As March draws to a reluctant end, it seems a fitting time to look at one of our favorite fresh springtime herbs, chickweed. Along with the crocus and the courageous dandelion, chickweed is one of the first flowers to come blinking into the light early each spring here in Virginia, sometimes even between snowfalls, starry-eyed and full of fresh hope. Its Latin name Stellaria means “little star” and media means “in the midst of”—and when you look at a wide-eyed clump of chickweed flowers spilling over the walk, you can see the meaning; you are indeed in the midst of many little stars. I especially love Steve Brill’s description of this herb:
“If there was ever a plant whose personality I would like to emulate, it’s chickweed. When you look at it, it appears fragile and tender. Yet this plant also manages to be tough and hardy. It doesn’t wilt under the malevolent glare of murderous gardeners. It has the vitality to fight off weed killers, stand up to frigid weather, even snow, and hold its springy shape against oblivious tramplers,” (Brill 138).
Hen’s inheritance, as well as, “Starweed, tongue grass, winterweed, satinflower, white bird’s eye, adder’s mouth, starwort, stitchwort, clucken wort, skirt buttons, chick wittles, chickenyweed,” (Weed 115)
Aerial parts—stems, leaves, and flowers
Chickweed is a soothing, cooling, emollient, and demulcent anti-inflammatory, as well as being a mild diuretic, anti-rheumatic, and vulnerary herb. Deeply nutritive, it is often eaten as herbal food, especially for those who’ve been depleted by illness or malnutrition. It is considered an alterative and a normaliser. Juliette de Baraicli Levy points out, “Chickweed possesses remarkable drawing powers, absorbing quantities of impurities when applied to the skin,” (Levy 40), and James Duke adds, “Compounds in the plant also help you to digest food and cough up mucus,” (Duke II, 73)”
Used both internally and externally for all kinds of inflammation, chickweed is especially indicated for inflammation of the skin (sores, carbuncles, abscesses, boils, itchiness), eyes (glaucoma, styes), and urinary system (UTI, cystitis, kidney issues). It is also used to help prevent osteoporosis and hot flashes in menopausal women. It helps relieve issues of water retention, as well as stomach ulcers and bronchitis. Internal and external applications can be used in tandem to treat yeast infections, arthritis, and rheumatism. Levy adds, “Eaten as a salad, chickweed improves the eyesight,” (Levy 40).
A nutritional powerhouse, Stellaria media is an excellent source of calcium, potassium, iron, copper, beta carotene, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, manganese, sodium, and vitamins C, B6, B12, and D. It also contains steroidal saponins, which “improve the absorption of topically applied substances and may even speed the internal absorption of medications,” (Duke II, 73) as well as relieving congestion.
This creeping annual is often considered a weed and can be found world-wide, especially in areas of cultivated, nutrient-rich, and or disturbed soil. In fact, it even helps the soil where it grows to retain nitrogen. It is most notably known for its “Many very small starry white flowers, with five petals so deeply divided they appear to be ten petals; growing in low, dense, vibrant green mats; single line of hairs on smooth stalk,” (Weed 115). Its flowers “open in the sun but often close on overcast or rainy days,” (Duke II, 73). Steve Brill adds, “According to folklore, you can use chickweed to predict the weather. If the flowers are blooming robustly, it won’t rain for at least four hours. Otherwise, bring an umbrella,” (Brill 139). Its seeds, flowers, and greens alike are beloved of animal foragers, especially chickens and birds, hence the name “chickweed.”
Chickweed can be collected year round for use in infusion, tincturing, or poultice; but for eating, it is best to collect fresh, young stems, leaves, and flowers when still young and tender, especially in the early spring, before the stems toughen.
This herb is best used and prepared fresh, as it doesn’t dry or store well. Its fresh greens can be eaten in salads, pesto, or lightly sautéed or boiled (like spinach). It is a common ingredient in topical ointments and poultices for external application. A tea from the fresh herb is refreshing and nutritive, as is a tincture of the fresh herb (which can be taken internally or used topically).
Originally native to Europe, but now can be found worldwide.
Gentle chickweed is one of those happy herbs that is safe for use during pregnant and for young children, both internally or externally. Its pollen may contribute to hay fever (Weed 115).
Sources: Brill, Buchman, Duke II, Gladstar, Green, Hoffman, Hoffman II, Levy, Mabey, Romm, Romm II, Weed