Winter is not a time for growing crops, but some plants thrive in it. If you take a walk around your neighborhood in winter you’ll see a delicate creeping vine with fuzzy leaves and stems and small blue flowers. It can be quite showy.
This winter annual is called birdeye speedwell (Veronica persica). Some incorrectly call it bird’s eye speedwell. Flowers have four light blue petals with darker blue stripes that are fused at the base. Stems with toothed edged round to oval leaves sprawl along the ground and thrive in cool weather.
Also called Persian speedwell, it is common to improved soils. It responds well to lime and nitrogen and is far less common to dry waste places. Each plant can produce over 6000 seeds and each one can remain viable for 30 years. It’s not surprising these weeds are so common. They can be found all over North America.
Mulching landscape beds encourages this invader as the practice amounts to planting the seeds. In lawns, the creeping rooted stems often escape lawnmower blades. Most common broadleaf weed killers used on lawns aren’t very effective against this plant either.
Some might not consider this a problem. The main purpose of many lawns is to control erosion and keep mud from being tracked into buildings. I remember my father saying that as long as the lawn was green he didn’t care what was growing.
Birdeye speedwell certainly meets this criterion, and it does it while sporting delicate blue flowers. It also requires little mowing to maintain suitable turf height. Best of all, it is barely significant once warm-season turf species begin their growth in spring. That claim can’t be made for white clover. In flower gardens speedwell also provides winter color and holds tight to the ground.
It reminds me a little of verbena the way it spreads over an area and adds colorful blooms. I believe it could even be marketed as an ornamental for late fall through early spring use much like pansies are. Flowers aren’t nearly as large, but their numbers can somewhat make up for it.
Like many wild herbs, speedwell has a long history of usage. Introduced from Europe by early settlers this plant originated in Asia. Many different cultures utilized this and other speedwells for food and medicine.
Birdeye speedwell is high in vitamin C and can be eaten raw or cooked, but it’s too bitter for my palate. I much prefer chickweed, sow thistle or bittercress as cold weather wild greens.
A tea steeped from the flowers has a pleasing delicate flavor, but it is tedious to collect enough for more than a cup or two. Some claim tea from the flowers can suppress coughs, but I can’t personally substantiate the assertion.
Herbalists also claim consuming this plant can clear sinus infection, ease eye soreness, and help eyesight. Speedwell preparations have been used as muscle relaxants, too. Other claimed attributes are treatment of migraine headaches, mouth sores, and throat sores. I’m unaware of major research presently underway, so I’m skeptical.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture in northeastern North Carolina.