Back in 2005 I had lasik surgery. I should have had lasik years before that but I had kept putting it off.
I recall what my feelings were the day after the lasik. I woke up in the morning, took off the cover that I had over the eyes and went on the front porch. I could read everything across the street at the hardware store - without glasses - crystal clear. Since then my vision has been 20/15 and my first thought as I stood on my porch that day was - " My goodness, why didn't I do this years ago ? "
You're wondering what lasik has to do with chickweed. Well I'll tell you.
I had the exact same sentiment when I ate my first chickweed tossed salad. I am not kidding!
For decades I have been unknowingly trampling on this weed in an area that is one of my prime morel hunting haunts.
I used to be really upset when the weeds started growing. They grew so quickly that it made it very difficult to spot morels.
I did not know back then that the vast majority of the weeds that I was upset with was chickweed - acres and acres of it.
I have a book I bought recently by John Kallas, PhD - ' Edible Wild Plants - Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate' - and one of the chapters in the book is about chickweed. In that chapter he describes that chickweed grows practically everywhere and that in lush conditions during early Spring you can get good growth of this chickweed making the gathering of salad greens very easy.
Further, he explained that there was no bitterness, no aftertaste, no pungency, etc. - that it was quite an enjoyable 'foundation' salad green. You just need to know what you're doing when picking the portions of chickweed to eat. Of course that can be said about virtually any plant.
I made a mental note about the description and the photos in the book figuring that I might run across it one day.
About a week later I was in my morel woods hunting early black morels and spotted what I believed was some young chickweed. I pinched off a few of the tops - about 5 - and put them in the bag that I had my morels in. When I got home I verified that it was chickweed, rinsed off the tops and ate it right there. I took extra care to make sure of any taste that may detract from that chickweed.
John Kallas is absolutely correct. It has no bad taste. It was enjoyable just as it was. I started thinking - salad! - get more!
The next day I pinched off about 40 chickweed stem tops and made a tossed salad at home with a little tomato, cucumber, croutons, onions and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. With the chewing of the first big forkful of chickweed salad my mind said to itself - " My goodness, why didn't I do this years ago ? "
I will point out that I just did not willy-nilly pinch off portions of chickweed but chose the stem-tops of the best specimens in the area. You need to 'Get To Know Chickweed' if you are going to like it.
Croutons, tomatoes, onion slices, cucumber pieces.
Salad dressing of your choice
Like any recipe the first step is getting the main ingredient.
Look for a spreading, low hugging plant with many, many stems radiating outward from a central point. The very tips will have seed pods and white flowers when it has grown enough. The stem will have segments, that is, a length between each leaf pair and to help identify common chickweed ( from Mouse-ear chickweed and the not good Scarlet Pimpernel ) it is important to note the line of fine hairs on the stem segment AND that on each stem segment the line of hairs are on a different side of the stem.
It's important to note that the flowers are white.
There are actually 5 petals but they are indented so deeply that it looks like there are 10.
If lush conditions exist and other plants are around the stems will use those plants to help themselves gain a bit of height. In real good conditions in early Spring the stems will grow so lush that they actually will help each other gain height because they start to crowd against each other.
This is a good picking patch. Pinch off the top couple of inches and go to the next stem and do the same.
Out in the open, in the sun with dry conditions the chickweed becomes stressed and grows with longer stems and smaller leaves. This is NOT what you are looking to pick.
Thick mats are formed by many chickweed plants like that shown below. In patches like this the vast majority of the plant mass is tough 'stem'.
Chickweed will grow in rich dirt.
If the rich dirt is in the woods, where there is plenty of shade and moisture, you can find it with a much more lush growth. Under those conditions the leaves will get much bigger, even bigger than those nice ones shown below.
I gather longer pieces of stem if the chickweed is growing fast in a perfect environment and exhibits nice big leaves.
At home I cull what I have picked, either using just the tops or the tops and the plucked lower leaves.
On the more lush growth the picking is easier. You will gather much more and do it quicker. Try to keep what you pick moist. You don't want to put it in the collecting bag and then let it dry out. A little spritzing from a water spray bottle will keep it fresh.
Use a spray bottle of water to wet the chickweed you picked to keep it hydrated.
In the Spring, when picking chickweed, keep your eyes peeled because it will occur on a regular basis that morels will show up.
At the top a black morel as a bonus. Lower photo a nice yellow morel.
Normally, collecting chickweed involves pinching off the top portion of the stem directly under the second set of double leaves. That pinch is the edible you want and nothing but a washing at home is needed.
When the chickweed is growing well in the early Spring in a good environment there will be a short distance from under the double leaves to the terminal end of the stem-top. That is good. Too much stem is generally not good although early in the Spring the stem at the top is still a fine choice edible.
Pinch the stem with your fingernail directly under the second group of double leaves.
The stem top is pinched off and ready for the collecting bag.
The stem, flowers, petals, seedpods are all edible and help make a tossed salad a good three dimensional fluffy salad, not a limp flat salad like what occurs when you have only flat leaves.
Take your bounty home and put it all in a bowl of cold water. Man handle it and that will clean it up real good.
This picked chickweed top is an example of TOO much stem and not enough leaves.
Best thing to do with this is to clip the leaves and tops and discard the rest of the stem parts.
Trim the pieces that you gathered so that you have more leafy stem tops rather than stems.
If you picked some longer ones to cull at home remove and save the leaves.
Here is a perfect stem top. Plenty of leafy stuff, a little stem some flower buds and seed pods.
After washing put it all in the strainer and let it drip or use a salad spinner.
If you have gathered a lot of chickweed to keep in the refrigerator for later use just put the washed chickweed in a strainer and let most of the water drip off on it's own. Don't use a salad spinner for the stuff you store. A bit of water on the chickweed is good for storage.
Washed and drained chickweed will keep fresh in the fridge a long time if kept in a large sized food storage bag.
This stuff is great on a sandwich too.
The seeds can be saved. Growing chickweed in a pot on the windowsill or back porch will provide pickings all year.
Plant them late Summer.
Here are some seeds for the back porch planter.