An Early Taste of Spring
By Shawndra Miller
I’m on assignment for Acres USA, talking with a suburban Indy farmer, when he laments the amount of chickweed in his beds. “Oh, I love chickweed!” I say. “It’s so yummy.”
Turns out he loves chickweed, too, and has been known to sell the stuff for $12 a pound to savvy chefs. It’s just … a little too much of a good thing. The mild winter has given this plant a head start in blanketing his organic vegetable beds. It appears to be everywhere under our feet as we walk.
For those in the know, chickweed (Stellaria media) is a succulent salad green cleverly disguised as a weed. One of the earliest wild greens to emerge, it offers a mild and nutty addition to a spring salad.
I bend down and pick a few sprigs, putting them in my pocket for later. He offers to bag me up some. At first, I demur. Then realize I ought to snap up some of his abundant chickweed. It’s the first week of February! How lucky can I get?
“Let’s get a knife,” he says. In a short while we’re on our knees behind his hoop house, filling an old Kroger bag with greenery.
That night I dine on chickweed salad, pleased with myself for scoring this delicious source of antioxidants. I consider it free energy, loaded with micronutrients that ordinary store-bought vegetables lack.
Like many weeds, chickweed is an inviting plant that begs to be enjoyed. Ever since herbalist Greg Monzel introduced me to the variety of edibles that grow freely in our yards, gardens, and greenspaces, I have updated my thinking — and my weeding habits. I don’t pull weeds indiscriminately anymore, and I actively encourage many plants that other gardeners don’t.
Now, when I recognize a new chickweed plant coming up in my yard, I rejoice. I stop short of roping off the area, but anyone who threatens to pull “my” weed is in big trouble. I like to keep the plant going, harvesting sprigs from it every few days, as if it were a tiny leggy spinach plant.
Maybe someday my garden will be covered with abundant blankets of chickweed, like my farmer friend’s vegetable beds. One can dream….
Tips for a happy chickweed experience:
· You can eat the stems. No need to pull off the little bitty leaves.
· Chickweed grows in a sort of mat close to the ground, so be sure to rinse well to remove all grit and soil.
· Dress it simply, with olive oil and lemon and toasted sunflower seeds. Swoon as you fork up the first taste of spring.
What about you — are there foraged foods that you look forward to every spring? Tell us about them in the comments.
About Shawndra Miller: I have a vision for our communities that involves consuming unprecedented amounts of weeds, mulberries, and other wild abundant foods. When I’m not crawling around on my knees picking wild greens, I write, teach, and offer energy work, all in service of a wider perspective of the possible. Find me at shawndramiller.com.