It’s mid July, summer growing season is in full flourish, and if you’re like most gardeners, you’ve got weeds to pull. Previously, we’ve talked about the many uses of dandelions and the benefits of stinging nettle, but that was just the beginning. In this article, we want to look at some common but lesser known edible weeds, namely purslane and chickweed.
Chickweed is a sprawling, flowering annual plant that grows commonly throughout Europe (where it is native) and in North America. Keeping short and extending into large mats, chickweed resembles a ground cover. Sometimes it is cultivated for culinary and medicinal uses, but generally it just volunteers and has a tendency to spread out, especially in lawns and gardens, but also in the wild.
There are numerous varieties and close relatives to the chickweed, so if you want to eat it, you’ll need to be very careful to identify it correctly. Stems are slender, flimsy and hairy, with little white flowers that quickly turn to seed pods. Edible chickweed has fine hairs on only one side of the stem, and a single strip along the sepals that enclose the flower petals. Other members of the carnation family have a very similar appearance, but with fine hairs around the whole stem.
The leaves and stems of common chickweed are edible, most commonly in a salad like lettuce. Nutritionally, it happens to be loaded with vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, D, B complex, C, rutin (a bioflavinoid), calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, sodium, copper, iron and silica.
Whether eaten alone or in a mixed salad, chickweed can bring great health benefits. Herbalists commonly use it to treat iron deficiency, skin disorders, arthritis and menstrual cramps. For medicinal purposes, chickweed can be eaten or, more commonly, steeped into a tea.
Purslane is a common, annual succulent that grows short and compact, generally not more than a foot tall. It appears throughout the mediterranean regions of North Africa and Southern Europe, and has spread to North America as an exotic weed. As a succulent, purslane can survive in very dry and poor soil.
Stems of the purslane are mostly smooth and reddish, with flat leaves clustered around the joints, sometimes alternating and sometimes opposite. Small yellow flowers open briefly and can occur anytime during the year.
Leaves, stems and flowers of the plant can be eaten raw like a salad. Records of purslane consumption go back to ancient Rome and Pliny the Elder. Greek salads still use purslane as an ingredient, adding a little extra texture to the mix. Some prefer the taste of cooked purslane, which can be steamed like other vegetables, for about 6-7 minutes. It’s an excellent source of fiber and also high in vitamins and minerals. Most notably, it has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable.
To learn about more nutritious and medicinal weeds and plants that may be growing in your garden, check out some of our other articles.