Other Names: Starweed, adder’s mouth, alsine media, bird’s eye, Indian chickweed, mouse ear, bird seed, passerina, satin flower, scarwort, star chickweed, starwort, stitchwort, tongue grass, white bird’s eye, winterweed.
Parts Used: Leaves and flowers
The Flower of Prediction
“The rain, the chickweed, and the burdock leaf,
The green-white privet flower, the spotted stone,
And all that welcomes the rain; the sparrow too,
Who watches with a hard eye from seclusion,
Beneath the elm-tree bough, till rain is done” – Conrad Aiken
This sweet little annual with its tiny white flowers is a member of the carnation (Caryophyllaceae) family and is one of the first plants to appear after the winter in temperate regions, heralding the arrival of spring. It used to be called ‘winterweed’ because it can be found even when there is still frost on the ground. It grows wild in areas following the paths of settlers through most of the year and provides nutritious greens, rich in vitamins A and C and minerals including iron, copper, potassium and calcium. It is said that sailors used chickweed vinegar to prevent scurvy when fresh citrus fruits were unavailable.
Chickweed’s Latin name Stellaria comes from ‘stella’ meaning star, from its pretty white star-shaped flowers that apparently open regularly at nine o’clock in the morning on fine days and close at nine in the evening on summer’s evenings. It has been used to predict the weather; if it opens fully into flower there will be no rain for 4 hours, if the flowers remain shut you will need an umbrella! Its common name chickweed refers to the fact that birds and chickens are very fond of it and the seed used to be fed to caged and game birds, so it was also called ‘bird seed’.
Chickweed has a long history of use as a nutritious edible green for both humans and animals and was even considered a delicacy. It has been enjoyed since at least the time of the ancient Greeks, it was esteemed as a food as well as medicine in ancient Ireland and was well known throughout Europe as a remedy for gout, constipation and respiratory problems including tuberculosis. It was given as a blood tonic in the spring and during convalescence and to consumptives and undernourished children to build them up. The Swiss used to eat it to strengthen the heart. It was said to improve eyesight, probably due to its vitamin A content, and was used as a remedy for inflammatory eye problems. Culpeper recommended “the juice or distilled water is of much good use for all heats and redness of the eyes, to drop some thereof into them.”
Culpepper said chickweed’s element is water and called it “a fine, soft, pleasing herb, under the dominion of the Moon.” It was valued as a cooling remedy for hot inflammatory conditions, particularly for the skin and has long been used in lotions, ointments and creams and applied fresh to burns and scalds, ulcers, piles and abscesses. It was used for its drawing properties to bring poisons and infections to the surface. Traditionally the plant was chopped and boiled in lard to make a green cooling ointment for piles and sores and other skin conditions and eye problems. Gerard said, “the leaves of Chickweed boyled in water very soft, adding thereto some hog’s grease, the powder of Fenugreeke and Linseed, and a few roots of Marsh Mallows, and stamped to the forme of Cataplasme or pultesse, taketh away the swelling of the legs or any other part.” It was used by country women to cool the body during fevers.
Chickweed’s cooling properties were used internally as well as externally as Culpeper tells us, “The herb bruised, or the juice applied, with cloths or sponges dipped therein to the region of the liver, and as they dry to have fresh applied, doth wonderfully temper the heat of the liver and is effectual for all impostumes and swellings whatsoever; for all redness in the face, wheals, pushes, itch or scabs, the juice being either simply used, or boiled in hog’s grease; the juice or distilled water is of good use for all heat and redness in the eyes … as also into the ears….” Rubbed onto arthritic joints it was said to relieve pain and inflammation and an infusion was drunk to promote weight loss.
In European folklore chickweed was believed to promote fidelity, attract love and maintain relationships. If a sprig of chickweed was carried in your hand it was said to draw the attention of or ensure the fidelity of a loved one.
This diminutive but resilient plant with its combination of bitter, sweet, sour and salty tastes contains a wealth of nutritious and medicinal ingredients. These include vitamins A, B, C, D and folic acid, minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc, gamma-linoleic acid, flavonoids including apigenin and rutin, triterpenoid saponins, phytosterols, coumarins, mucilage and organic acids (carboxylic acids). The saponins have an anti-inflammatory action, as do the flavonoids, which are also anti-allergenic and antimicrobial. They also help the elimination of potentially harmful compounds from the body, including carcinogens. Rutin has also been shown to have potential anticancer properties.
Our ancestors decribed chickweed as cooling and modern herbalists still use chickweed today as a cooling and soothing remedy for hot inflammatory problems such as gastritis, colitis, acid indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome and excess heat in the liver and gallbladder. Its carminative and mild laxative properties help relieve wind, bloating and constipation. It has an affinity with the respiratory tract and with its expectorant and soothing effects provided by the saponins and mucilage, it can be given for sore throats, laryngitis, bronchitis, asthma and harsh dry coughs. Taken as a hot infusion it can help bring down fevers and when taken cool it relieves thirst.
Chickweed’s diuretic action reduces fluid retention and helps eliminate toxins, excess uric acid and heat from the system via the kidneys; this could be useful when treating inflammatory conditions such as skin problems, arthritis and gout. The antioxidant actions of chickweed may help reduce inflammation in these cases. Its diuretic action may also be helpful in high blood pressure. As a soothing diuretic, it can be drunk as a lukewarm infusion to relieve cystitis and irritable bladder. Chickweed is used to support the lymphatic system in its cleansing work and by some herbalists to flush depositis of fat including fatty tumours like lipomas from the body and aid weight loss.
Externally chickweed is renowned as a cooling, soothing and healing remedy for the skin and is popular in creams and lotions for inflammatory and itchy skin conditions such as eczema, heat rashes, urticaria, sunburn, boils and spots. Its mucilage has drawing properties so chickweed can be used to as a drawing remedy to bring boils and abscesses to the surface. The fresh leaves or a cream can be applied for their wound healing properties to speed tissue repair of fresh cuts and wounds, burns and scalds, piles and ulcers. A cool infusion can be used as an eyewash for inflamatory eye problems and an oil or ointment can be applied to cool hot, inflamed joints.
The Flower Essence
Chickweed is taken for unresolved emotional issues from the past that create tension or insecurity and stop one from entering joyfully into the present. Carrying around such unresolved feelings may affect one’s health and energy, and may cause problems such as overweight, as the body adds protective layers to compensate for feeling vulnerable. Chickweed helps one to let go of the past and relax into the present moment, able to respond freely to whatever arises, without feeling threatened or needing to be in control.
Chickweed can thrive almost anywhere; it can survive very cold temperatures and needs little water. Its shallow, fibrous roots are easy to uproot accidentally, but the plant will recover quickly if you replant it quickly. It is easy to grow from seed and self-seeds effortlessly in soil with a balanced pH, so it can be a good indicator of the health of your soil. To harvest, snip the leafy tops off and a second crop will be ready several weeks later, in fact it can produce up to six generations in a single year.
The leaves contain saponins, excess doses could cause diarrhoea and vomiting. Avoid in pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Chickweed has been regarded traditionally as a delicacy in Europe and eaten in salads or cooked like spinach. It is said to be more tender than any other wild green. It has a light refreshing taste and is highly nutritious with significant levels of vitamins and minerals.
2 cloves of garlic
3 Tbsp. pine nuts or sunflower seeds
¼ tsp. salt
2 packed cups chopped fresh chickweed
½ cup olive oil
½ cup Parmesan cheese
Blend or chop in a food processor and enjoy!
Great with pasta or eaten on crackers or vegetables.
Information taken from ‘Healing with Flowers: The Power of Floral Medicine‘ by Anne McIntyre.