Chickweed – a mildly annoying weed to gardeners and allotmenteers, as it spreads rapidly across cultivated soil but is also easily removed – turns out to be full of vitamins and minerals, as well as being a recognised medicinal herb with healing and cleansing properties.*
It’s a worthy addition to salads but it really scores as a base for making pesto or Salsa Verde (recipes below) – both good with pasta and for waking up mild flavours such as chicken or fish.
It grows eagerly through the spring and summer becoming stringy late in the season but depending on the weather it can be available during a mild winter as well.
Care needs to be taken collecting it, you should know it well enough not to get it with confused with Speedwell and Scarlet pimpernel, with which it often shares the same patch and habits, and certainly not with young Spurge which is far from pleasant, an irritant and possibly toxic. Luckily chickweed is readily identifiable by its leaf and its small star-like white flower. So wash and pick through carefully discarding roots, long fibrous stalks and anything that's not nice green chickweed.
It has a mild earthy taste, rather dull on its own but it accepts other flavours readily and is very willing to mix it up with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper amongst others. Do try the recipes below –
Pesto – an infinitely adjustable recipe to taste – great with pasta, new potatoes, add to spring vegetable soup (Soupe au Pistou)
A bunch of chickweed
Some fresh basil if you’ve got it
Grated parmesan cheese
Pine nuts or walnuts
Salt and pepper
Very much ‘adjust to taste’. I usually blend everything except for the pine nuts or walnuts, which I pound lightly to leave a few lumps. Pine nuts have got very expensive and walnuts are as good in my book. If it turns out too sloppy I’ve added a few breadcrumbs.
Salsa verde (translation – green sauce)
Once again this is a recipe with lots of variants. Anchovies and capers feature in many recipes. The idea is to create something fresh and zingy. Here’s one without the fish. Once again good with pasta and will complement salmon and chicken dishes
handful of walnuts
small bunch each of chickweed, mint and parsley
tblspoon chopped gherkins
couple of cloves of garlic
dessertspoon chopped capers
juice from half a lemon lemon
glug or two of olive oil
Blend the herbs and garlic with olive oil and lemon juice. Lightly pound the walnuts so as to leave some lumps. Combine all with chopped gherkins and capers. Adjust to taste, season with salt and pepper. If too sloppy add a few breadcrumbs.
*'It's high vitamin A and C levels, saponins and plentiful minerals, including iron, copper, magnetsium and calcium, make it one of the best spring tonics' reference and recommended reading on chickweed and other native Britsh herbs – 'Hedgerow Medicine' by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal publ. Merlin Unwin Books 2009