Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Weekly Weeder: Chickweed for fall and winter food


          Fall is in a hurry this year, sending us cold, rainy weather on the equinox, and now a summer-ending rain system as October began.  It may warm up to the 80s this weekend, but maybe not, and it will probably be the last such warm spell until spring.  We are forecast to have a cold, snowy winter.

Chickweed en masse under locust trees by the Greenwood overlook.  This area got fenced in this year, but there is more not fenced further down the trail, where the city spread compost a few years ago.

          Chickweed has been growing in my watered garden for weeks.  Now that the rains have started in earnest, it will be sprouting in the dry areas down by the river, where it grows thick and lush, under the locust trees along the river trail behind the waste water treatment plant on Greenwood.  Locust drop small, soft leaves that chickweed can grow right through and they form rich soil to grow chickweed leaves up to an inch long and a half-inch wide, large and juicy enough for good salad, sandwich and boiled greens right up until they seed out heavily in the spring.  
The stems are soft and juicy and can be eaten along with the leaves.   I like to cut just the top two inches of the plant for eating, for minimum stem and best quality.
They often start flowering in late fall with small, multi-petalled starry white flowers which quickly make tiny seeds, but are still good eating until the weather warms in the spring and they get leggy with smaller leaves and lots of seed.  Their taste is mild and very green.

Chickweed being weedy on the Caveman Bridge a few years ago, growing in decomposed locust leaves.

When it gets too leggy and seedy for salads and sandwiches, it is time to transplant it to other places by grabbing a load of those seedy greens and spreading them where you want them to grow.  For good results, it should be an area of good soil for growing big plants, where leaves will not be lying too thick and heavy for them to sprout the following fall and winter.
          Chickweed is also good for eye medicine, being a mild source of boric acid.  Make a tea with the leaves and stems, let it cool, and drop it in the eyes.  I’ve cleared up many cases of pink eye and kitten eye infections with chickweed tea.  To keep it available year-round in your garden, where it is watered regularly, keep pulling the above-ground portion of the plant before it makes seed.  It will keep growing until it makes enough seed.  It tends to break off at ground level when one is pulling it, so ironically, the way to keep it in your garden all summer is to keep pulling it.  The way to get rid of it all summer is to let it seed out in the spring, or smother it with mulch, the easiest way to lose it entirely.
                             

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener          541-955-9040        rycke@gardener.com