Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chickweed!


Recently I attended a foraging class at the home of a local naturalist just north of Nashville, Tennessee.  Toward the end of the class she showed everyone her raised bed rows of prolific garlic.  There were several hundred heads of garlic growing in two rows in a shady wooded area with only occasional sun. The small garden was surrounded by chain link fence and then by tires in order to keep dear out.  Between the garlic plants was a lush, low mat of chickweed cascading over the edge of the beds.  She said her garlic was in its seventh generation having planted it originally with cloves purchased at the grocery many years ago.  She planted her garlic in August and November of the previous year (now being February).  The chickweed is a bonus as it spontaneously grows every year in her beds during the winter.  Thus, she has chickweed greens to eat during the winter and by June her garlic is ready to be harvested.  Just a side note, garlic may be ready earlier to harvest depending on the weather conditions.  When the tops of the garlic begin to yellow and turn brown then you will know it is time.  It was a site to see and made me wish desperately to replicate it.

You have probably seen chickweed and may have even sprayed your yard or garden to get rid of it.  Chickweed or Stellaria media is one of the most common edible succulent weeds in the South.  It can grow year round but does not like intense heat preferring cool, wet weather.  It is frequently described by foragers as one of their favorite edibles.  It grows low to the ground usually in dense, tangled mats.  You can even find it in the cracks of sidewalks in the city.  It is stringy and flexible with pointed oval leaves that grow in pairs along its stem.  When it blooms it has a white flower with five petals.  However, the petals are notched in such a way that it appears to have ten petals.  These tiny flowers at the tip of the plant will eventually drop tiny brown seeds.  Chickweed has nitrogen-fixing qualities for your garden which probably benefited the above garlic.  It is a great plant for beginning foragers.  It is called chickweed because chickens love to eat it.  It is a delicate green with a mild earthy taste much like alfalfa sprouts.  It is wonderful in salads and provides choline, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and B12, beta carotene and vitamin D.  It contains the minerals calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, manganese, sodium, silica, selenium, and copper.

Some recent research has shown that it can be an effective antihistamine.  Chickweed also contains saponins that break down fat cells and which many herbal weight-loss formulas contain.  It has been referred to as nature’s diet herb.  It has also been attributed to helping arthritis, rheumatism and gout.  It reduces inflammation and helps to regulate thyroid and metabolic function according to some sources.

Chickweed has been used externally to treat skin problems such as skin eruptions, cuts, burns, diaper rash, eczema and insect bites.  To create a poultice from chickweed, there are generally two methods.  You can apply crushed or bruised leaves directly to the skin and cover with gauze.  When the poultice warms, remove and discard.  The other method is to create a compress.  Whip the leaves in a blender or food processor with some water.  Strain out the liquid to saturate a compress.  Apply to the affected area.  Poultices from chickweed have also been used to treat eye infections such as conjunctivitis.  Chickweed should be used fresh as the dried herb loses much of its medicinal value.

The best way to harvest chickweed is with a pair of scissors, giving the plant a “haircut.”  There are two poisonous look-alike plants of which you need to be aware.  These are spurge and scarlet pimpernel.  While similar, there are distinguishing signs.  Spurge produces a white sap when cut while chickweed does not.  Also, chickweed has a unique feature not seen in either of the look-alikes.  If you look closely you will see a tiny line of hairs descending down one side of the stem.  These may alternate from one side to the other.  If hairless, do not touch it.

Chickweed can be used in salads, stir fry, soups and casseroles.  It is also great on sandwiches.  Here are some recipes to try out.

Chickweed Rice Salad

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked and cooled rice
2 cups chopped chickweed
1 diced tomato
2 cloves garlic minced
Salt to taste
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
5 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

Toss all ingredients together.  Serve chilled.


Chickweed Pesto

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh Chickweed, packed
2 cloves of garlic or 6 garlic scapes
¼ cup of pine nuts or walnuts
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup olive oil

Directions:

Place all ingredients in blender or food processor.  Blend until desired consistency.  This is great served as a dip for crackers, over pasta, or on baked chicken.


Lemon Chickweed Feta Salad

Ingredients:

5 cups chopped chickweed
4 oz crumbled Feta Cheese
Juice from one large lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic minced
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Directions:

In a large bowl, toss chickweed and feta cheese.  In a separate bowl, mix remaining ingredients.  Just before serving add dressing to salad.


Chickweed Tabouli

Ingredients:

1 cup water
1 cup fine cracked wheat
2 tomatoes chopped
1 ½ cup chickweed chopped
1 cucumber chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup olive oil
Garlic powder to taste

Directions:

In a large bowl, mix water and cracked wheat.  Allow to stand 20 minutes until the water is absorbed and the wheat is tender.  Add the vegetables and chopped herbs and toss.  In a separate bowl, combine lemon juice, oil and seasonings.  Add to salad and mix well.  Chill and serve.


Chickweed Egg Salad

Ingredients:

12 hardboiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 ½ cups chickweed chopped
2 tablespoons fresh chives
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

In a medium bowl, stir together eggs, chickweed, chives, mayonnaise, sour cream and horseradish. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately, or refrigerate until serving.


Creamy Chickweed Dressing

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh chickweed
1 garlic clove
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
¼ teaspoon salt
Dash of pepper
½ cup yogurt

Directions:

Place all ingredients except for yogurt in blender or food processor.  Blend until smooth.  Add yogurt and blend briefly until mixed. 

Makes 1 ½ cups salad dressing.


Chickweed Quiche

Ingredients:

1 prepared pie crust
3 cups chickweed chopped
1 package bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
1 large onion chopped fine
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups sour cream
1 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place pie crust in pie pan.  In a mixing bowl, add chopped chickweed, bacon and finely chopped onion.  Toss.  In a separate bowl, mix eggs, sour cream, flour and nutmeg.  Add mixture to first bowl and mix well.  Spread filling evenly over pie shell.  Bake for 45 minutes until pie has set in the middle and is golden.


Creamy Potato and Chickweed Soup

Ingredients:

3-4 cups of fresh chickweed
3-4 strips of bacon, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
4-5 small to medium potatoes, diced
1 large or 2 small leeks, about 1 pound, diced
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup of water
1/2 cup milk
4 oz of cream cheese, softened
Salt and pepper

Directions:

In a large pot of water over high heat, blanch half the chickweed for 15 seconds then plunge into cold water.

Cook the bacon until crispy and drain on a paper towel. 

In a large soup pot, melt the butter and add the diced leeks and potatoes.  While stirring frequently, cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. 

Add the water and chicken stock and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Add the half of the chickweed that was blanched to the pot. 

Using a food processor in batches or an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth or to the consistency that you prefer.  With soup still in pot being kept hot over low heat, stir in milk and cream cheese.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

To serve, top with bacon bits and a sprinkle of raw chickweed. 


Rabbit and Chickweed Stew

Ingredients:

1 Rabbit
1 - 2 cups water
½ cup white wine
2 cups chickweed, packed
Salt and pepper

Directions:

Skin your rabbit. Cut meat up into small chunks and add into soup pot.  Add water and wine.  Cover and simmer for one hour.  Add more water if necessary.  Dice chickweed and add to pot.  Simmer for another half hour. Season with salt and pepper.  Serve.


Chickweed Tea

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons  fresh chickweed, chopped
1 cup water

Directions:

Boil or microwave water.  Place chickweed in bottom of cup and poor water over it.  Let steep for 15 minutes.  Strain tea to remove chickweed and drink while hot.




Notes:  While the content of this blog has been tried/tested and the research diligently presented, I am not responsible for your use of it.  Always try a little of the food first to test for allergies.  Please do your own research.  Discuss with your doctor before you use any herbal medications. 

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