Edible wild greens: Cleansing springtime chickweed salad (vegan)
Herbalists and wild foragers alike squeal with glee when chickweed begins its annual sprawl-out. Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a wild winter annual, blooming little star-shaped white flowers into the springtime. It's also an edible weed that you do not want to be ripping up from your garden and tossing away — unless you don't care for its impressive nutritional and medicinal value (and lovely earthy flavour).
Packed with vitamins C, A, D, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin and thiamine, and minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorus, copper and silica, chickweed ramps up the nutritional content of any meal.
Culinarily speaking, the stems, leaves and flowers are all edible and eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, as a garnish for soups, and ground into pesto. You can also use chickweed as you would spinach, and it may be lightly steamed or sauteed — just don't overdo it on the cooking as you'll lose all of those amazing nutrients!
Medicinally, chickweed is a "cooling" plant, making it great for soothing inflammation both internally and externally, and is used as a poultice to treat skin conditions, soothe cuts, bites, and burns and speed up wound healing. Internally it can be taken as an infusion or tincture and used as a cleansing diuretic to flush toxins from the system, aid weight loss, clear respiratory issues, purify blood and dissolve ovarian and breast cysts.
When foraging for any wild edibles it's important to ensure you correctly identify the plant. Fortunately, chickweed has a few distinct characteristics that make it easy to ID. Harvest chickweed from your own garden or places where you know pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals have not been sprayed.
Chickweed identification checklist
Grows in sprawling, tangled mats from a single taproot.
Blooms distinctive white flowers with 5 petals, although the petals are so deeply divided it looks like 10 petals at first glance!
A "mohawk" of fine hairs trail up one side of the stem only — a distinct way to ID chickweed.
Leaves are smooth and display a spade-like shape.
When the stem is broken, you can see an inner tube within. Chickweed stems do not contain a milky sap. If you come across a plant that looks like chickweed and oozes a milky sap when the stem is broken, that's not chickweed — it could possibly be radium, an irritant weed that should be avoided.
Precautions Those allergic to the daisy family should avoid chickweed. If pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your doctor first before ingesting chickweed.
Chickweed and roasted balsamic beetroot salad
Chickweed has a mild, earthy, grassy flavour, so it pairs super well with other earthy elements like beetroot and radish. Thinly sliced cucumber and torn fresh mint leaves add a refreshing contrast, and a generous sprinkling of chopped walnuts and toasted sunflower seeds add texture and vital heart-healthy fats and oils for those on a plant-based diet!
I throw in other ingredients, depending on what I have on hand. This time it was avocado, fresh oregano from the garden and some leftover roasted zucchini ribbons. This salad makes for an awesomely delicious accompaniment to main meals, but honestly I just end up digging into it as is — it's that tasty and moreish!
This salad is not only scrumptious, but also acts as a lovely cleansing spring tonic for your digestive tract and liver after a winter of indulging (and one too many mulled wines). Cleansing our inner organs is beneficial for our external appearance too — skin appears clearer and more radiant, eyes brighter and whiter, etc.
Bunch of freshly harvested chickweed, sorted through to ensure other non-edible plants aren't mixed in.
1 beetroot, skin on, cut into cubes.
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Cucumber, sliced as thinly as possible (as much or as little as you'd like — I used around a half).
Zucchini sliced thinly and roasted in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper.
1 red radish, cut into matchsticks.
Some fresh oregano or herb of your choice, minced.
A sprig or two of fresh mint.
Handful of walnuts, chopped coarsely.
Handful of sunflower seeds, dry toasted in a pan.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar.
1/4 - 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (depending on how much you love mustard!)
Sprinkling of fresh or dried herb of your choice (I put in half of the minced oregano).
Salt and pepper to taste.
Step 1. Get the dressing out of the way first. Simply throw all of the dressing ingredients into a little jar and shake shake shake. Set aside to allow the flavours to infuse.
Step 2. Pre-heat oven to 200°C (or whatever you would normally roast vegetables at). Grab an oven-proof dish and throw in the cubed beetroot. Drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Spread the beetroot out so the cubes aren't piled on top of each other and roast until slightly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
You can roast the zucchini slices at the same time, but be sure to check on them on occasion as they will need to be removed from the oven prior to the beetroot.
Step 3. While the beetroot is roasting, assemble the salad ingredients. The trick to getting optimum taste and palatability out of chickweed is to bunch it up and chop through it finely (see leftside pile in the picture above) — almost mincing it like you would when making tabbouleh! Now toss it into your salad bowl.
Step 4. Next, to the salad bowl, add the cucumber, radish, avocado (cut into slithers or however you desire) and minced oregano. Tear in a handful of fresh mint leaves. Once the zucchini and beetroot is done, add to the bowl. Drizzle over the dressing to taste (you may not need all of it, depending on how much chickweed you started out with), and toss thoroughly to coat every skerrick. Finally, garnish with the walnuts and toasted sunflower seeds. One word: delicioso.
And what did I do with the leftovers? Made it into a mouth-watering sandwich with roasted potatoes, smashed avocado and vegan aioli. Holy. Yum.