Would the real chickweed please stand up?

At the moment, I’ve got this annoying, rather sparse, little weedy plant coming up everywhere, which I’ve always referred to as chickweed. I was over at my neighbour’s a week or so ago, and he’s got it as well, loudly cursing it and pulling up great handfuls, and he calls it chickweed, too.

My two herb books (one by Penny Woodward and the other by Isabell Shipard), say that chickweed is a nutritious plant, which comes under the heading of what are now known as ‘edible wild weeds’. Their chickweed’s scientific name is Stellaria media. Unfortunately, neither book has a photograph of it. But chickweed is chickweed, isn’t it? Huh! As an amateur botanist, I should know the pitfalls of trusting in common names.

I was reading this post from the Permaculture Research Institute, which talks about growing ‘weeds’ for profit and was interested to read that chickweed is grown, by the acre, to provide the iron used in vitamin supplements. I couldn’t imagine the plant I’ve got growing here as doing that (it’s such a sparse little thing….well, you would need acres of it).

I went back to my herb books and discovered an interesting fact, which both authors describe, about Stellaria media. Penny Woodward says: “It can be distinguished from other similar plants by the single line of hairs found on the internodes of the stems—after reaching a pair of leaves, the line continues on the opposite side.”

Out to the garden with the hand lens. Aha! My ‘chickweed’ has hairs all over the stems! It’s not Stellaria media. It’s an impersonation. Back to the drawing board and Google.

Apparently there are many plants with the common name of chickweed (wouldn’t you know it!). What I appear to have is Mouse-ear Chickweed, Cerastium glomeratum, apparently not edible. I searched amongst my weeds for Common Chickweed, Stellaria media, but couldn’t find it. I seem to recollect seeing something that might have been it, but I probably weeded it out! I’ll keep a watch out, but in the meantime, Eden Seeds have it listed for sale, so I might just put it on my next order.

Why would I want to grow a weed? Well, edible weeds are back in fashion. There are many blogs and websites devoted to what’s known as wild foraging. During wartime many Britons eked out their food rations with wild weeds.  And they are very nutritious. Nettle, for instance, which I’m already growing, has 8 times the iron content of beef, according to Isabell Shipard’s herb book. Dandelion is another ‘weed’ I’m growing. So chickweed would make it a nutritious threesome.

The real McCoy—Stellaria media, Common Chickweed

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2 Responses to “Would the real chickweed please stand up?”

  1. The F. Relic Says:

    Well blow me down! Here am I slaving over a hot weed-burner for the past two weeks, and bending to hand pull 10 potting mix bags stuffed full of weeds, and STILL NOT FINISHED and there are you GROWING the buggers!!!

    Did you know there are many precedents apart form the Poms during the war, for scavenging or wild foraging! One of them concerns the Edithvale wetlands during winter when the mowers couldn’t get into the grassy commons areas for fear of bogging down, the Italians and Greeks used to come and pick great sacks of greens. I have forgotten now what they picked but I did talk to them about it.

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Oh dear! I knew I’d get into trouble on this one.

      Don’t worry, all you other readers; the Relics, M & F, are close friends. She works like a Trojan, pulling weeds (as you can see), and he grows all their food (but not edible weeds…..she’d only pull ’em out).

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