Monday, January 20, 2014

Chickweed is great winter food and medicine

          A great eating green that holds up well through the winter is worth paying attention to.  One that also can be used to treat eye infections is even better.

Chickweed under the locust trees

Chickweed is already blooming and shedding seed down by the Rogue River along the bike/walking trail at the end of Greenwood Avenue.  It started growing this year months earlier than usual, sprouting with cold September rains, rather than waiting for November like recent years, or January as usual.  The early December snow and deep freeze, down to 8 degrees, didn’t damage the plants, perhaps because they were covered with snow, and they took off blooming and making seed before the end of the month.  It is probably more mature by the river than most places, temperatures being more moderate there.

 Chickweed closeup

I know it is seeding because I am making chickweed tea to treat conjunctivitis, AKA pink eye, and I end up with seeds in my cup.  It has boric acid in just the right amount to safely and effectively in kill bacteria in the eyes.  I make a small cup every day with a small handful of fresh, uncut chickweed and drop some in my eyes morning and night. 

 Fresh, whole chickweed ready for tea

 Making tea and sterilizing the medicine jar

Prepared medicine and leftovers

It must be made fresh daily to work, as it can get cloudy quickly.  To keep it fresh for the day, I sterilize the jar I keep the dropper in with boiling water at the same time I make the tea; pour some tea in the sterilized jar with the dropper; and lid the jar until the tea is cooled enough to use. 
It stings a bit at first, but stops the itch immediately and clears up the eyes.  Like other antibiotics, it must be used for a week or so after symptoms subside to stop them from returning.  I put about ¼ cup of tea in the jar, eat the mouthful of wilted greens, and drink the rest for a tonic high in vitamins A, C, iron and calcium.
The easiest way to pick chickweed is to grab the top of its mass of leaves and cut off the top 2-3 inches with a knife.  They are crawling, succulent plants that can stand about 6 inches high in a mass, and the tips are the best eating.
          They are great as a wilted green with dinner, or fresh in sandwiches and salads, much like spinach with smaller leaves and succulent stems; a little bitter, but a good bitter.  I like a sandwich on Dave’s Killer Bread with peanut or almond butter on one piece and cream cheese on the other, with jelly and chopped chickweed between.
            The locust trees by the river, and the box elder and plum in my backyard, make perfect chickweed habitat, as their leaves fall early; they are soft and eaten quickly by the soil; and they make rich soil under dappled shade, with winter sun through the branches.  The variety that grows by the river has larger leaves than most, and was easily spread to my backyard by pulling the seedy plants in late spring and spreading them where I wanted them to grow.

Gardening is easy, if you do it naturally.