How to tell chickweed apart from other weeds & delicious chickweed pesto!
Now it's chickweed time (however, the pesto is reserved for the warmer days)! If you have no other abundance in the garden right now you will probably have chickweed, provided that your soil is reasonably rich in nitrogen.
Use chickweed directly after harvesting, it gets limp quickly.
Chickweed is such a delicate herb that I prefer using it in pesto rather than salads. It is the recipe my teenagers use in case I force them to cook because you "simply process the chickweed with the grass and no one can see it".
Pesto, as you probably know, is basically a blend of a herb (in most cases basil), nuts (the classic ones are pine nuts but walnuts work well too), parmesan cheese or any hard cheese, olive oil and a bit of water. For the chickweed pesto, I use usually walnuts. The quantities are variable, but don't be stingy on nuts and cheese! I wrote a recipe for my partner's blog here: https://www.michalsladek.com.au/blog/chickweed-pesto-recipe (not really a recipe, with grams and such but would you expect that from me?)
How do I know it's Chickweed (Stellaria media)?
I believe only chickweed looks like chickweed, but I want to makes sure that what you eat is really chickweed, that is how you can tell it apart from other plants:
- Chickweed grows to 30 cm, preferably on vegetable beds. The plants can cover the whole bed (and ruin your carrots).
- Sprawling plant, many stems come from the same root system, mature plants form a dense mat.
- Leaves are small and oval with a pointed tip.
- The leaves are opposite to each other, light green, but the shape of the leave is variable. Older leaves have waved margins.
- Stems are round and NO white sap oozes out when the stem is broken.
- Chickweed stems have a single line of hairs which change direction at each stem section. You will probably need a magnifying glass to see that feature.
- The stems are round.
- Flowers are tiny and white. It looks like chickweed has ten petals, but there are five petals which are deeply segmented ( I can't see that without a magnifying glass either).
This is the flower of the chickweed we're talking about (stellaria media). See the five petals which look like ten?
Here you can see the whole plant. In some cases the stems look a bit purplish like in the picture, but mostly they are the same green than the leaves.
There are several plants I find in my garden growing close to chickweed:
- One is a small weed of the veronica family, I don't know exaclty which species it is, most likely veronica hederifolia or veronica persica, most likely the latter one. It's common name is common field speedwell. None of the plants in the veronica family are poisonous, they have been used in the kitchen as condiments or teas. The veronica I find growing in between my chickweeds is hairy and has blue flowers, whereas chickweed has white flowers.The taste is way less pleasant, it tasted 'hairy'. Here's a picture: see the blue flowers, the hairy leaves which are toothed.
- Several cerastium species were introduced in South-East Australia. All of them were used in similar ways to chickweed. None of them are present around here. One of them is cerastinum fontanum or the mouse eared chickweed. It is edible but with its narrower leaves more difficult to tell apart from other species. It does not occur in my garden and I haven't seen it around here. The picture shows the mouse-eared chickweed:
- There are several chickweed species found in South East Australia: Stellaria media is the chickweed we are talking about, the others are: Lesser stichwort (stellaria graminea) and stellaria pallida. While stellaria graminea is confirmed edible, I don't know anything about Stellaria pallida. I never see the other chickweed species, neither on walks nor in my garden beds. This is the lesser stichwort, it seems to have no leaves at all.
One species to look for is the Scarlet Pimpernel or Anagallis Arvensis - it's toxic!
The scarlet pimpernel grows in my vegetable garden and might be confused with chickweed. The scarlet pimpernel contains toxic saponins and cytotoxic (toxic to cells) cucurbitacins, but was used in herbal medicine. Since we don't want medicine or toxic plants on our plates, this is how to tell the scarlet pimpernel apart from chickweed:
|Stems||round, row of hairs||square, no hairs|
|Leaves||opposite||opposite, dark spots underneath|
|Flower||white, ten petals looking like five||reddish, star-shaped, 5 petals|
Some people say chickweed might be confused with petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus) which has little in common with chickweed but the fresh green colour. The stems of the petty spurge contains a milky sap, it grows abundantly around here. This is a toxic medicinal plant and certainly nothing you want on your plate!