Winter Wild Foods

Chickweed

The term "chickweed" most notably describes Common Chickweed (Stellaria media), although there are several other chickweeds, all in the genus Stellaria

Common Chickweed is a cool weather plant native to Europe that has widely naturalized in the United States and throughout the world. It’s often found in lawns and other areas of shady, moist soil.

Depending on climate, chickweed normally appears during the cooler temperatures of fall and dies back in the late spring or early summer heat. It thrives between 53° and 68°F.

Chickweed, Stellaria Media

Common Chickweed, Stellaria Media

Traditional Use: 

How beneficial is chickweed nutritionally? It’s hard to say. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been any official research conducted.

Several sources say it’s high in vitamins C, B, and A, as well as a host of minerals and other healthful constituents. I contacted a few of those sources looking for more info but I haven’t located any credible evidence or study.

We do know that chickweed was used traditionally as a restorative tonic for patients recuperating from serious illness. It’s presumably the plant’s nutrient content that provides healing support.

Chickweed actually has several traditional uses both internally and externally:

  • Anti-inflammatory and pain reliever
    It’s a traditional remedy for rheumatism, arthritis, menstrual cramps and other issues associated with inflammation. 
  • Digestive and intestinal support
    Chickweed’s high fiber content and its reputation for improving the absorption of nutrients makes it an old stand-by tonic for gut health.
  • Skin treatment
    Chickweed is cooling and drying so it has a long history of use in treating skin afflictions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, rashes, minor burns, boils, cuts, and insect bites. It’s also good as a compress for soothing hemorrhoids and varicose veins.
  • Kidney support
    As a mild diuretic, chickweed tea is traditionally administered to flush and clean the kidneys. 
  • Astringent
    A compress, tincture, or fresh juice of chickweed is used to draw out splinters.

Habitat and Harvest:

Chickweed is a common yard weed--it’s considered a pest by some so be sure not to gather it in areas that have been sprayed with pesticide.

To harvest, simply cut the stems with scissors--cut either the tops or the base depending on how much you need and how much is available. For larger, leggy plants, you may want to use only the leaves. Be sure to remove any yellow or brown leaves.

Preparation and Storage:

Chickweed doesn’t do well refrigerated which probably explains the fact that it never made it as a commercial crop, even though it was a popular edible garden plant in the 1800s. It’s best eaten fresh so plan to use it within a day or so of cutting. Eat the stems, leaves, flowers, and seed pods.

Since chickweed is so prolific, it’s really easy to get enough for a meal or 10 in a short time.

It’s excellent eaten raw; put it in a salad or prepare as you would spinach: steamed or sauteed.

See Steve Brill's tips for preparing chickweed:

Yaupon Holly

Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is an evergreen shrub native to the southeastern U.S. Yaupon holly produces small white flowers in the spring followed by red berries on female plants that remain through fall. Its small dark green ovate to elliptical leaves are scalloped and occur alternately on the stem. Ilex vomitoria may reach heights of up to 25 or 30 feet. The leaves contain more caffeine by weight than both coffee beans and green tea and it has the highest caffeine content of any plant native to North America. Yaupon holly is also high in antioxidants and less bitter than green tea. It's a close cousin of the South American yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis) and its tea is similar in flavor and quality.

Traditional Use: 

Yaupon holly tea has been used for ages by southeastern U.S. Indian tribes for both recreation and ceremony. Early white settlers knew the tea as "the black drink." Ceremonially, it was sometimes made as a strong brew which intensified the tea's emetic qualities inducing vomiting and purification, hence the Latin name vomitoria.

During the Civil War, southerners substituted yaupon holly tea for coffee and black tea.

Preparation and Storage: 

Leaves and stems of yaupon holly may be used fresh, dried or roasted and stored like any dried herbal tea. They were traditionally parched to a dark brown over a fire. The leaves may also be parched in the oven or on the stove top at 350-400 degrees F. It may then be stored in jars and can be brewed by itself or in combination with stems and/or fresh leaves. A simple tea is brewed by steeping just a few leaves in a cup of hot water for a few minutes and then straining out the leaves. Parching the leaves imparts a smoky flavor similar to yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis). Again, it's important to positively identify the plant as Ilex vomitoria.

Habitat and Harvest: 

Yaupon holly prefers maritime forests, salt marshes and woods and swamps of the coastal plain at elevations below 500 feet. Although its original range is limited to these areas, it now occurs in areas as far inland as the mountains of North Carolina, as it was traded and cultivated by Native American tribes.

Spotting yaupon holly is easiest in the fall when clusters of red berries cover the female plants. To harvest leaves, grasp the stem near the trunk and slide the hand outward to strip off the leaves.

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