workshop:
If you don’t know for sure what it is, don’t eat it. And make sure the plants you use have not been sprayed. I don’t pick from the reserve or road verge for this reason.

So how to tell chickweed from every other weed in the garden?

Chickweed likes it moist. I’ve had this monster plant growing in my garden over winter – it must have liked the blood and bone I sprinkled there because it was HUGE. Here are some pictures.

Sadly I managed to accidentally pull it out when weeding a few days ago. Very big sigh. Amy, you fool! It was too late to try putting it back in. Ugh. I miss my chickweed. I’ve got a few other plants here and there around the place. One by the worm farm, another beside one of the rose bushes. But none compare to my vege garden one!

Identifying chickweed is quite simple.  It is bright green. Not shiny or glossy, just bright. Not fluffy either. Just a lovely bright green. It has stringy branches, and is a ground cover. If you pull gently, often the little branch will snap on the outside but stay together inside, like this. The leaves are opposite each other in pairs, and are pointed ovals. Chickweed has lots of little tiny hairs on the stems and under the leaves.

If you look closely at chickweed, you will see that its flowers actually have 5 tiny little petals, each one with a really deep indent (split) in it. The flowers are very small. Grain of rice small.  See how small it is beside the fallen jasmine flower?

The biggest mistake to avoid? Confusing chickweed with milkweed.  Milkweed is a euphorbium and is poisonous. It often grows in our gardens. You can see it here mingling with chickweed (photo from my local weed identifying workshop as I don’t have any of milkweed for you).

Can you tell the difference? Milkweed grows upright. It has green to yellow leaves. They are kind of twirly on top. The stems exude a white sticky sap when broken. They are sometimes redish. See it there – in the middle of the photo? The chickweed is all around it. Plus there’s a few buttercup dark green serated leaves, which are also poisonous.

Just remember that chickweed has bright green, opposite leaves with little hairs and white flowers and you will be fine! I always pick my greens very carefully to make sure no other plants accidentally get in the mix. Plus I remove any non-edible weeds from the garden! That makes life a lot simpler.
So there you go. Chickweed. Try some today. Seriously, it’s free food, so why not have a go?! Boyo and Munchkin eat it, so it can’t be all that bad.


1 comment:

MaxineD said...

Thanks for the great photos and description. :-) I will keep an eye out for it.