Chickweed -- nutritive and crisp!

 Photo courtesy of Dr. Mike Hardig

Photo courtesy of Dr. Mike Hardig

Common Name: Chickweed 

Botanical Name: Stellaria media

Name Etiology: Stellaria is derived from the word stellar meaning "star-like "in reference to the flowers (1).

    Other Common Names: Common Chickweed, Starweed, Star Chickweed.

    Taxonomic Tree (2):

        Domain: Eukaryota

            Kingdom: Plantae

                Superdivison: Spermatophyta

                    Division: Magnoliophyta

                        Class: Dicotyledonae

                            Subclass: Caryophyllidae

                              Order: Caryophyllales    

                                Family: Caryophyllaceae

                                    Genus: Stellaria L.

                                        Species: Stellaria media (L.) Vill.

 Photo courtesy of Dr. Mike Hardig

Photo courtesy of Dr. Mike Hardig

 

    Botanical Description: 

        Chickweed has a sprawling mat-like growth habit originating from one basal point. Its leaves are rounded with a small pointed tip and are opposite one another on the stem. The leaves have smooth edges and range from 1/8- 3/4” long with the lower surface occasionally having hair while the upper remains smooth. Stems have one line of tiny hairs along the stem and are mildly succulent ranging from green to burgundy. Flowers are white and star-shaped with five deeply divided petals and are about 1/4” across. It can be found all over the United States (and World) with bountiful distribution (3).

History & Myth & Fun Facts:

The custom of giving Chickweed to birds is a very old one, hence its common name of ‘chickweed’. It is said that pigs, rabbits, horses, and sheep will also enjoy its delights.

Being a barometer plant, the flowers of chickweeds open in the morning sun and close at night, with petals and leaves appressed over tender young plant parts. It will also close if rain is on the horizon (4).

Seed production is PROLIFIC. Ranging from roughly 30-59 lbs. per acre or 27-32 million seeds per acre, chickweed doesn't have any issues taking over. If that wasn’t enough, Stellaria seeds have been reported to germinate after as long as 60 years (3).

Parts Used/Where/When to Harvest:

Chickweed begins to make itself known in early Spring and Fall into early Winter as it likes moist, cool, crisp environs as a winter annual (3). It follows behind cultivation and is found in fields, gardens, roadsides, and waste places.  It can be seen as early as January and in moist shaded areas as late as July/August. The entire plant is used, especially arial parts. It can be used fresh or dried. 

Traditional Applications:

Because of its quite obvious mucilaginous qualities, it isn't hard to connect the dots to some of Chickweed's traditional applications. It coats,  lubricates, soothes, and heals tissue. This is due to mucopolysaccharide content; and as such, is indicated for any dry inflamed tissue state: eczema and psoriasis, sunburns, cuts, scrapes, diaper rash, and any dry itchy skin condition (4) (5) (6). It can even be used in a saline eyewash for conjunctivitis (7).

Internally Stellaria can be used for dry unproductive coughs, dry sinus passages, kidney irritation and thinning mucosal membranes due to age (4) (5) (6). 

It is also a topical and internal lymphatic stimulant. Commonly in lymphatics, the mechanism of action for chickweed is a lubrication and remineralization of lymphatic fluid, stimulating better lymph flow and as such it would be categorized as a gentle lymphatic. 

It works very well in a breast salve paired with red clover and violet leaf for mastitis and the preparation is baby-safe. 

Because of its mild action as an anti-inflammatory and as a lubricating lymphatic it is commonly recommended for rheumatic pains that are sharp and shifting and worse in the morning and better in the evenings (9). Culpepper also recommends a chickweed poultice externally on tendons that are overly tense and lack elasticity and hold too much tension (10). 

David Hoffman describes Stellaria as a normalizer or an herb that “gently nourish the body in ways that support natural processes of growth, health, and renewal.” (6) This certainly lines up with nutritional composition analysis of Chickweed as it contains 16 free amino acids, 9 of which are essential amino acids. Its mineral profile is rather impressive as well: touting appreciable levels of sodium, potassium, iron, phosphorus, calcium, selenium (11). It also contains B-vitamins niacin and thiamine, essential fatty acid GLA and Vitamin C (12) (13) (14).

It is very commonly used as an appetite suppressant when taken an hour before meals and I believe it works to well to stave off hunger because of its nutritional prowess. My thoughts are backed up by animal research (15). 

In Traditional Southern Folk Medicine Stellaria is used to "balance fats" in the body which means that it helps the body better process and digest fats (7). Mathew Wood clarifies this by saying: "It removes lipid deposits and improves lipid usage. It is an excellent remedy for lipomas or fatty tumors.” (10) This was definitely a specific indication in Appalachian folk medicine. 

Traditionally it was also used in cases of hypothyroidism (7) but is not utilized in Modern Western Herbal Traditions in this way.

Personal Experience/Opinions:

 

Taste: Green, Crisp, Grassy, Mineral

Energetics: Cooling, Mucilaginous

All Therapeutic Actions: Anti-puretic, vulnerary, antirheumatic, demulcent, emollient, nutritive (4) (5)(6)(7)(9) (10)

     Core Applications: Antipuretic, demulcent, emollient, nutritive 

    

Safety Information: No known warnings or concerns. (16) 

Chemical Composition:  Chickweed contains saponin glycosides, coumarins and hydroxycoumarins, flavonoids, carboxylic acids, triterpenoids and Vitamin C (11)(12)(13)(14)(17).

Extraction Information:

The whole fresh plant can be juiced or bruised as a poultice/compress.

Tincture [Fresh Herb, 1:2, Recent Dry Herb 1:5, 50% alcohol] as needed (18)

You can also blend chickweed into a smoothie for a delicious green drink paired with other spring herbs such as henbit, purple dead-nettles, yellow dock, red clover, etc..

chickweed-julius-glass.jpg

Blending Information: Chickweed is commonly put into wound salves with other vulneraries such as calendula, plantain, or comfrey or with other external lymphatics such as violet leaf, red root, or poke.  Internally it is paired with lymphatics or in cough formulas, skin clearing formulas, and as an appetite suppressant. 

Summary: Stellaria media is a mucilaginous herb commonly eaten for its nutritional benefits and taste and used to soothe any inflammation in mucosal membranes from the respiratory system to the urinary tract. 

 

 

 

  1. “Stellar.” Online Etymology Dictionary, Online Etymology Dictionary, www.etymonline.com/search?q=Stellar.

  2. United States, Natural Resource Conservation Service. “Natural Resource Conservation Service.” Department of Agriculture. plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=STME2.

  3. CABI, 2018. Invasive Species Compendium. Wallingford, UK: CAB International. www.cabi.org/isc.

  4. Grieve, M. “Chickweed.” A Modern Herbal - Chickweed, www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/c/chickw60.html.

  5. Horne, Steven H., and Thomas Easley. Modern Herbal Medicine. School of Modern Herbal Medicine, 2014.

  6. Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: the Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press, 2003.

  7. David Winston article- Herbal Therapies for Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat Consitions David Winston

  8. An Introduction to Lab Values for Herbalists ROSE, KIVA. “TRADITIONS IN WESTERN HERBALISM .” 2015 CLASS ESSAYS.

  9. Boericke-Tinctures-only

  10. Herbal Treatment for the Muscular Skeletal System- Mathew Wood

  11. Amino-acid and mineral composition of Stellaria media.

  12. Proximate and vitamin C analysis of wild edible plants consumed by Bodos of Assam, India

  13. Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China Reference Publications, Inc. 1985 ISBN 0-917256-20-4

  14. FATTY ACID PROFILES OF LEAVES OF NINE EDIBLE WILD PLANTS: AN AUSTRALIAN STUDY

  15. Antiobesity effect of Stellaria media against drug inducedobesity in Swiss albino mice

  16. Botanical Safety Handbook

  17. Costs, Alfieri and Adriana Giordano. Plant Extracts : Role in Agriculture, Health Effects and Medical Applications. Nova Science Publishers, Inc, 2013. EBSCOhost.

  18. Principles and Practice of Constitutional Physicology for Herbalist Michael Moore