Learn to identify, collect, and prepare wild edibles!
Step into your backyard, garden, or nearby green space, and harvest an abundance of free, nutritious, and organic greens, tubers, and fruits. Foraging in North America introduces you to 12 widely accessible wild plants that can be gathered safely. Compared to cultivated garden plants, these wild edibles require no care, are hardier, and are amazing sources of nutrients.
Throughout much of our history, wild plants were the mainstay of human diets. They were rich in micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals that nurtured good health and strong immune systems. Foraging in North America is a simple guide that introduces readers to those foods―including such overlooked superfoods as dandelions, lambs quarters, and nettles. Learn how to find and identify those wild edibles and more, while avoiding toxic or inedible look-alikes. Expert forager Tom Anderson also shares tips on best practices for collecting and even some ideas on how to prepare your finds for the table, based on 30 years of experience. The easy-to-use information is accessible for everyone from beginners to experts.
Foraging is also an excellent family activity. It helps children to learn about the natural world while simultaneously giving them the satisfaction of contributing to the household. Bring this photo-illustrated quick guide on your next outing. Its pocket-sized format makes it easy to tuck into a daypack, camping cook kit, or glove compartment.
For nearly 30 years, Tom Anderson was a professional naturalist and Director of the Lee and Rose Warner Nature Center near Marine on St. Croix. He is the author of the following titles: Learning Nature by a Country Road, Black Bear: Seasons of the Wild, and Things That Bite: The Truth About Critters That Scare People. He is a native of North Branch, Minnesota.
Chickweed is a very common plant, and its genus is found around the world. Unfortunately, the second half of its common name contains the word weed, and for many people that dooms the plant. I have seen folks on knees in their lawns hunched over patches of chickweed, pulling it and tossing it into a basket to be cast off.
The genus name of chickweed is Stellaria, a Latin-based name meaning “star.” The tiny flowers resemble small, white stars.
Habitat This upland plant has adapted to grow almost everywhere. It has an affinity for rich soils and can be found in lawns, gardens, woods, and woodland edges, and it thrives in shade or sun.
Key Identification Characteristics
BEWARE Scarlet pimpernel, a toxic lookalike, might be confused with chickweed. It is easy to tell the difference between chickweeds and scarlet pimpernel. Scarlet pimpernel has a hairless, square stem. It has opposite, egg-shaped leaves. The flower is never white and is reddish to scarlet or blue.
Foraging Cool weather in spring is best for finding thick patches of chickweed. The plants usually only last a few months, but, if there is enough moisture and cooler weather, you can harvest them all summer. Due to its fragile, thin stems, it is easy to pick.
I often forage for chickweed for another reason: If I am foraging nettles and carelessly find myself on the burning end of the nettle “sting,” I can often find chickweed nearby and make a fresh poultice of chickweed. Directly applying the mashed fresh chickweed on irritated skin can bring some relief.
Edible Parts Leaves and Stems: Choose the youngest plants, and include the stems and the rich green leaves. While it is best used fresh, harvested chickweed can be refrigerated for a short period of time.
Preparation Eaten alone, chickweed is rather mild. It is best when in the company of other food items. The leaves and thin, tender stems are a great addition to a salad and go nicely with pungent greens, such as dandelion leaves or wintercress.
A favorite dish in our house is a hearty scrambled egg mix that includes a cup of chopped chickweed. It is also a wonderful green to add to your smoothie.
I especially like to eat raw chickweed in wraps and sandwiches. I enjoy sautéing it very briefly in a bit of olive oil to supplement sandwiches, wraps, or burritos. It also serves as a wonderful salad base. I find the subtle flavor of chickweed to resemble corn silk or even corn on the cob.
Species Specifics Chickweed packs a nutritious punch. It has more iron and potassium than any of the domesticated greens. It is packed with vitamins A, C, and D; those from the vitamin B complex; as well as calcium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, copper, and silica.
It also contains rutin, which helps reduce cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and maintains the health of the tiny capillaries in the body.