Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chickweed - Herb of the Week

Tomorrow is National Weed Day, so in celebration, I decided to make the
Herb of the Week Chickweed (Stellaria media)
common chickweed to be exact.

This cool-season annual herb started out as a weed in Europe and has been naturalized worldwide. It is so named because it is a favorite food of chickens. Chickweed is an annual, meaning that the plant's life span is over in one year, and the plants for the next year come from seeds, either self-seeded by the plant or sewn in by the gardener.

Chickweeds are an annual herb, widespread in temperate zones, arctic zones, and throughout their place of origin – Europe. Chickweeds have established themselves all over the world, possibly carried on the clothes and shoes of explorers. They are as numerous in species as they are in region. Most are succulent and have white flowers, and all with practically the same edible and medicinal values. They all exhibit a very interesting trait, (they sleep) termed the 'Sleep of Plants,' every night the leaves fold over the tender buds and the new shoots.

To Grow
Chickweed grows from 3 to 8 inches high, and the plants will mat together and grow to about 16 inches long. The leaves, which have smooth edges, are no more than 1 inch long and can be as short as ½ inch and always grow in pairs, directly opposite each other on the stem. The stem itself is not smooth, having fine hairs covering the entire length. The flowers themselves are petite, measuring just 1/8 inch across. They are white with five petals, giving them a star shape. Directly under the flower petals are five sepals, which look like leaves, and grow as long as the petals.

There are a few different types of chickweed, each one with its own modification on the general features, and all of them are edible. Common chickweed has leaves with stalks, star chickweed has leaves without stalks, and mouse-ear chickweed has coarse hairs.

To Use
The cultivation of this her (weed) is not really necessary as it can be found abundantly in the wild.  One can gather fresh edible plant between May and July, as soon as flowers appear, it can be used fresh or be dried for later herb use.

Common chickweed as well as star chickweed can be eaten raw in salads or cooked just like spinach, for about five minutes. Mouse hair chickweed is a bit tough to eat raw. It has to be cooked. Chickweed is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals including A, D, B complex, C, rutin. iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, sodium, copper, and silica.

Chickweeds are Medicinal and edible, they are very nutritious, high in vitamins and minerals, can be added to salads or cooked as a pot herb, tasting somewhat like spinach. The major plant constituents in Chickweed are Ascorbic-acid, Beta-carotene, Calcium, Coumarins (blood thinners),  Flavonoids, Magnesium, Niacin, Oleic-acid, Potassium, Riboflavin, Selenium,  Thiamin, and Zinc.

The whole plant is used in alternative medicine as an astringent, carminative, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, and laxative. A decoction of the whole plant is taken internally as a post-partum tonic.  It is also used to relieve constipation; an infusion of the dried herb is used in coughs and hoarseness, and is beneficial in the treatment of kidney complaints.  New research indicates its use as an effective antihistamine. The decoction is also used externally to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers. It can be applied as a medicinal poultice and will relieve any kind of roseola and is effective wherever there are fragile superficial veins or itching skin conditions.  I plan to make a salve with it this spring to see if it is effective on my rosacea.

Historically, Chickweed water is an old wives' remedy for obesity. The plant has medicinal purposes and is used in folk medicine. It has been used as a remedy to treat itchy skin conditions and pulmonary diseases. 17th century herbalist John Gerard recommended it as a remedy for mange. Modern herbalists mainly prescribe it for skin diseases, and also for bronchitis, rheumatic pains, arthritis and period pain. A poultice of chickweed can be applied to cuts, burns and bruises. Not all of these uses are supported by scientific evidence.

Be careful when picking chickweed. There are poisonous plants that grow the same way, but have different features. Spotted Spurge trails along the ground and has the same leaf characteristics, but has different flowers, and if you break the stem, you will get a milky sap. Matted doorweed, also known as oval-leaf knotweed, also trails along the ground, but the leaves are not opposite one another--they alternate up the stem one by one.


Itch Relief Salve (Good for poison ivy, poison oak )
1 pint Sweet Olive Oil
2 ounces Beeswax
1 tablespoon Chickweed Powder
1 tablespoon Comfrey Powder

Put chickweed and comfrey powder into sweet olive oil and simmer 3 hours. Strain and add beeswax to warm oil. Stir until wax dissolves. Pour into salve jars or tins. If you want a thin consistency (such as a cream or Vaseline ) add only a little bit of Beeswax. Want it thicker like wax? Just add more Beeswax.

Allow the base to cool down to see what the consistency is like. If it's too thick, add more  oil and reheat, too thin, add more Beeswax.

Pain Relief Salve 1 tablespoon Chickweed powder
1 tablespoon Wormwood Powder
10 drops Tea Tree oil
2 pints Sweet Olive Oil
3 ounces Beeswax

Mix together chickweed, wormwood powder, add the mixed herbs to sweet olive oil and simmer 3 hours. Strain and add beeswax to warm oil. Stir until wax dissolves, then add Tea Tree Oil. Pour into salve jars or tins.

If you are out in the wild or have a large yard, it is possible to gather many of these salad ingredients from the landscape. (I think I originally found this recipe at Learning – but the citation is lost)

3 cups purslane, chopped
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
1/2 cup amaranth leaves
1/4 cup cheddar cheese (or other cheese), diced into small bits
1/2 onion
1 cup chickweed
1 ripe avocado
1 teaspoon garlic salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Chop the purslane, chickweed, amaranth, and onion into bite sized bits. Add the avocado, peeled and diced. Add one hard-boiled egg, sliced. Mix in approximately 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese which has been cut into small bits. Squeeze the lemon over the salad, add the garlic salt, and mix well. If you have them, you can add chia seeds and one tablespoon of mayonnaise.

Flashes Blend Tea
I got this recipe from a friend who swore by Chickweed’s menopausal and post partum treatment qualities.

1 part sage
1 part motherwort
1 part dandelion
1 part chickweed & violet leaves
1 part each elder flowers & oatstraw

Brew with 1 to 2 tsp. per cup of hot water. Brew up a pot and sip when needed.


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