In Chippewa, wi’nibidja’bibaga’no meaning “toothplant”, refers to the European stellaria spp. But the one we’re talking about here is the cerastium spp., known as mouse-ear chickweeds. They’re almost as edible, furriness aside, but not as medicinal as the stellaria species.
It’s important to note the hairless “common chickweed” (stellaria media) is a rare nonnative in the wild here, and the usual one offered from seed providers. It’s typically grown for salad greens. But we’re not covering stellaria SPP. today.
We’re talking mouse-ear chickweeds instead, cerastium SPP. These little herbs are covered in tiny harmless hairs. Our rare native chickweed is field chickweed (cerastium arvense). We also have the nonnative mouse-ear (cerastium fontanum), which is more common. I see it along trails, mixed with grasses. There are others native to Ontario, but not listed in Haliburton Flora.
Edible Uses of Mouse-ear Chickweeds
Most chickweeds from both genera have aerial parts that are entirely edible, and most can be eaten raw, but cooking is recommended. Typically, hairy mouse leaved chickweeds are cooked or steamed 5 min to improve the texture. You can also skip cooking and just dry the furry ones, but the dried leaves don’t store well.
As a potherb it gives soups and stews an herbal flavoring. You can also toss it into smoothies, your juicer, into a pesto, or even use it as a garnish.
A good source of vitamin A and C.
Medicinal Uses of Mouse-ear Chickweeds
The medicinal use of our furry chickweeds is sparse. I was hoping I’d find out it rivalled the stellaria species, but apparently not.
Indeed the chickweed most talked about in herbal circles is stellaria spp., traditionally a cure-all. There’s a lot to say about it. It’s especially useful for anti-itch skin creams. Since it is occasionally found here, we’ll cover it another time.
Its shallow roots act like a living mulch and it’s a quaint pretty flower to mix in with your tall grasses.
A few seeds can be gathered from the native field chickweed and directly sown in the fall.
There are annual chickweeds native to Ontario too: short-stalked (cerastium brachypodum) and nodding (cerastium nutans).
These should all self sow once you’ve started them.
Consume in moderation.
Don’t consume if pregnant (lack of testing).
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.
4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.
5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.
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REFERENCESThe Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual
Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants