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Charming Chickweed

Hopefully you haven't weeded all the chickweed (Stellaria media) out of your garden in a spring cleaning frenzy because it is a wonderful spring tonic full of beneficial nutrients and useful for soothing itchy, inflamed and irritated skin. Chickweed is identified by the tiny "star flowers" that have 5 bilobed petals which look like 10 petals, and a characteristic fine line of hairs on 1 side of the stalk.

Chickweed is traditionally juiced with other fruits or added to smoothies. However the older they get the more stringy and fibrous they become. Some people like to chop chickweed finely and add to parsley for tabouli, blend with other herbs to make a pesto or mince finely and add to grilled sandwiches. If you are not a regular chickweed eater you may like to start with just a small amount mixed in with other greens as it does have a fairly grassy flavour. Some people also swear by the slimming effects of chickweed, which is attributed to the high concentration of steroidal saponins that act to dissolve excess fatty tissue.

My favourite way to use chickweed though is as a poultice or an infused oil/vinegar. Poultices are made by either:

a) Chopping up freshly picked and washed chickweed directly onto wounds, sores or itchy skin. My kids have chewed up chickweed to make spit poultices for itchy bites when playing in the backyard.

b) Cooking mature stringy chickweed, cooling to room temperature and then placing on affected area.

Cover your poultice with plastic or cloth and rest for 15-20 minutes until the chickweed heats up. For very itchy inflamed skin you may find that juiced chickweed is more effective.

Chickweed infused oil is made by first wilting chickweed for an hour or so in a colander to reduce the water content. Next pack a sterilised jar full to the brim with chickweed and chop the herb in the jar with scissors as you go. Cover the herb with a stable oil such as olive oil or grapeseed oil, ensuring that all herb is submerged beneath the oil. You may like to use a piece of muslin to keep the herb submerged. Seal with a tight fitting lid, place on a plate to catch any seepage, and keep in a cool dark place for approximately 1 week. After 1 week strain into a clean clear glass jar and allow to sit for another 1-2 weeks.

Any remaining water from the chickweed will settle at the bottom of the jar and must be removed to prevent spoilage. To remove the water, very carefully decant your infused oil into another clear glass bottle leaving behind the bottom layer of oil and water. Watch your mixture for another week to see if any more water falls to the bottom. Repeat the decanting procedure until it is completely water free. Finally store your infused oil in a brown glass bottle in the fridge where it will keep for approximately 6 months.

*Please let your nose be your guide as you will soon tell if your herb better has rotted or your oil has oxidised. If so, please discard and start again.

If the above process sounds too involved try an infused vinegar. Prepare the chickweed as above then cover in a good quality vinegar, steep for 2 weeks, strain out the herb matter and store in the fridge. This vinegar can be used as a digestive tonic - take 1 teaspoon in a small glass of water in the morning to kickstart your digestive processes 20 minutes before eating. Otherwise it can be used as a hair rinse for dry itchy scalps

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