“You want us to eat weeds?” the eight-year-old gasped in horror.
“And flowers?” the ten-year-old added.
“It tastes a lot like spinach, except better,” I coaxed.
The older girl tried one and her skeptical expression slowly changed like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. “Hey, that’s pretty good.”
Her younger sister would have none of it.
But I’ve been around the block a few times and I don’t give up easily. I got the girls gathering a small bowl full of the starry flowers and delicate early spring leaves from the massive chickweed patch behind my greenhouse.
I used to not have any chickweed at all. Now I have a carpet of it in parts of my yard. Be careful what you wish for. I have been known to plant certain weeds—to the horror of my neighbors—due to their medicinal properties. But I didn’t even plant this. I really did just wish for it and it came.
Once we had our tasty little herbs, we went down to the house and I set the girls to buttering slices of bread, while I preheated the oven. They put small handfuls of chickweed on the bread and covered it with a slice of cheese. The younger girl put only a few tiny leaves on her sandwich.
We put them on a baking tray and pushed it into the oven. Then we set to work writing down what chickweed is good for. That was the girls’ ESL lesson. They aren’t specifically supposed to be learning about herbs, but their mother is open-minded and I have the luxury of doing fun things with them instead of classical school work.
Chickweed is a diminutive herb and “weed” is the operative term for finding it. It loves to invade my garden. It's tiny starry flowers are distinctive. They are really five cleft petals but they look almost like ten individual petals, the cleft in the middle of each petal is so deep. It will grow in full or partial sun very early in the spring before even the grass starts growing again. This is part of what makes it so valuable. It provides the earliest spring greens, before even dandelions and nettles. And it’s packed with vitamins and minerals.
Chickweed can also be dried and used as a medicinal tea for coughs, hoarseness and constipation (it works as a mild laxative). It’s a good post-partum tonic and helps with kidney problems too. New research is coming out showing that it is also an effective antihistamine, which could end up being its most popular medicinal property in the future. Medicinally it is probably best used dried as a tea.
It can also be used fresh as a poultice in the field if you happen to get a scrape or cut outdoors in the spring when it’s plentiful. It has good healing properties for the skin, including healing itchy rashes of various types. A clean rag soaked in chickweed tea laid over the eyes while resting is a good cure for pink eye.
But it really is quite delicious and nutritious as well.
Five minutes later my young students were smelling the good smells coming out of the oven and even the skeptical one was interested. We pulled out the sandwiches and they were snatched up in moments. My daughter came in and ate both her share and her brother’s. It’s a good thing there’s more where that chickweed came from.
“It’s really good!” the younger student said, her eyes wide with amazement. “We have to make this at home.”
“I don’t think we have this weed in our yard,” the older one said anxiously.
“Don’t worry. You really probably do have it and if you don’t, it seems to come when called,” I told them.