Forager Friday with Diego. In season now: Chickweed

It's getting colder on this side of the world, and as the temperature drops, the botany changes.

Species that would disappear in the warmer months pop up and flourish everywhere, and I wait every year for the season of plenty.

You see, here in the Sydney's basin it's kind of useless to understand cycles via imported seasons from the northern hemisphere, as the die out down here happens in summer, not winter. On the contrary when the weather cools down a host of juicy, vitamin and mineral rich plants pop up. This week we focus on chickweed, stellaria media.

Description: An annual herb, it lies along the ground and has slender stems. There is a single line of white hairs which run up the stems until they reach a joint (see image below). The stems are round in cross section. The leaves occur opposite and the lower leaves have stalks, are oval and taper to a short point, 1-3 cm long and 5-10 mm wide. Leaves are pale underneath. The flowers are white in a flat topped arrangement with central flowers opening first. The fruit is an oval capsule with red-brown seeds inside. There are several closely related plants referred to as chickweed, but which lack the culinary properties of plants in the genus Stellaria. Plants in the genus Cerastium are very similar in appearance to Stellaria and are in the same family (Carophyllaceae). Stellaria media can be easily distinguished from all other members of this family by examining the stems as it has fine hairs on only one side of the stem in a single band. Other members of the family Carophyllaceae which resemble Stellaria have hairs uniformly covering the entire stem.

Edible Uses: Young leaves and shoots, raw or cooked as a potherb, are delicious. Very nutritious, they can be added to salads whilst the cooked leaves can scarcely be distinguished from spring spinach.  Seed – ground into a powder and used in making bread or to thicken soups. It would be very fiddly to harvest any quantity of this seed since it is produced in small quantities. The seed contains 17.8% protein and 5.9% fat.

Medicinal Information: Chickweed has a very long history of herbal use, being particularly beneficial in the external treatment of any kind of itching skin condition. It has been known to soothe severe itchiness even where all other remedies have failed. In excess doses chickweed can cause diarrhoea and vomiting and it should not be used medicinally by pregnant women. Taken internally it is useful in the treatment of chest complaints and in small quantities it also aids digestion. It can be applied as a poultice and will relieve skin rashes and is effective wherever there are fragile superficial veins. An infusion of the fresh or dried herb can be added to the bath water and its emollient property will help to reduce inflammation – in rheumatic joints for example – and encourage tissue repair. A decoction of the whole plant is taken internally as a post-partum depurative, and blood tonic. It is also believed to relieve constipation and be beneficial in the treatment of kidney complaints. The expressed juice of the plant has been used as an eyewash.

Disclaimer: This information should be used as a guide only. It is not my intention to advise anyone on medical conditions, rather I'm just presenting a new way to look at the plants growing in your yard.

Warning: It can be confused also with radium weed -Euphorbia peplus, distingushable by a different structure (leaves are opposite, and the presence of a white milky sap. THis plant has several medicinal properties but is also caustic and it is not edible. Be confident in your ID, and if in doubt ask someone for help.


Further information:

Check WildFoodMap for locations