Plant: Stellaria pubera, Star Chickweed
Dry leaves crunched under our feet as we made our way through the coldness of early spring, when the the naked trees would groan and squeak, being swayed by the howling wind. While most of the forest appeared to be void of life, we came around a corner to find that the woods had changed its scenery with a snowy in appearance blanket of tiny white flowers. They were so beautiful that we decided to make camp in the midst of them, unaware at the time that these tiny little plants would become one of our favorite food sources on the southern half of the Appalachian Trail!
We made salads with it, put it in pita bread with a little balsamic vinegar, cooked it, put it on our sandwiches, and stuffed it in our mouths right off the ground. We were crazy for chickweed! To be clear, it doesn’t work for attracting chicks, nor can you smoke it.
Just a Few of Chickweed’s Benefits:
1. It grows like a weed! Big surprise, huh? Chickweed is one of the first plants to come up in early spring, even when it’s too cold for many other plants to be brave enough to emerge. And it grows in abundance! It was great to know about chickweed as a sustenance/survival food that was actually tasty!
2. It could fix all your problems! Well, not really, but chickweed is believed to be used as a medicinal plant to treat a variety of conditions including “constipation, stomach and bowel problems, blood disorders, asthma and other lung diseases, obesity, scurvy, psoriasis, rabies, itching, and muscle and joint pain,” according to emedicinehealth.com, a medical information site sponsored by WebMD.com. However, sufficient research has not been conducted to prove if chickweed is truly an effective medicine. While there obviously haven’t been any studies on the relationship between coronavirus and chickweed, we figured if chickweed could potentially help with all these other conditions, it couldn’t hurt to have a little extra protection while on the trail during a pandemic.
3. It’s a FREE vitamin shop! Chickweed is said to contain many different vitamins and nutrients, including Vitamins A, B, and C. It has glycosides rutin and saponin, as well as flavonoids, which means that chickweed possesses anti-inflammatory properties, and is also anti-allergenic and antimicrobial. It’s been suggested that chickweed may even be anti-carcinogenic. Furthermore, it’s a great source of iron and calcium!! So you can stop thinking you need iron from eating animals and calcium from breast milk (cow’s milk), and go munch on some chickweed. 😉
Warnings: Sufficient evidence is not available regarding possible side effects of eating mass amounts of chickweed. We consumed a LOT of this plant on the trail, but everyone’s bodies react different to different foods. When foraging chickweed, be sure to try a small amount at first. Also, be sure you are absolutely sure you have properly identified the plant before putting it in your mouth! There are many tiny white flowers that look similar to chickweed that are very toxic!
Edible Parts of Chickweed: Leaves, Flower, Stem
How to Eat Chickweed: The leaves, stems, and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked. You can also dry the leaves to make tea. On the trail, we enjoyed picking patches of chickweed to eat raw, to put in our salads, sandwiches, and burritos, and we also cooked it like spinach.
Taste to Expect: Eating the flowers, leaves, and stems all together, chickweed tastes like a slightly more flavorful spinach, especially when it’s cooked.
Where to Find Chickweed: There are several different kinds chickweed, but the kinds we were foraging (mainly star chickweed) grows all along the Appalachians and northeastern areas of the United States. They grow in large patches in moist soils. They typically prefer shady or partially shaded areas.
When to Find Chickweed: Late winter to early summer. We found chickweed primarily in March, April, and May along the Appalachian Trail.
Things to Consider When Foraging:
1. Forage responsibly. Please do not trample on plants when going off trail to forage chickweed.
2. Do NOT eat chickweed unless you are absolutely sure it is chickweed! Eat small amounts until you know how you’re body will react to a new wild food.
Identification: Chickweed is easily identified by its distinguishable star-shaped white flowers. Look for five deeply notched petals. The leaves are small, light green, and shaped like tear drops. The leaves can vary in shape depending on the kind of chickweed.