Revenge on Weeds

Written by Maureen Rice

Let’s get revenge on those pesky weeds. Oh, it feels sooooo good. There they are, sneaky invasive weeds, popping out and thriving. They’ve found the flowerbeds, they’re even in the lawn. This year let’s do more than just yank them out. Let’s EAT them. Haha! Eat the weeds. We call that revenge.

Everything should be as perfect as this plan. We want to rid our yards of invasive plants, and we want healthy, nutritious veggies for our table. A little exercise in the cooler weather doesn’t hurt anything, either.

Common chickweed is easy to find in your yard.

No, don’t try hacking down an invasive Callery/Bradford Pear hoping you’ll get dinner. It’s actually much simpler than that, and you’ll be getting rid of another bothersome plant originally from Europe.

Go out, right now, in early spring and pull all that dumb, invasive chickweed and mouse-eared chickweed. Cook it up and enjoy eating tasty veggies chock full of Vitamins A, D, C, and B complex, and necessary minerals calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, sodium, copper, iron and silica (for your nails). It tastes like spinach, which you probably buy in the grocery.

Weed your garden and eat the weeds. There should be a song about that! Pull the weeds, get some minor exercise, cook them up, get great vitamins – it doesn’t get better than that.

Before cooking chickweed, give it a good soak.

But – wait – it does. In addition to the nutrients and delicious flavor, chickweeds can help fight inflammation, supports weight loss, and may help control bad cholesterol. You can even use chickweeds to create soothing balms for skin irritations.

Best of all – they’re free. No expensive bill for fresh veggies at the grocery. Wow. It really is true – chickweeds are tasty, great-for-you veggies. Now you’re ready to rush right out and get yourself some, right?

First, make sure you’re getting the right thing. Common chickweed, Stellaria media, is very likely growing right out in your front yard. No guarantee, but it’s so probable you might as well assume it’s there. It’s easy to recognize; even in winter it sprawls across any exposed area with buds, flowers, and seeds right on the same plant at the same time.

Don’t shriek with frustration at the weeds thriving while everything else sleeps. Get revenge. Eat them up! Tastes like spinach!

Leaves (nutritious, inflammation fighting leaves) are a nice bright green, oval, right across from each other (opposite), attached directly to the stem, and are smooth on top and only mildly “hairy” underneath. The stems are almost completely free of hair, but chickweed has style. It has a “Mohawk haircut” type run of hairs on one side of the stem only. You may need magnification to see the hairs – they’re no problem to eat once they’re cooked. It will generally have – on sunny days – tiny white flowers as well as buds and seeds (flowers may not open on grey days and close at night).

“Mouse Eared Chickweed” is equally edible, and, like chickweed, very probably out in your yard right now. The “mouse eared” variety, Cerastium vulgatum, also grows in spreading clumps everywhere you don’t want it. It’s easy to tell it from common chickweed as it’s hairy all over. It is a darker green and tends to stand more upright. Like common chickweed, it has tiny white flowers and “opposite” leaves attached directly to the stems. You’ll have to wait for later spring for it to bloom, though.

Mouse eared chickweed is another tasty alternative to spinach.

Both plants have the annoying habit of rooting themselves from any nodes that touch the earth, but now that you know how yummy and easy to grow it is, who cares?

Recipe for Revenge

Carefully check that you’ve got nice, nutritious chickweeds.

Clean your chickweeds in a nice bath of warm water. Remove the roots (pull off as much as you can outside) and rinse the plant very thoroughly. Drop into boiling water and cook it until it’s a very bright green; it will change color much as fresh green beans or broccoli will. Enjoy. Or you can roast it, bake it, or microwave it (in water). Please do cook it – it’s edible right out of the ground but may have bacteria or whatnot on it that is better cooked off.

Be Aware Before Eating

There are some unpleasant but fortunately rare and winter-hating look alikes. The “Scarlet Pimpernel,” Anagallis arvensis, can be quite toxic, but fortunately isn’t a strong grower, so it can only handle open ground, unlike the chickweeds, which grow everywhere. Blooming in summer only, it has reddish/orangish flowers and, if you look carefully, you’ll find there are black spots on the undersides of the leaves. Please don’t eat it. It’s unlikely to be in your yard and won’t be growing right now. Go ahead and get revenge on the chickweeds…

Then, there’s Radium Weed, Euphorbia peplus, which is so caustic it might burn your lips. It’s easy to spot; it has milky sap that will appear if you break the stem, while chickweeds never do. Wash your hands and get rid of it immediately in your trash (not compost heap). Fortunately, it doesn’t like to grow in winter and is very rare.

Maureen Rice is a Master Naturalist living and writing in Talbot County.

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