Chickweed is a relative of the carnation that was originally native to Europe and has been uncovered in archaeological sites dating back before the Neolithic Era. It grows as far north as the Arctic Circle. This plant can now be found growing in North America and elsewhere in the world. It grows best in locations with temperate climates.
The herb was known to the Ancient Greeks and Dioscorides used it to treat eye ailments.
The Native Americans were familiar with chickweed they used it extensively for its range of medicinal benefits like its ability to treat coughs and other respiratory problems.
Practitioners of traditional medicine in Europe used chickweed similarly. They found it to be effective as a remedy for asthma and bronchitis.
Chickweed was sometimes used in vinegar to prevent scurvy when sailors had no access to fresh fruit.
In the 1600s, Nicholas Culpeper claimed that chickweed was connected to female energy and fertility. It was often included in love potions because people at the time believed that it would attract the ideal mate. Culpeper also recommended it for use as a diuretic.
Late 19th century and early 20th-century herbalist Jethro Kloss recommended chickweed as an excellent medicine for coughs and colds as well as for cancer.
The chickweed name comes from the fact that birds — especially chickens — are particularly fond of it.
Chickweed flavor profile
Chickweed’s flavor is relatively mild. It tastes a lot like cornsilk. Its texture is crisp.
Health benefits of chickweed
Chickweed is highly nutritious. This plant can enhance your health by providing you with compounds like:
- Vitamins: Like many other leafy greens, chickweed is a good source of vitamins A, B, and C. The vitamin A is in the form of beta carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A. The B vitamins from chickweed include thiamin and riboflavin.
- Minerals: You can get minerals like calcium, iron and zinc from chickweed. It is said to contain more iron and zinc than any cultivated green.
- Saponins: The saponins in chickweed are responsible for many of its most important health benefits.
The nutrients above make chickweed great for treating and preventing conditions like:
- Kidney ailments: Chickweed has diuretic effects and has traditionally been used to flush the kidneys.
- Unhealthy gut: Chickweed is a high-fiber plant that can help with your gut flora.
- Colds and flu: Compounds in chickweed allow it to function as an expectorant. It reduces inflammation in mucous membranes and can break up mucus.
- High cholesterol: Saponins in chickweed can lower cholesterol in the blood.
All parts of the chickweed plant are edible, including the seeds. One popular way to use chickweed is simply as a garnish, it looks a lot like microgreens and can serve the same decorative purpose on a plate.
You will want to use most chickweed varieties raw. Use the leaves in salads and pestos. While it is still edible when cooked, eat it uncooked if you want to get the most from its delicate appearance and texture. Overcooking can destroy that texture (making it similar to cooked spinach) and wipe out most of the flavor.
Also, you probably won’t have too much of it available after it wilts since chickweed is mostly acquired by foraging and there is not a lot growing in any one place. Like many medicinal herbs, chickweed is also often consumed as a tea.