Chickweed: Friend, foe or food?

You might be surprised to learn that chickweed, one of the most despised plants in the garden, is also one of the healthiest you can eat.

Q: How to get rid of chickweed?

A: Don’t try to beat it, eat it!

On Tuesdays, I teach an online class called the Compost Academy. Students, mostly women, from Alabama to Alberta meet in lively Zoom meetings. It’s not just about composting, either, especially on Fridays, which have become “Let’s stump Marion!” Q&A sessions.

Last week, the topic of weeding popped up. As in, how can you make weeding a not-so-horrible chore?

Someone mentioned chickweed. You could measure the collective groans on the Richter scale.

Google “chickweed” and on the same page you’ll find polar opposite views, from “chickweed is an edible and delicious weed” to “how do I kill chickweed in my lawn?”

Here’s the deal: To blindly discount chickweed as a scourge in the garden that needs to be immediately eradicated is to miss out on one of nature’s more perfect herbs and foods.

“I use chickweed as a superfood,” says Laurisa Rich of Martha’s Vineyard, adding that Michael Pollan, author of numerous bestsellers including “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food,” considers chickweed one of the most nourishing greens on the planet.

What makes chickweed a superfood? It is high in vitamin C, vitamin B complex, calcium, magnesium and zinc.

How does she eat chickweed? “I stuff it in my smoothies and clip it into salads. I also blanch and freeze it into cubes for winter.”

Maybe it’s time to rethink chickweed ...

Stellaria media, chickweed, is an annual and perennial flowering plant in the family Caryophyllaceae. Native to Eurasia, it has naturalized throughout the world.

According to Penelope Ody’s wonderful reference, “The Complete Medicinal Herbal,” chickweed has medicinal properties and is used in folk medicine as a remedy to treat itchy skin conditions and pulmonary (relating to the lungs) diseases.

In addition to its medicinal properties, it is grown as a vegetable crop and ground cover for both human and poultry consumption.

Chickweed is also known for its high iron content, and modern herbalists prescribe it for iron-deficiency anemia as well as for skin diseases, bronchitis, rheumatic pains, arthritis and menstrual-period pain.

Now, I’m not an herbalist or a doctor. So beyond this article, you’re on your own.

And if you still want to get rid of chickweed, read on ...

There are two species of chickweed. There is the perennial species, known as mouse-ear chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum), which forms dense, low patches within lawns and gardens. (It somehow manages to evade whirling lawnmower blades.)

The other species, common chickweed (Stellaria media), which I mentioned above, is an annual and is much easier to control. The best way to weed out (sounds better than “kill”)  chickweed is by pulling as much of it out of the ground as possible by hand.

It’s a relatively easy task, since both species have shallow roots, which means it can be swiftly removed by hoeing or hand-pulling. Try to remove the entire plant.

Back to class. ... After we discussed chickweed, one of the ladies asked:

Q: Okay then, how to deter weeds?

Weeding is part of gardening, I said. And they’re a part of life, along with colds, car horns and people we’d rather not be around. More on that later ...

I followed with this list of tips to prevent more weeds from sprouting.

Participate in your garden. Don’t be an absentee landlord expecting things to take care of themselves.

Go on daily weed patrols. Mornings are best. Take your coffee if need be.

Pull what weeds you can in a set amount of time, say, 15 or 30 minutes. Set a timer. Little by little makes a difference.

Make weeds EASIER to pull or dig up by adding compost to your soil.

Don’t let weeds go to seed: One year of seeds is seven years of weeds.

Do NOT use weed killer, unless it’s an absolute last resort. Our laziness does not justify using deadly solutions. Besides, they don’t address the root of the problem.

Don’t deep dig or use a rototiller: Weed seeds are everywhere, but the top few inches of soil is where they get enough light to germinate.

As the old saying goes: Pull when wet, hoe when dry. When soil is wet, pull weeds. An old table fork twists out small tendrils. Go after bigger plants with a fishtail weeder or stirrup hoe.

Be a grateful deadheader! If you can’t remove them, at least chop off their heads.

What’s a weed, anyway? Rather than think of them as The Enemy, get to know them. Remember, some weeds are edible. And dandelions might be the first real meal that a bumblebee enjoys after hibernating over the winter.

As for people you rather not be around. ... It’s not just about them. Set healthy boundaries. Be direct. We feel safe around direct, honest people, right? They speak their minds, and we know where we stand with them. Deadhead flowers and train peas.

To end today’s treatise on chickweed and weeding, I’ll leave you with this recipe:

 

Chickweed Pesto

This pesto is very “bright,” just like summer. It’s great stirred into cooked pasta or dabbed on pizza. And it freezes well for later use.

1/2 cup walnuts, cashews,or pine nuts

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups chickweed, loosely packed

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil or water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast

Place all ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth. A blender can be used instead, but it helps to chop the chickweed first. If it’s too thick, slowly drizzle in a bit more olive oil or water.

 

Gardening calendar:

Volunteers needed for community project:

The Kodiak Harvest Food Cooperative, the Kodiak Women’s Resource and Crisis Center (KWRCC) and Kodiak 4-H are partnering to establish garden beds at the KWRCC shelter location.

This community project will rehabilitate some garden boxes at the front of KWRCC’s shelter and establish three new garden boxes for growing vegetables and herbs in the back yard of the property. If you’d like to lend a hand or provide an in-kind donation, please contact Emily at eaiacobucci@gmail.com.

 

Got a gardening question? Send it to: mygarden@alaska.net or visit my blog at: MarionOwenAlaska.com.

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