This weekend has brought our first daytime temperatures below 40°F, and though a few of last autumn’s leaf lettuces are hanging on, they aren’t growing at anywhere near a harvestable rate. Not having planted any kale or mustard greens in the fall (note: do this next year), what can we put in the salad bowl this winter? The answer is…weeds! Chickweed, to be exact.
Last week I was checking over my garden beds, some of them freshly dug last fall to be ready for early spring planting, and I noticed that a lot of the freshly dug areas were already covered in a dense carpet of tiny, leafy greens. For a minute I was thinking resentfully of the weeding I was obviously going to have to do before I put in the peas this spring. And then a little voice suggested that, before I got all bent out of shape at Mother Nature, I might want to check my field guide to edible wild plants for a picture of this little sucker…
And there it is. Chickweed. A robust, winter-growing edible green that thrives even under light snowfall.
Well, that’s very nice, but surely a plant whose seeds arrived and sprouted all on their own can’t compare in taste with plants whose seeds have been carefully selected, planted, and slaved many hours over! Don’t all wild green things taste like dirt?
To my surprise, chickweed is the most delicious green I have ever picked in my garden! It’s vastly more flavorful than lettuce–even homegrown lettuce, which is vastly more flavorful than what’s for sale at the store. I’m especially surprised by this since my field guide calls chickweed “bland.” Do I just like [shudder] bland things? Maybe so. But there seems to be an intricacy to chickweed that I feel just isn’t present in any other green I’ve tried. I’ve read that wild plants have particularly high nutritive value and contain a wider range of vitamins and minerals than domestic plants. I’ve also read that the body knows when it’s eating something that’s good for it. Could this chickweed taste so good because it is so good–for me?
My hope is that, the more food Sarah and I grow and cook at home, the better it will be for us and the better it will taste. This first harvest of the year seems to bode well for that goal! And, since I paid nothing for seed or fertilizer, it also bodes well for our pocketbooks.
Weeding is so much more fun when it’s actually harvesting.
P.S. My boyfriend tells me that, during the Great Depression, people used to come and ask his great-grandfather if they could harvest chickweed on his land. So eighty years ago, chickweed was a commonly recognized food. How quickly we forget!
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For more info on chickweed, see Ted Manzer’s excellent blogpost: http://tedmanzer.com/2012/02/15/wild-but-mild-common-chickweed/