Once winter has settled in there is little out there to forage and for the most part we have to rely on previously gathered supplies. Yet, if we live in a temperate climate there may at least be one element-defying herb that can bring fresh vitamins and a fresh green color to the dinner plate.
Chickweed - one of those herbs most gardeners love to hate. What don't they do to try and get rid of this persistent 'weed' that seems to jump up just about anywhere without invitation any time humans toil to cultivate the ground. It is only natural. Chickweed is one of those protective herbs that rushes to mother earth's defence wherever the soil is exposed to the elements and in danger of getting washed away, dried out or otherwise degraded - frequent consequences of modern gardening practices. As soon as this little healer arrives the gardener grits his teeth, grabs his picket and starts a crusade against what he perceives as an 'invader' on his little plot.
But for those who appreciate the gifts of nature and don't just try to impose their will on their garden patch and for those of us who like to forage, chickweed is a true blessing. Not only does it provide a natural ground cover, but one that offers nutritional and medicinal benefits without requiring the least amount of work. To reap its benefits all we have to do is clip the tender tops. Chickweed spreads and sprawls low to the ground. Occasionally, when it grows particularly vigorously it also sends up erect little stems. It is quite resistant to the elements, which turns out to be a blessing in the depth of winter when little else can be found.
It is frequently the only fresh green thing available during the winter months and early spring and its rich vitamin C, chlorophyll and mineral content make it a welcome nutritional supplement to the winter diet. Chickweed has a mild flavor and is incredibly versatile to use. It is great as a sprinkling green that can be used like alfalfa or other sprouts to garnish sandwiches, soups and salads. It is best used fresh, though should be minced finely as the stems can be somewhat stringy. It can also be incorporated in omelettes, fillings, sauces, dumplings or quiches - the possibilities are endless. When cooking with chickweed bear in mind that it disintegrates to practically nothing in no time at all, so just add it at the last moment and don't cook it for long. Overcooking would only diminish its benefits.
Apart from its' nutritional rewards, chickweed also offers a number of noteworthy medicinal properties. The old herbalists describe its effect as ‘cooling’ and ‘soothing’. It can be used as a medicinal food, for example as a healing soup to treat bronchial and pulmonary afflictions such as irritable coughs, for which it is excellent. The same cooling and soothing properties also lend themselves to external applications for inflamed sores, rashes and itchy skin conditions or burns. Traditional herbalists used to make ointments and poultices to treat eczemas, boils and abscesses.
Some herbalists prepare a tincture from this herb or dry it for later use, but in my humble opinion the greatest benefits are derived from the fresh plant. If a highly concentrated effect is desired, the herb may be juiced. The juice may be frozen to preserve its benefits, but freshly prepared juice will always be more potent.
Warning: some people have reported allergic reactions to chickweed collected from chalky soil.
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Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.