Since it’s been so warm this winter, I’ve been out poking about the garden more frequently than usual for this time of year. And since the only hardy crops I have so far are Egyptian walking onions, garlic, and strawberries–none of whom offer particularly splendid winter displays–I’ve been forced to direct my plant-starved eyes to the weeds. Some of you are well aware of this: you’ve seen all my ecstatic posts about identifying the ones that are edible!
Well, I’ve got another one for you. But first I want to remark on how interesting it’s been to follow the progress of my garden weeds over the past couple of months. At first there was only the common chickweed, Stellaria media. A couple of weeks later, I started noticing pepperweed, also known as hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta). Then there was the henbit (not edible, as far as I know), and now there are several new things popping up and spreading about, almost too quickly for me to identify. It’s fascinating to see how each plant arrives on its own schedule, knowing when conditions are just right for it to begin developing leaves and then flowers. It makes me realize another reason I love gardening: the garden is never the same two days in a row. Something is always happening. Even if you have to look at the weeds to find it.
Well, today’s new edible weed, which has only recently started into rapid growth, is mouse-ear chickweed.
Mouse-ear chickweed, or Cerastium vulgatum, is similar to common chickweed and also grows in spreading, matted clumps, but its big difference is how hairy the leaves are. They’re so furry, they make me think of lamb’s ear. Another prominent characteristic is the clearly opposite position of the leaves, giving the individual sprays a squarish look.
After identifying this chickweed, I read that it was best eaten boiled, that this gets rid of the furriness. I tried a leaf raw, just to see what it’d be like, and it does feel furry in the mouth, though it’s not necessarily an unpleasant feeling. Just unusual. Like eating the fuzz on the outside of a kiwi. (I have a friend who does this.)
But then I followed the suggested serving method. I dropped a clump of (washed) mouse-ear chickweed into boiling water. After a couple of minutes, it took on that very bright green color that broccoli gets when it’s ready. I lifted the chickweed out with a fork and tasted.
My first thought? Asparagus. Forget all those seeds I just planted that won’t be harvestable for another two years. Mouse-ear chickweed tastes just as good and is none of the work! Mm, mm, good. I thought it might at least need some butter or salt, but no. It was delicious straight out of the pot.
So here’s to another edible weed!
Note: Before sampling any wild foods in your own backyard, make sure to identify them using at least two separate reputable sources (with clear photos). If anything in the description or photo doesn’t match the plant you’re looking at, it’s probably because it’s not the right plant. Wild foods are great, but it takes time to become familiar with them. And it’s very important to know what you’re tasting. That said, bon appétit!