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Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013
Chickweed is upPosted Friday, January 20, 2012, at 8:06 AM
For photo prints, go to www.stevenfoster.com/prints.html
Right now one of my favorite plants that gardeners scorn as a weed, and that I call an herb, is in its full winter glory. The plant is chickweed, Stellaria media, a member of the pink family (Caryophyllaceae).
No, it's not pink. It produces white, star-shaped flowers, not pink flowers, but it's too early for the flowers to bloom. The genus name, Stellaria, comes from the Latin stella, a star. This annual plant produces luxuriant vegetative growth now, during the cold of winter.
Sure, it will get knocked down by a hard freeze and scrunched under an inevitable snowfall, but it will perk-up on a warm day and keep on chugging along. In a few weeks, the tiny white flowers, barely a quarter-inch wide, will be underfoot, and by the end of March it will bolt into seeds, and the plants will tangle to an annoying yellow jumble of ugly stems just as you're ready to plant your peas.
Chickweed is best described as a winter annual. The small, opposite oval leaves are tender and delectable, and in places where weeds grow and thrive on neglect, it's abundant enough to make a big salad. Some books will dismiss it as a "weed, of no known use," or proclaim, "let us not waste any more time and space on the imagined medicinal value of this ineffective herb."
That's actually a line from a book I co-authored, the 4th edition of Tyler's Honest Herbal (1999). But those are the words of writers who have only explored the bibliographical echo of the scientific literature (guilty as charged), or waste time on methods of eliminating the plant from gardens and lawns. It has caused consternation in my own home.
My wife, Donna, imploring me to mow the ragged lawn for the first time each spring, hears me reply, "No, I'm not going to mow until the dandelions, henbit and chickweed go to seed so I can have even more of them next year!"
Most believe lawns are places to encourage boring green grass. On the other hand, I believe they are places to encourage useful "weeds." So while many of you will be crunching through a bland mouthful of iceberg lettuce this winter, I'm headed to the yard to graze on delicious chickweed.
Steven Foster is a world renowned botanical photographer. He has published many books, including 2 for National Geographic
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