food, growing things

Vegan chickweed pesto

There’s not that much growing at this time of year; but you will find fresh chickweed in UK gardens and allotments, even in the middle of the snow. It’s usually considered a weed, but in fact it’s edible, nutritious, and even quite tasty.

You can eat it raw, but I’m not very enthusiastic about it like that. Alternatively, you can treat it like spinach leaves and wilt it before eating. Or you can make chickweed pesto, which is what I did.

When harvesting chickweed, take only the tops of the plant. The lower leaves are tougher, and also by taking the top, you just encourage it to branch and produce more tops for future harvesting.

Chickweed pesto recipe

  • A few good handfuls of chickweed tops (I had maybe a couple of packed mugs’ worth).
  • Handful of pine nuts or sunflower seeds.
  • 1–2 cloves raw garlic (if you can leave the pesto overnight to mellow), or 2 tsp minced garlic / garlic paste (if you want to eat it immediately).
  • Tbsp nutritional yeast (use parmesan for a non-vegan pesto).
  • Generous pinch of salt.
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil (add as you need it while blending).

Throw all the ingredients into a blender and keep blending until it looks like pesto. Add the olive oil as needed to help the blender out (you can also add a very little water), and as needed for texture.

It worked well on pasta, but I also enjoyed it on crackers for the next few days as a mid-morning snack. And since chickweed will, apparently, grow on my allotment regardless of what I do, I might as well make the most of it, especially at this time of year.


we are weeds, vegetation

Things I do not recommend doing if you are a gardener (or, in fact, even if you’re not, although it does get you out of doing any washing up for about two mnths): breaking your thumb. Despite this handicap, I have managed to be moderately productive on both allotment and balcony over the last month. You would think that weeding might be a one-handed activity, but it turns out that I use the other hand for balance more than I would previously have thought. Nevertheless, in the ongoing battle versus the weeds, I’m just about coming out on top. Two weeks off was more than enough to make it hard to catch back up; but when I did get going on the top bed (planted to roots this year), I found that carrot, beets, and one or two parsnips were making their way through the jungle. (What has happened to the rest of the parnsips? Who knows.)

I’ve also been reading a new book, “Organic Gardening the Natural No-Dig Way”, by Charles Dowding, and so far have come up with a couple of useful messages. The first concerns weeds: “a year of weeds is seven years of seeds”.

This has implications for green manure – if you don’t intend to dig in your manure (see ‘no-dig’), it will go to seed, making more trouble for you in the future. Dowding isn’t in favour of green manures unless (like mustard) they’re killed by frost before seeding.

It also has implications about the amount of work that needs to be done over the winter. This winter I did only very minimal weeding, as the weeds were growing only minimally, but in practice this just meant that I didn’t get on top of it before they went to seed in the spring. I’m definitely seeing the results.

I’ve been reminded during the intensive weeding process of the last couple of weeks of something I read from Bob Flowerdew: that it pays to keep going back to a bed you’ve weeded thoroughly before it obviously needs weeding again. Keep cutting off the tops of the weeds (if using a hoe) or uprooting them (if weeding by hand) and they’ll get weaker, so the job will become progressively easier.

I am constantly debating the issue of whether or not to bother keeping weeds that have gone to seed, and rhizome-type weeds, out of the compost. On the one hand, this is often recommended as otherwise your compost will just grow weeds. On the other hand, I’m never going to get rid of the weeds for ever anyway, and it seems a bit of a waste of compostable material. My current compromise is to leave the rhizome-rooted weeds out on the paths for a week or so to dry up before composting them.

This season I’ve also been thinking more about hoeing to speed up weeding. Making seed rows a hoe’s width apart helps, but the problem I’ve then encountered is that my rows aren’t always straight. With the next lot of planting (which will be the subject of my next post), I intend to actually use pieces of string, as I see the older gardeners on the allotment doing.


Teas: thyme, dandelion root, and chickweed

The other week I harvested some dandelion roots and chickweed, to try out for their medicinal properties. I also tried thyme infusion. Here are the reports.

Thyme infusion

A couple of sprigs of fresh (or dried) thyme in a mug, fill with boiling water, cover, and leave for 5-10 min. Crushing the leaves a little beforehand makes a stronger infusion, I found. It’s supposed to be a good decongestant.

It certainly tastes lovely (you can add a little honey, but I didn’t bother), and both I (a little sniffly at the time) and my cold-ridden test subject found that it did at least temporarily seem to have a de-gunking effect. Cold-ridden test subject also said it made him feel calmer.

Would voluntarily drink again!

Dandelion root decoction

Since dandelion roots are quite tough, this required a decoction, which means that instead of just infusing in boiling water, one simmers it on the stove for a while — in this case, I simmered a couple of smallish roots for about 15 min.

I was expecting bitterness, and was all set to add some honey, but in fact I found it quite pleasantly earthy, and not bitter at all. Certainly less bitter than strong black tea.

It’s supposed to have general tonic effects, and in particular to be good for the liver and kidneys. I didn’t particularly notice a diuretic effect, but I did feel a bit better after drinking it (I had a couple of glasses of wine the night before and was feeling just slightly under the weather). So might make a good hangover cure!

Would drink again but with less enthusiasm than the thyme.

Chickweed infusion

A small handful of dried chickweed; pour boiling water over, cover, and leave for 10-30 min. Supposed to be good for coughs and hoarseness. I didn’t really have either symptom, but my throat’s been a little scratchy of late.

Unlike the thyme tea, I had to strain this, as the chickweed didn’t sink enough for me to drink around it. It doesn’t taste of much at all, and it smells of wet greenery. Not unpleasant, but not actively pleasant, either. Maybe a slightly bittersweet aftertaste? (It does that strange thing whereby the thing itself doesn’t taste of much but your mouth tastes sweet afterwards.)

I didn’t particularly notice a soothing effect, although I did notice a slight degunking effect; but that can just be associated with drinking liquid of any sort. Plus it made my nose tickle.

Would try again if I had a cough or hoarse throat, but wouldn’t drink for pleasure.

I’ve also poured oil over a jar of dried chickweed and put that in the sun for a couple of weeks, to try it as a healing oil for minor skin irritation.