16/01/2015 06:30 GMT | Updated 18/03/2015 05:59 GMT

Chickweed, The Winter Forager's Friend

As the snow melted, the green of the snowdrop stems became visible and my thoughts turned to the chickweed growing nearby. Befriend this wild edible and you may enjoy nature's green larder over the colder months.


Chickweed carpeting sand on an Outer Hebridean beach

Chickweed Stellaria media grows prolifically and in a mild winter can carpet large areas but it grows in window boxes too. It is stalwart companion of the lazy gardener. Its stems are covered in fine hairs and where left to its own devices, it can grow to 30cm.The small white flowers are star shaped and are pleasing to the eye. Perhaps this is why it is known by the colloquial name of starweed. Chickweed was a favoured salad ingredient of Victorians. It isn't a fan of the heat but is available over the summer months; although it is most useful (and succulent) in the months of shorter daylight. I use scissors to cut chickweed, this makes it easier to prepare (the muddy roots come away easily, if you tug at it). The lower stems can be stringy, so I suggest cutting high, using the young stems from the top of the plant.

Chickweed has a subtle flavour, so there is no need to hold back. It can be used in sandwiches, salads, dips, and pesto. Add it to omelettes and sauces at the last minute to prevent overcooking. When cooked its volume is greatly reduced - rather like spinach. Steaming or wilting in a stir-fry are my favourite cooking methods. Hedge garlic (Jack by the hedge) may also be available as the winter days lengthen.

Hedgerow Garlic, Chickweed & Tomato Bruschettas

Makes 15-20

What to forage and find:

4 ripe tomatoes (400g) skinned

Small orange, scrubbed

1½ French style batons

1 tbsp olive oil

2tbsps hedge garlic, washed and chopped

2tbsps chickweed, washed and chopped

Freshly ground pepper

Quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Chop the flesh into small pieces and put it in a large sieve. Finely grate the zest of half the orange and add this to the tomatoes. Leave to drain for at least 20 minutes.

Lightly toast 1cm slices of the bread. Put the drained tomatoes and orange into a mixing bowl. Add the oil chopped hedgerow garlic and chickweed. Mix lightly, season with black pepper and using a teaspoon pile the mixture high on to the toasted bread.

Wild Notes:

Decorate with the segmented small white flowers of Jack by the Hedge, (Hedge Garlic). Alternatively you can use the chopped stems of wild garlic for a stronger flavour and added crunch.

There are more chickweed and hedge garlic recipes in The Forager's Kitchen