Last Updated on May 31, 2023
Have you noticed chickweed plants growing in your garden? Don’t be fooled by the word ‘weed’ in its name and yank it out! Get to know chickweed benefits and uses in the kitchen and home remedy toolkit, and you’ll be welcoming its appearance every spring. Here’s what to know about chickweed identification and uses, as well as the answer to your burning question, Is chickweed edible?
- Chickweed Plant Habitat and Growth Habit
- Chickweed Leaves
- Chickweed Look Alikes to Know
IS CHICKWEED EDIBLE? WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT FORAGING CHICKWEED PLANT
Common chickweed (Stellaria media) is one of many edible weeds you’re likely to find popping up in your garden, along with dandelions, purslane, wild violets, and many other yummy wild plants most people don’t realize are edible. Here’s a starter list of weeds you can eat if you’re curious about the foraging possibilities in your yard.
Chickweed is one of the earlier plants to poke up in the garden, around the same time as yarrow and Virginia waterleaf. When you’re yearning for some fresh greens from the garden, chickweed is there for you!
Now, just because chickweed is edible doesn’t mean you should start chowing down on it immediately. While it can be exciting to learn about all the free food you didn’t realize was growing all around you, there are two important things to understand:
- Learning correct plant identification is absolutely critical. Many plants resemble one another, and some edible plants have highly toxic look alikes. In the section on chickweed identification, you’ll find detailed descriptions of what to look for when identifying chickweed. You should always use multiple features of a plant to positively identify it, and consult multiple sources because there can be wide variation in regional species.
- Just because something is edible doesn’t mean no one will have a reaction to it. Just like with other foods (like fish, nuts, or fruits), some people are sensitive to compounds in wild plants that other people have no problem with. Any time you’re trying a new wild plant, try a little before eating a large amount. I’ve gotten a tingly sensation in my mouth when I’ve sampled certain plants widely considered edible; other people feel ill. Always start with a nibble to make sure the plant agrees with you before consuming large quantities.
Anytime you’re foraging a new plant, make absolutely sure to positively identify it using multiple features of the plant. Some plants that resemble chickweed can make you very sick.
Always consult a good field guide or accompany an experienced forager to make certain your plant identification is correct.
Renowned foraging expert Samuel Thayer is releasing a new guide soon. I’ve consulted his three previous books repeatedly over the years, so I was super-excited to learn he’d come out with a guide putting all his decades of plant knowledge in one comprehensive book. While the earlier guides went into detail about a few dozen plants, his new books covers 679 species, almost twice the number in the Peterson Guide. Order your copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon, or direct from the author’s website.
Learn more about the best foraging books for the forager’s bookshelf.
Consider enrolling in the Herbal Academy’s online foraging course to master plant identification and help you feel more confident foraging edible wild plants. They also have numerous herbalism courses worth checking out.
WHAT DOES CHICKWEED TASTE LIKE?
Chickweed is a mild green with a flavor vaguely reminiscent of corn. It has none of the bitterness that many wild greens do.
Some fans describe it as slightly sweet, and recommend using it in salads and sandwiches, as well as in soups.
CHICKWEED BENEFITS & MEDICINAL USES
Like so many other common wild plants, chickweed has a long history of medicinal use. Native Americans used it externally for wound healing and as an eye wash, and contemporary herbalists make use of its cooling and moistening properties as a soother for skin irritation and bug bites. Chickweed is often incorporated into skin salves because of its ability to soothe.
It’s also one of many plants that work well as a poultice to alleviate swelling, according to Maud Grieve, who also recommends an infusion of dried chickweed for coughs. (Here are loads more herbs for coughs to keep on hand.)
A cooling herb, chickweed is often used for fevers and inflammation. It’s also considered highly nutritive and historically has been used to help people recover from illness. Matthew Wood also finds it a valuable herb for regulating water levels and stimulating the metabolism. Like cleavers, it’s considered helpful for moving lymph.
Most sources I consulted said chickweed is considered most medicinally useful fresh, though David Hoffman recommends it dried.
You’re mostly likely to find it during the cooler spring months, and in some places it will return in the fall. Before it dies back, you can preserve some by drying and some fresh in a tincture. (Recipes coming soon!)
Here’s more on preserving herbs.
There are several species of edible chickweed, including Stellaria media (common chickweed), Stellaria pubera (downy or star chickweed) and Stellaria aquatica (water chickweed).
A number of related plants called chickweed are in the genus cerastium. There are a number of plants in other genera that are commonly called chickweed as well, and not all are edible. Don’t assume something called chickweed is edible without confirming that the botanical name of the plant isn’t one considered poisonous.
Chickweed Plant Habitat and Growth Habit
Chickweed prefers moist soil and part shade. It grows in a mat, with stems all tangled together.
Samuel Thayer notes that the growth habit changes when chickweed is in flower “and can look like entirely different plants” with cool weather plants having broader, larger, and more crowded leaves.
Leaves have smooth edges and pointed tips. They’re oval-shaped and grow in opposite pairs along the stem. Note that some species of chickweed have leaves with a more elongated shape; you’ll see many images on botany sites with the more rounded leaves of Stellaria media than in the photos of Stellaria pubera above and below.
The leaf pattern forms a sort of star shape that makes chickweed easy to spot, though if it’s not in flower, scarlet pimpernel looks very similar. More on this chickweed look alike below.
A single line of hairs runs down the stem. When you break a stem, no milky sap should come out. If you see a whitish sap, you likely have one of the chickweed look alikes mentioned below.
Chickweed plants have inner stems that separate from an outer coating. When you break the stem to check for sap, pull gently to see if you have this additional means of verifying the plant as edible chickweed.
Tiny chickweed flowers are white, with 5 petals deeply divided in the middle so they appear to have 10 petals. The centers of the flower are yellow and 5 green sepals grow beneath the flower petals.
Chickweed hasn’t flowered here yet. I’ll add a photo when it does 🙂
Chickweed Look Alikes to Know
Scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) can resemble chickweed when it’s not in bloom. It sports red flowers when it is. Samuel Thayer notes that while it doesn’t taste good, scarlet pimpernel isn’t poisonous, and in some cultures, it’s used medicinally.
Spurge (Radium Weed and Spotted Spurge)
A type of spurge called radium weed (Euphorbia peplus) like other spurges, contains a milky sap that you don’t want to ingest. So do spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) and prostrate spurge (Euphorbia prostrata), which are more easily confused with purslane than with edible chickweed.
Prostrate knotweed (Polygonum aviculare) and spotted spurge don’t look much like chickweed, but some people consider them chickweed look alikes. This post has some good photos and descriptions of these two plants.
Four-leaved allseed (Polycarpon tetraphyllum) has a similar growth habit, but it’s hairless and its leaves aren’t pointed at the tips.
A point of clarification: Mouse ear chickweed (Cerastium fontanum) resembles common chickweed but as indicated by the botanical name is in a different genus. Though technically edible, Thayer pronounces the flavor “mediocre and barely worth eating.”
WHAT TO DO WITH CHICKWEED: EDIBLE AND MEDICINAL USES
Chickweed leaves taste best from young stems before flowering. You can use whole tender tips, but stems can get tough, so check before using. Chickweed can be used raw or cooked.
♦ A favorite for wild green salads, try tossing a little chickweed in with your dandelion greens and violet leaves.
♦ Add chickweed to smoothies or sandwiches, or make a chickweed pesto. It also makes a nice addition to light soups.
♦ Use crushed fresh chickweed leaves as a poultice to soothe scrapes, insect bites, blisters, and rashes.
♦ Infuse oil with chickweed to use in salves. Here’s a recipe for chickweed salve from the Herbal Academy.
♦ A tea made from chickweed can help soothe a dry cough.
♦ Chickweed tincture can be used for bringing down fever when the person feels hot (not when they feel cold, as it’s a cooling herb).
Chickweed is one of many edible wild plants to experiment with in the kitchen. A collection of recipes will be coming soon!
In the meantime, find other creative ways to use your foraging finds here:
Save this info on edible chickweed identification, uses, and benefits for later!
Is chickweed edible additional photo credits: Cover — Madeleine Steinbach ; pins — Madeleine Steinbach, Michel VIARD
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.
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