Foraging for Chickweed

(Stellaria Media)

An easily identifiable and familiar weed is the humble and abundant Chickweed. We’ll explore how you can identify this multi-purpose hedgerow, from flower to leaves, and how to tick this off your foraging basket (bucket!) list.
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Edible Flowers, Wild Greens
Foraging for Chickweed

How to Identify

These lovely weeds may bug those perfecting their lawn, but have many great benefits. Delicious and a bit of garden upkeep – what’s not to love? Chickweed is a fast and low-growing weed, growing in clumps, with stems up to 40cm, with very delicate and distinguishing features.

 

The leaves are small and rounded, with a pointed tip – sometimes smooth, but can be slightly hairy. Chickweed flowers are small and white, with five petals that split at the base and actually appear as ten petals. This is typical of the whole Carnation (Pinks) family.

 

The stem of common Chickweed is very distinctive. It’s quite flimsy, and has a row of tiny hairs down one side – a delicate mohawk if you will!

Foraging for Chickweed
Foraging for Chickweed
Foraging for chickweed

When and Where

Common Chickweed is exactly that – common! Found all year round it loves cool, damp conditions and rich soil. Growing in copious amounts, in open woodland, gardens, parks, waste ground and field edges – almost anywhere.

 

Chickweed sprouts up anytime, especially here in the UK given our climate and it tends to flourish a little more when the temperature drops. It can be found growing in dense patches, each part of the plant supporting the other to stand up right. This formation makes it easy to harvest from. Each part above-ground is edible, but we suggest snipping only the top inch or two as the stem can become stringy and too fibrous for some people’s palettes.

 

When it comes to foraging for chickweed, as with any wild ingredients, it’s important to avoid pulling plants out of the ground as you’re likely to only use a small portion. Only harvest what you need, so to leave plenty for other foragers and the local wildlife.

 

Leaves | All Year Round

Flowers | All Year Round, but most noticeable in Spring and Autumn

Flavour and How to Use

Chickweed has a delicate and mild taste, making it a great accompaniment to more pungent wild leaves. The more tender parts nearer the top, are best for consumption – further down the plant becomes stringy and fibrous.

 

This delightful hedgerow packs more vitamins and minerals per ounce than spinach or kale – just boil or steam as you would any leafy green. It’s a great source of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

 

The leaves can also be eaten raw as a savoury herb in salads and sandwiches, or chopped and added to soups, omelettes, stuffing, meatballs, pies, used as a garnish or makes for a delicious pesto.

Foraging for Chickweed
Foraging for Chickweed
Foraging for Chickweed

Medicinal Properties

Chickweed is widely used in herbal medicine as an anti-inflammatory herb.

 

Making a chickweed cream was traditionally used to soothe eczema, sunburn and insect stings as well as to draw out boils and splinters. You can find out how to make this homemade salve here.

History and Folklore

The seeds were once fed to birds, which is how the plant earned its common name.

 

Chickweed was used to promote fidelity, attract love, and maintain relationships. A sprig of chickweed carried was used to draw the attention of a loved one or ensure the fidelity of one’s mate – how romantic!

 

If fresh citrus was unavailable, sailors would also use chickweed in vinegar to prevent scurvy.

Things to Note

Chickweed may cause allergic reactions in some people. It’s also best avoided during pregnancy and when breastfeeding because there is not enough information about its safety.

Possible Confusions

When foraging for Chickweed, the white flower is always a good indicator. But if the flower is not yet present, it may be a little trickier to identify.

 

The difference between Mouse-ear and Common Chickweed is pretty clear: the mouse-eared variety is covered with fine hairs on its leaves. It’s perfectly safe to eat, but the fine hairs make it a slightly less pleasant experience!

 

It’s important to note, the poisonous Scarlet Pimpernel can be found growing among chickweed. It lacks the “Mohawk” stem hairs of common chickweed, and the undersides of its leaves generally have a reddish hue. Its flowers are red, rather than white, but if in doubt, leave it out.

Scarlet Pimpernel
Mouse-ear Chickweed

Foraging at our Cookery Courses

All of our Cookery Courses include a short foraging walk as part of the day, introducing you to a handful of commonly found wild ingredients.

Keen to learn more?

There are a wide range of resources on foraging. Here are just a handful of our favourite books.

Our Foraging Tips

Ask permission. 

Essential if you’re picking on private land. As with everything, respect is key and goes a long way.

 

If in doubt, leave it out. 

Why rush? Nature isn’t going anywhere! Take time to ensure you safely identify your finds.

 

One step at a time.

No one becomes an expert overnight. Build up your identification skills and your confidence will grow. 

 

Enjoy the process.

Foraging is not only about what you pick but the experience – Immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the little things. The fresh air, birds chirping, a light breeze or the feel of soil beneath your feet.

 

Celebrate locality.

With an abundance of forage at your doorstep, why not start local?

 

The 10% rule.

Only take what you need (or 10% of what is available). This not only means that you leave plenty for other foragers, but also local wildlife. We want to enjoy our ecosystem not damage it. 

 

Leave room for regrowth.

Never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.

 

Wash before consumption.

Always give your foraging finds a good wash before consuming, especially when picking on busy routes/path.