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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Spring Chickweed isn't just for Chickens

Even a chicken's diet must get monotonous after a long winter of feed grain and cracked corn. While the reappearance of the lawn weeds in early spring aggravate many people, for those who own chickens or guinea hens, this is the perfect opportunity to shake off the winter blues and make use of those plants and reap the rewards with happier birds and stronger eggs.

Comfrey and dandelions are calcium-rich plants that chickens relish and does help with soft eggshells. Broken eggs are not only a waste but a mess within the nest. Other plants loved by your chickens include clover, fleabane, violets, perennial grasses, purslane, shepherds purse, plantain and groundsel, but their favorite is usually the tender chickweed.

Chickweed is Stellaria media which in latin means little star. The little white flowers appear to be made up of five petals but look closer and you'll see each petal has a cleft to become ten little slivers. Chickweed is one of those creeper plants often cursed by gardeners when it "invades" the garden as it self-sows very rapidly. Preferring cool, moist soil, once the summer heat builds these flower patches seem to just disappear.

Loaded with potassium, phosphorus, and manganese, this plant is sought out by foragers as a mineral rich salad green. As assumed by the name, this tender plant is sought out by chickens if given the freedom to free range in the garden or pasture.

For safety purposes, our little flock is confined to a fenced in area and because of their scratching habits, the soil soon becomes just dirt. So what we do to help supplement their diet is to take advantage of the fast growth of the chickweed spreading across my garden and flowerbeds before it is time to disturb it with my gardening. The larger weeds I just pull and gather a pile, but the chickweed gets a haircut. Chickweed pulls out of the ground easily, so if I want to extend its growth time and delay its going to seed, I take a pair of scissors and snip right across the mound. Once the weather gets warm, the chickweed gets lanky, goes to seed and somewhat disappears. People who don't want it should pull it before it reseeds itself.

While you're snipping away, keep back a bowl full to add to your salad at dinner. Known as an herbal diet pill, a healer of wounds, an eye poultice during allergy season, a joint oiler, and an overall nourishing, strengthening food. Susan Weed has excellent information on several plants she calls herbal allies in her book Wise Woman Herbal Healing Wise