Tiny seedlings are starting to appear in our garden from plants that I let go to seed last year. The fun is in spotting these new plants growing in unexpected places and in being able to identify what they are. I know I have violas, sweet alyssum, petunias and begonias but I have also noticed another seedling spring up all over the garden. This last unknown is appearing in my hanging baskets, tumbling over my walls, and in between the pavers. Initially I nurtured it with water and seaweed emulsion only to have an explosion of growth suddenly start taking over the beds. Suspicion started to creep into my mind as nothing I have planted grows that quickly and I have now realised I am battling a worthy foe. Chickweed!
I have been on my hands and knees reaching under the roses, through the hydrangea, around the olive trees and across the brick pavers removing this fragile but tenacious weed and throwing it into the bin. Fortunately it is relatively easy to pull out but little bits still litter the garden probably preparing to haunt me in another 12 months. I have been muttering to myself, asking where did it come from. As I have been growing my own mulch (which is another story) for the past 12 months I doubted that it was from the bag of sugar cane I had used 12 months ago. I didn’t remain in ignorance for long as crouching under the olives I glanced across my neighbour’s neglected backyard and saw a glorious carpet of light green starting right next to my fence. The ground is covered in a tangled mass of stalks, leaves and flowers.Now I had found my source; Stellaria media commonly known as chickweed, winter weed, bindweed, satin flower, satin-flower, starweed, starwort, stitchwort, tongue grass and white bird’s eye.
I am trying to make my garden as sustainable as possible and I hate throwing plant material out but this weed had gone to seed and I am not going to put it into the compost bin. As I threw the fourth bag away I started to wonder if it was edible. The name surely has to be a clue; I mean chickweed? I grabbed a couple of handfuls and walked through the forest to see if my son’s chooks would eat it. No problems there and they are still alive as I write. Chickweed is easy to identify with its frill of fine hairs running up one side of its stalk, changing sides at a leaf juncture.
My father, curious about my frenetic gardening activity, wandered down to see what I was doing. I explained that having identified that this weed was not toxic to humans I was going to put some in our salad. Curious to see what it tasted like he reached down and picked off a few leaves to nibble on.
‘Mum won’t forgive me if you die on my patch,’ I told him. ‘Hey, at 91 years old I have to die sometime,’ he said, munching like Peter Rabbit on the sprigs.
Chickweed is one of those super foods, rich in omega-6 fatty acids and saponins, high in vitamins A, C, D, and B as well as the minerals, calcium, zinc, potassium, manganese, silica, phosphorous, sodium and copper. It now definitely has a place in my diet both in salads, as an infusion and in pesto. It is also said to be useful as a poultice or tincture for skin irritations and helpful in treating obesity not that this is a problem in our household. I am really quite excited about identifying this plant and am now keen to see what else I can use from my garden’s supply of edible weeds.
The chickweed was starting to go to seed and forming stalks which might have made the pesto stringy so I pulled the leaves from the stalks. The pesto was delicious.
2 cups chickweed leaves
1 large clove garlic, smashed
½ cup Parmesan, freshly grated
¼ – ½ cup nuts – pine nuts, macadamia or walnuts
½ cup virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
salt and pepper
In a food processor, pulse the chickweed and the basil leaves with the garlic until well broken down and blended, scraping down the sides to ensure even chopping. Add the Parmesan and pulse, then the nuts and pulse well. Slowly add the olive oil pulsing all the time. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve on bruschetta, over pasta or as a dip with vegetables.