Chickweed – Stellaria media

chickweed blooming
chickweed has tiny star shaped flowers

Botanical: Stellaria media

Family: Caryophyllaceae

parts used: aerial parts (flowers, leaves, stems)
energetics: sweet, bitter, moist, cool
action: astringent, carminative, diuretic, demulcent, expectorant, febrifuge, galactagogue, lymphatic, mildly laxative, nutritive, vulnerary
used for: asthma, boils, bronchitis, congestion, contact dermatitis, diaper rash, eczema, inflamed joints, minor skin irritation and wounds, varicose ulcers, varicose veins
common names: Chickenwort, “Snow in the Summer”, Starwort, (Stellaria media literally means, ‘star in our midst’) craches, maruns, satinflower, and winterweed

It has been said that there is no part of the world where the Chickweed is not to be found. It is a native of all temperate and north Arctic regions, and has naturalized itself wherever the white man has settled, becoming one of the commonest weeds. While someone else did the research, (I suppose to discover that chickweed originated on the Eurasian continent, something I have never found the time to validate) what I do know is that it has found a home in the continent of North America. Technically an annual, it can hang on, stay green (and yummy) all through the winter. It greatly prefers cool and damp and will not thrive in the long hot dog days of summer. (ours most often dies out)

Chickweed has a fragile, shallow and fibrous root system. And, while that may be true, I can pull it by the handful, root and all, and it grows still. It trails across the ground over a foot in any direction and can sometimes stand up on its fragile stems as high as 6 to 8 inches.

chickweed identification
Chickweed is readily identified by the single line of hair on one side of the stem.

The leaves, with a point at the tip are opposite, oval, and smooth. Chickweed is readily distinguished from the plants of the same genus by the line of hairs that runs up the stem on one side only, which when it reaches a pair of leaves is continued on the opposite side.

Culinary Uses

Chickweed is very often used as food. Working in the garden and on days when I am too lazy to go in and eat and feeling a need for a boost, I just grab a handful of chickweed. It has a very neutral, bland, grassy flavor. The plant, leaves, stems, and all can be added to salads, cooked as greens, or used as “lettuce” on a sandwich. But, as with most fragile greens, don’t cook it for more than a few minutes. Chickweed is particularly high in ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Just look at this extraordinary list of nutrients this gangly weed contains…

Nutritional Value of Chickweed:

Chickweed is nutritiously rich in:

  • B complex (including substantial amounts of B1/Thiamin, B2/Riboflavin, B3/Niacin)
  • Vitamin C
  • Bio-flavonoids (including glycoside rutin)
  • Calcium
  • Beta-carotene (Vitamin A pre-cursor)
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • The Minerals: calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, manganese, selenium, silicon, zinc.
  • Coumarins/coumarines
  • GLA/Gamma-linoleic Acid (omega-6 essential fatty acid)

Just to give you an idea… chickweed is very nutrient dense having 6 times the amount of vitamin C, 12 times more calcium and 83 times more iron than spinach.
Quite an impressive list, huh?

The seeds are also edible. The plant can be dried for storage. Chickweed is a safe food, but be warned, as almost everything is troublesome in some way if you use enough of it, eating too much chickweed at one time may give you diarrhea.

Grind it up in a food processor and use in bread or soup. It smells similar to a spinach, and the color is marvelous. Chickweed will add nutritional value to whatever you use it with.

Chickweed Pesto

This is a delicious Chickweed Pesto recipe. This is what you will need to make it…

  • Three cups of chickweed (finely chopped)
  • One-fourth cup of Parmesan Cheese (freshly grated)
  • Half a cup of cashews walnuts or pine nuts
  • Two to three garlic cloves (minced)
  • Half a cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • One tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  • One-fourth teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • Half a teaspoon of salt

Make:

  • Add all the ingredients to a blender and process until smooth
  • Pour it in a bowl and refrigerate
  • Eat within four days
Chickweed contains saponins which are soap-like. Saponins emulsify and increase the permeability of cellular membranes so when we consume chickweed those saponins increase the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Click To Tweet

Cosmetic Uses

This herb has a large variety of cosmetics uses from shampoos and conditioners to soaps, bath teas, toners, facial masks, and scrubs.

For hair care, chickweed helps to soothe the hair and scalp as well as hydrating them. It also brings many needed vitamins to the hair, such as vitamin C.

My daughter Hannah uses chickweed tincture on her skin to improve and prevent acne. It is a common cosmetic ingredient for skin conditioning.

Complexion Lotion:
A handful of the fresh herb, with 1 oz of ground ivy or wood sage infused in a pint of boiling water will, if applied to the face and neck when cool, are known to take away spots and pimples.

Chickweed for Wellness

Chickweed is an excellent tonic. It is held in great repute among herbalists, most often in salves or balms. I have had excellent success with chickweed as a spring tonic… coming out of the ‘preserved food’ of winter into the green and nutritious time of spring, nature just seems to know what to provide. Even during the winter, while it lay dormant, its is still giving rejuvenation in the form of chickweed tincture.

Chickweed contains saponins which are soap-like. Saponins emulsify and increase the permeability of cellular membranes so when we consume chickweed those saponins increase the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. They also dissolve and break down unwanted matter like disease-causing bacteria, cysts, benign tumors, thickened mucus in the respiratory and digestive systems, and excess fat cells. [1]

Chickweed is a “joint-oiler” and an excellent choice for those dealing with arthritis, rheumatism, and gout. I find consistent use of the tincture, 20-30 drops three times daily, reduces pain and swelling, inflammation, and itching. Chickweed in the daily diet, eaten fresh by the handful or in salads, helps soothe and heal these conditions, as does the infusion, the tincture, and frequent poultices on the affected area.

You don’t have to be ill to benefit from chickweed! Nutritive chickweed is a friend to the healthy that want to stay that way. That is the beauty of herbs; their ability to prevent disease by helping to maintain optimum health. [2]

Chickweed Poultice

Applying poultices or compresses of this herb to wounds stimulates circulation and blood flow while protecting against infections, which speeds the healing process. You can crush the leaves of the chickweed plant into a light paste and topically apply it to acute injuries and wounds to speed the healing process.

Chickweed can be applied as a poultice on sore muscles or irritated skin, and relieves fragile, superficial veins or itching skin conditions.

  • Chickweed aids in digestion and weight control. The functions of chickweed are both mildly laxative and diuretic, helping the body rid itself of toxic substances. In traditional Indian medicine, it is used as a preventive measure for obesity. Studies show that the intake of chickweed had positive effects on food consumption behavior, adiposity index and body weight in mice. [3]
  • It has been used to promote wound healing and ease infections through its antiseptic and antifungal properties. [3]
  • Acts as an antihistamine which will aid in the symptoms of sinus congestion, circulatory problems, and bronchitis.
  • Possesses anti-inflammatory properties which will reduce inflammation in your lungs, bowels, and stomach

External Use of Chickweed:

Works particularly well as a lotion, ointment, and compress. To use as an all over body bath, tie chickweed in a cheesecloth and place it in the bath. Externally, chickweed helps relieve itching and inflammation and is generally soothing and moisturizing. (hence why so many herbalists used it in making salves/ointments) It can be used for any minor skin infection or irritation.

A cooled compress is excellent for treatment of varicose veins or hemorrhoids. Don’t know how to make a poultice or a compress? See the article… How To Make A Poultice With Dried & Fresh Herbs

Eyes
Our eyes naturally like to be both cool and moist. The discomfort of irritation, redness, dryness, sties, and conjunctivitis can be soothed with chickweed. For best results you need to mash some of the fresh plant and apply the juicy pulp (as a poultice) to a closed eye. After 15 minutes, or when the poultice becomes warm, remove the poultice and apply a fresh poultice of chickweed. If need be, do this over the course of a few days.

Chickweed Eye Lotion [4]

7 tbsp distilled water
7 tbsp witch hazel (from the drugstore and unscented)
1 tbsp chickweed tincture

Combine all ingredients in a clean bottle. Shake well before every use. Wet a cotton ball with the lotion and apply to closed eyes for 3 minutes. If your eyes are sensitive then do not use.

Internal: Taken internally, it helps soothe inflammation in the urinary system (eg. mild bladder infections, gastric and peptic ulcers). It also a good blood purifier by carrying away toxins. Internal use may also help to treat bronchitis, arthritis, and cold symptoms. You can take it like a salad, or tea.

Matthew Wood states in his book, The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants:

“Chickweed not only subdues heat and lubricates dry conditions, but also regulates water levels and drives off excess dampness and fats. These actions show that it stimulates both sides of the metabolism, building and breaking down, not only through the liver but also through the endocrine system. Thus, it is used to lose weight, not just short-term water weight, but long-term deposits of fats.” [5]

Ways to Use Chickweed

  • Compress – apply aerial parts of the plant to aching joints and muscles to relieve pain.
  • Decoction – a decoction can be used to help with constipation.
  • Infused oil – chickweed oil can be added to bathwater to help alleviate the symptoms of eczema. It can also be used topically for insect bites and other skin conditions to help minimize itchiness.
  • Poultice – Chickweed can be crushed and directly applied to bruises and aching body parts to help ease tension or lessen inflammation.

How to Make Chickweed Tea

Pour freshly boiled water on 2-3 teaspoons of fresh chickweed in a coffee mug. Steep for 10 minutes.
Chickweed is excellent for the skin both internally as a demulcent and externally as an emollient.

chickweed leaves
chickweed in our greenhouse in March

Chickweed is a common medicinal herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which has documented use for thousands of years. Traditionally, this herb was used to treat diseases of inflammation such as dermatitis or gastritis.

Oh! Just ran across a wonderful article on Herbal Relief for Bartholin Cysts and guess what? Chickweed!! She mentions poultices and sitz baths.

Any plant that can be infused and the infusion drunk to prevent scurvy must have some nutritional benefit. So, as noted on other sites, the benefits ascribed to chickweed may simply be the result of its high nutritional value.

It is said that the benefits ascribed to chickweed may simply be the result of its high nutritional value, especially the presence of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). The medicinal effects of this fatty acid read much like the values ascribed to chickweed. GLA is recommended for a variety of skin problems, for hormone imbalances as in PMS, and for arthritis. It clears congestion, controls obesity, reduces inflammation, reduces water retention, acts as tonic for the liver, and reduces the negative effects of alcohol abuse.

In conclusion, this finding justifies the traditional use of this plant, Stelleria media, for prophylactic and therapeutic purposes. [6]

Dosage: Recommended Amounts: Chickweed is both medicine and food. How do you give a “dose” of broccoli? Cabbage? Parsley? Simply bear in mind that too too much may give you a bit of a loose stool. That’s how you’ll know YOUR dosage of chickweed for food.

To use chickweed as a nourishing infusion add 1 ounce of herb to 1 quart of water, steeped 4-8 hours. You can drink up to a quart a day, or take a cupful every 3 hours for acute conditions.

Tincture: 60 – 100 drops, 4 times a day.

External applications, as discussed above, can be frequent and may need to be used consistently for several months in chronic irritated skin conditions.

Safety:

  • GRAS
  • Do not consume in large amounts (may cause mild diarrhea)

References

  1. Masé, Guido. “Plant Saponins.” A Radicle. Accessed January 25, 2017. http://aradicle.blogspot.com/2015/09/plant-saponins.html.
  2. Edwards, Gail Faith. Accessed January 15, 2017. Owner, Author, Herbalist, Teacher Blessed Maine Herbs
  3. Braun PhD, Lesley Herbs and Natural Supplements, 2-Volume set: An Evidence-Based Guide Churchill Livingstone; 4 edition (February 17, 2015)
  4. Weed, Susan. Healing Wise Ash Tree Publishing (April 11, 2003)
  5. Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2008. p. 472.
  6. In Vitro studies on antibacterial activity and phytochemical analysis of whole plant extracts of Stelleria media, Balendra Singh, Sharad Kumar Yadav, Advanced Research Journals
  7. Shan, Yu, Yuhong Zheng, Fuqin Guan, Jianjian Zhou, Haiguang Zhao, Bing Xia, and Xu Feng. “Purification and Characterization of a Novel Anti-HSV-2 Protein with Antiproliferative and Peroxidase Activities From Stellaria Media.” Acta Biochimica et Biophysica Sinica, Volume 45, Issue 8, August 2013, Pages 649–655, https://doi.org/10.1093/abbs/gmt060
  8. Ma, Lihua, Jie Song, Yaqin Shi, Changmei Wang, Bin Chen, Donghao Xie, and Xiaobin Jia. “Anti-hepatitis B Virus Activity of Chickweed [Stellaria Media (L.) Vill.] Extracts in HepG2.2.15 Cells.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) 17, no. 7 (2012): doi:10.3390/molecules17078633.
  9. Brill, Steve. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants, Steve Brill William Morrow Paperbacks; 1 edition (May 20, 1994)

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