We left a big patch of
jewelweed growing behind the trailer this summer because a hummingbird
had claimed it as her property. At every meal, we enjoyed
watching her sipping nectar from the orange blossoms, then flying to a
nearby trellis to guard her patch from interlopers.
As the weather cooled,
though, the flowers must have stopped producing. Even though a
few blooms hung on, the hummingbird only made an occasional appearance
by the third week in September, so Mark decided to clean up the area as
he passed by with his weedeater.
Half an hour later, our free range
chicks were going crazy scratching and pecking amid the jewelweed
debris. What were they eating?
A search of the internet
suggested that jewelweed seeds are edible, not only to chickens (and
rabbits and deer), but also to humans. “Touch-me-not” is another
name for jewelweed because the pods spring
open when touched, sending seeds in every direction, so you have to be
careful if you want to harvest them. For my taste test, I
captured a seed pod in my hand and squeezed lightly until it popped
The seeds are larger than I
would have thought, perhaps a third of the size of a pine nut.
I’ve read that jewelweed seeds are tastiest when fully mature and
brown, but most of the ones I found were still green. They are
reported to taste like a walnut, but I felt they had a bit of a puckery
tang of a pecan shell (perhaps because they weren’t fully ripe).
Our chickens didn’t seem
to mind the puckeriness, though, making me think that jewelweed would
be a good plant to encourage in shady, damp spots in the forest
pasture. Yet another wild food to add to the list of chicken
drinks in between our flock’s forays into the wild.