Cooling & Nutritious Chickweed


To celebrate Herbal Medicine Week next week (26th October - 1st November) I want to introduce you to some simple weeds that are easy to find and have been traditionally used in Herbal Medicine. I wrote this monograph on Chickweed for the Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia to be used for community weed walks & education forums. Chickweed is a wonderfully nutritious, cooling and soothing herb/weed to be aware of, and as it grows prolifically in most places it's a plant that you can start using straight away!


Many people during times of famine or war have appreciated chickweed as a survival food due to its nutritional content and ease of growth, whilst the ancient Romans regarded Chickweed as the “elixir of life”. However it has been named chickweed because it is so beloved by chickens!


Latin Name: Stellaria media

Common Name: Chickweed

Other names: Starweed, Star chickweed, Satin flower,  Starwort, Stellaria, Winterweed, Mouse ear, Passerina. 


Description: Chickwed has thin green and juicy stems that branch in all directions making it a lush low growing ground cover. It has white “star flowers” that appear to have 10 petals but on closer inspection will show 5 petals that are split lengthwise and joined at the base.

Common misidentification. What to look for to ensure you have the correct species:Chickweed is distinguished from similar looking plants by a single line of hairs that run only along one side of the stem until it reaches a pair of leaves, then shifts to the opposite side of the stem(see the pics below).It can sometimes be confused with petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus) before it flowers but petty spurge has a milky sap in the stem that chickweed doesn't and only chickweed has that telltale line of fine hairs along the stems.

Where you find it (geography):Chickweed is said to be found in all corners of the earth.  It is native to all temperate and North Arctic regions but is now naturalised throughout the world.


Season: Officially it's late Winter/early Spring through to Autumn. Fresh growth begins in late winter/early spring and will continue through the summer if not too hot or will resprout in the Autumn as temperatures cool and rain increases.


Parts used:  Clean aerial parts (thats the leaves, stems and flowers) are used mostly fresh.   Harvest the top third of the plant regularly to promote new lush leafy growth and larger leaves. Its best to use scissors for harvesting as Chickweed is very shallow rooted and so can pull out of the ground a bit too easily if you break the stems off with your hands.


Actions/Indications: Demulcent, expectorant, refrigerant, anti-pyretic, vulnerary, emollient, anti-pruritic, alterative, anti-rheumatic, mild diuretic and laxative, carminative, nutritive, restorative


“ Chickweed generally helps all parts of the pains in the body that arise from heat” (Nicholas Culpepper)


Chickweed has traditionally been used used as a poultice to reduce inflammation, swelling, bites, sores, slow healing ulcers,  and to draw out splinters.  A poultice is made by chopping, blending or mashing the fresh plant tops and then placing it in between 2 layers of muslin and apply it to the affected part until it heats up, then replace with a fresh one. Mrs Grieves' A Modern Herbal recommended using Chickweed poultices as a "sure remedy" to alleviate and heal a carbuncle (cluster of boils 😳) or an external abscess.  She suggests that the affected part should also be washed with a chickweed decoction (chickweed boiled in water). 

Folding plant matter into muslin to be used as a poultice.


“Think of chickweed as being as soft as slippery elm, as soothing as marshmallow, and as protective and strengthening as comfrey root”. (Susan Weed)


For everyday use, chickweed ointment, infused oil or juice (as a succus) can be a bit more convenient to heal inflammatory skin conditions, minor cuts and wounds.  Chickweed is especially renowned for soothing and alleviating the itching and irritation associated with eczema & psoriasis. Chickweed also has a reputation as a “joint-oiler” remedy for rheumatism. It can be taken internally or externally in the bath or as a poultice to relieve inflamamtory joint pain and heal and restore elasticity and strength to tendons and ligaments.


Chickweed is a highly nutritious food, rich in essential vitamins  A, B complex, C, and minerals including calcium, iron and potassium.It is also rich in steroidal saponins that increase cellular permeability to improve absorption of nutrients especially minerals from the digestive mucosa.  Chickweed (like parsley and fennel) can also be chewed to alleviate bad breath, & in India it has been used traditionally as an antacid,and to aid weight loss. The slimming effects of chickweed are attributed to the high concentration of steroidal saponins that act to dissolve excess fatty tissue.


I like to make a chickweed infused apple cider vinegar digestive tonic to have before meals or use as a salad dressing. Simply fill a jar with freshly chopped chickweed, then cover with apple cider vinegar (for best results use one that has the 'mother' in it). Leave to steep for several weeks, then strain and bottle.


Safe usage pointers (contra indications): Its always a good idea to do a patch test to a small area of skin when using new plants to determine if you have any sensitivities. Also if you use plants foraged from uncultivated places, please try to make sure they have not been sprayed with pesticides first - ask the locals, as they are usually aware if regular spraying occurs.


Recipes:

I'm not gonna lie to you, chickweed does taste like grass! Its a survival food because it is certainly nutritious but you wouldn't necessarily want to eat heaps of it unless you have to. After inflicting Chickweed tabbouleh and chickweed pesto on my family, I have to say that its best to eat small quantities mixed in with other stronger flavoured things. Foodwise, I mostly will add it to salad wraps, mix into a smoothie, add to omelettes or have in tea. It can have a but of a stringy consistency if its a bit old so make sure you use fresh plants and chop finely.


Ive rounded up some recipes from a variety of herbal sources but please don't @ me if you don't like them 😜!


Chickweed Dip: 2 cloves of garlic, peeled, 1 small red/white onion or spring onion, 2 cups FRESH chickweed, 1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted,  1/2 cup 2 cloves of garlic, peeled, 1 small red/white onion/spring onion, 2 cups FRESH chickweed - chopped, 1 ripe avocado peeled and pitted,  1/2 cup almonds toasted in frypan, 1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, 3 tablespoons mustard leaves - chopped, 2 tablespoons white miso, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper,  salt and lemon juice to taste. Place all ingredients except lemon juice and salt and blend well. Scoop into a bowl and add lemon juice and salt to taste. Enjoy with crackers, vegie sticks, chips or bread! (5)


Chickweed and Basil Pesto:

In a food processor blend 1 cup each of fresh basil leaves and fresh chickweed tops, 2 cloves garlic, ½ cup olive oil and juice of ½ lemon, ½ cup of parmesan (or 2 tbs of white miso for dairy free alternative). Blend until desired consistency is achieved.  Add ½ cup of sunflower seeds or pine nuts and blend briefly. Taste and add salt or lemon juice as desired. (11)


Fritatta:

1 whole onion chopped or 4-5 spring onions sliced, 2 cups chickweed tops chopped, 5 eggs whisked, salt and pepper to taste.  Optional extras: dried herbs, fetta, grilled capsicum. Sautee onions in a frypan with salt and pepper until soft, add chickweed and continue to cook until wilted.  Add fresh or dried herbs if using and check flavour. Add in whisked eggs and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add crumbled fetta and grilled capsicum if using and move pan to the grill to finish cooking - another 5 minutes or so.  Serve with salad.


Mild curried chickweed:

3 tbs cooking oil, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 2 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp turmeric, 4 cups chopped chickweed, 1 tbs lemon juice, 1 tbsp tamari.

Heat oil in a pan, Add seeds and cook for 2 minutes.  Stir in turmeric and cook for another minute. Turn off heat and stir through chickweed, lemon juice and tamari.  Serve with basmati rice and yoghurt. (13)


Salad: 

Chop a handful or two and add to salad greens


Tea: 

2 teaspoons of freshly chopped chickweed steeped in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 minutes and consumed ½ an hour before meals to promote weight loss.13

I hope you've enjoyed learning about Chickweed today, and Id love to hear from you if you start using it. Its such an abundant plant that it really is well worth adding to your repertoire of commonly available healing plants. It turns out that I love it so much that I already wrote a little blog post about it 5 years ago. If you're interested to read a little more click here.

References:

1. Bianco, V.V., Santamaria, P. and Elia, A., (1996, September). Nutritional value and nitrate content in edible wild species used in southern Italy. In III International Symposium Diversification of Vegetable Crops 467 (pp. 71-90). 

2. Braun, L. & Cohen, M. (2015), Herbs & Natural Supplements: An evidence-based guide, 4th edn, vol.2., Churchill-Livingstone Elselvier, Chatswood NSW.

3. Culpepper, N. (2007), Culpepper’s Complete Herbal, Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Hertfordshire.

4. Fouad Ali, L. (2017), A study on improving mumps virus vaccine by supplementing diet with Stellaria media,IJABR, , 

5. Gallagher, K, (2009) Chickweed Spread, Herb mentor, 

6. Greene, Jack, (2006), “Glorious Weeds!”, In Green Teacher, Issue 73, http://okfarmtoschool.com/edible-school-gardens/GT_78_GloriousWeeds.pdf

7. Grieves, (1971) A Modern Herbal.

8. Hoffman, D. (2002), 

9. Ma, L et al. (2012). Anti-hepatitis B virus activity of chickweed [Stellaria media (L.) Vill] extracts in HepG2.2.15 cells., Molecules, 17.7.

10. Rani et al. (2012), “Quality assessment and anti-obesity activity of Stellaria media (Linn.)”. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 12:145 http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6882/12/145

11. Shippard, I. (2003), How can I use Herbs in my Daily Life, David Stewart, Nambour, Qld.

12. Singh, A.P., 1998. Ethnobotanical Studies of Chandigarh Region. Ethnobotanical Leaflets,2005(1).

13. Weed, S. (1989), Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise, Ash Tree Publishing, Woodstock, N.Y.

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