Chickweed

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chickweed blooming
chickweed has tiny star shaped flowers

Botanical: Stellaria media

Family: Caryophyllaceae

parts used: aerial parts

energetics: bitter, cool

action: diuretic, demulcent, expectorant, and mildly laxative

used For: asthma, bronchitis, congestion

common names: chickenwort

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 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 (ours most often dies out) in the long hot dog days of summer.

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.

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.

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

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 fresh and mild, flavor. The plant, leaves, stems, and all can be added to salads, cooked as greens, or added to anything you might add greens to. 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) and mucilage, and also provides rutin, para amino benzoic acid (PABA), gamma linolenic acid (GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid derivative), niacin, riboflavin (B2), thiamin (B1), beta carotene (A), magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, manganese, sodium, selenium, and silicon.

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 somehow toxic if you use enough of it, eating too much chickweed at one time may give you diarrhea.

Grind 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.

Cosmetic Uses

My daughter Hannah uses chickweed tincture on her skin to improve and prevent acne.

Using Chickweed for Wellness

Chickweed is an excellent tonic. It is held in great repute among herbalists, most often in an ointments. I have had excellent success with chickweed as a spring tonic… coming out of the ‘preserved food’ of winter into green and nutritious, 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 tincture.

Chickweed is considered a diuretic, demulcent, expectorant, and mildly laxative. Chickweed is often recommended for asthma, bronchitis, or congestion. It is also said that chickweed helps control obesity and is an ingredient in some herbal weight loss preparations.[1]

Externally, chickweed relieves 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.

chickweed leaves
chickweed in our greenhouse in March

As healthful an herb as I know chickweed to be, I can find no citations or studies done on this most common of ‘weeds’. But 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.

However, 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.[2]

Safety:

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

Works Cited:

  1. In Vitro studies on antibacterial activity and phytochemical analysis of whole plant extracts of Stelleria media, Balendra Singh, Sharad Kumar Yadav, Advanced Research Journals
  2. Deb Schwartz. Stellaria media (Chickweed. http://www.kingdomplantae.net/chickweed.php. Accessed Feb 24, 2014.
  3. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants, Steve Brill

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