Note: this website is written for Australian readers, and as an accessory to our book Let’s Eat Weeds: A Kid’s Guide to Foraging (available below). If you’re viewing it from elsewhere you may have other look-alike plants in your area, so check local guides.
first off – let’s look at the real chickweed
Chickweed (scientific name: Stellaria media) is a little plant that grows all around the place in the colder months and makes for a tasty ingredient in salads. But you do need to make sure you’ve really got chickweed!
This is chickweed.
If you’ve read the book Let’s Eat Weeds you’ll know this trick: look closely at chickweed you will find a ‘mohawk’ – a row of hairs on its stem. There’s one in the photo above. Can you spot it? (You may need to zoom in, especially if you’re on a phone.) Scroll down for the answer…
Here’s a side angle of chickweed’s mohawk.
When it gets flowers they are tiny and white with five petals, each shaped like bunny ears.
And if you look closely, you’ll see that the tips of chickweed’s leaves are a little bit pointy.
Chickweed has a stringy core inside its stems. This core doesn’t break as easily as the rest of the stem, and it’s a bit stretchy.
(scientific name: Cerastium species)
There’s a group of related plants that look similar to chickweed, and even have flowers that look almost same. These are the mouse-ear chickweeds.
The main way you can tell them from regular chickweed is that they are furry all over. Regular chickweed doesn’t have any fur on the leaves. Luckily the mouse-eared chickweeds – at least any we can find out about – are not poisonous, and there are people who eat some of them. We don’t though because they are furry.
(scientific name: Anagallis arvensis)
Scarlet pimpernel is not edible! This peculiar plant can have both blue and red flowers on the same plant. Most plants, including chickweed, have round stems, but scarlet pimpernel’s stems are square. Other than that, it can look pretty similar to chickweed. Of course, it doesn’t have the mohawk.
Scarlet pimpernel’s flowers
(scientific name: Polycarpon tetraphyllum)
Another little plant that can look a bit like chickweed is four-leaved allseed. It’s also not edible. Look out for it’s funny little flowers that barely seem to open.
(scientific name: Euphorbia peplus)
This is the one we especially mention in the book because you really don’t want to put this one in your mouth. It burns!
Petty spurge stands more upright on its own than chickweed, and branches more. (Chickweed often grows standing up too, but only by resting a bit on its neighbours.) Petty spurge often looks a little blueish. It doesn’t have any hairs.
When it’s young though, it looks more like chickweed, and if it is growing in the middle of a patch of chickweed you might not notice it. So be careful. We’ve never tasted it, even by accident, but we’re told it tastes really hot and you spit it out before it does any real damage.
Petty spurge produces a white sap that can burn skin. Be careful not to get this in your eyes: it’s very dangerous.
So that’s the main ones anyway.
If you’re in the tropics especially there will be others though (like ‘tropical chickweed’, scientific name Drymaria cordata).
So, if you want to know that you have chickweed, always look for what? That mohawk row of hairs!
Ok, think you’ve got it? Well you could watch the video below (we made it for adults but anyone can watch it) to see all these plants growing near each other!
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