Fleetneedles' Forage: Chickweed

As part of our Save Our Skills year, we are looking at foraging. These post were originally published on our Facebook Page, we'd like to thank Claire Fleetneedle for allowing us to publish them here.


It's invasive, it's a nuisance, it's useful #foraging #saveourskills

Plant
Chickweed (Stellaria Media)

Description
Chickweed, also known as stitchwort and starwort, grows abundantly in all the cracks and crevices of the urban landscape. It trails along the ground and grows to ankle height. The tiny leaves are oval shaped and it has white star shaped flowers. There are many varieties of chickweed but Stellaria Media is easily spotted due to the tiny white hairs which grow on one side of the stalk.

Nutrients     
Contains vitamins A, B6, B12, C & D plus rutin, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, sodium, copper, silica and zinc.

Caution                                               
Chickweed looks very similar to some types of spurge – which are poisonous. Always ensure you are collecting the correct plant by identifying it has the tiny white star flowers and the hairs growing along one side of the stalk.

Benefits
Antioxidant, mild diuretic, anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory, laxative, expectorant, quells fever, speeds weight loss, blood cleanser, general tonic, wound healer and emollient

Everyday Uses
I first came across chickweed when researching treatments for a friend with very bad eczema. I initially made an ointment from the chickweed plant beaten to a pulp in a mortar and pestle and mixed with aqueous cream as the carrier. We were both astonished by the results; it quickly calmed the worst areas and over a few weeks got the eczema completely under control. I later added comfrey root to the concoction and used a blender to liquidise the herbs rather than a pestle. I still ended up with hulk green cream but with far less little lumps.

Chickweeds cooling qualities also make it great for applying to sunburn, scalds, rashes, stings and grazes.  These complaints are probably better treated with chickweed oil or salve, rather than the ointment. This is made by putting some fresh leaves in a sterilised jar. Then warm a cup full of olive oil and pour into the jar until the herb is covered over. Seal the lid and leave the concoction to steep for about four days. Sieve the contents of the jar through a muslin cloth and reheat the clear oil. At this point you can add a little beeswax (roughly a third of a bar) to thicken the cooled mix or if you prefer you can leave it in its oil form. Once brought to bubbling it is ready to decant into sterilised jars. 

Remember to date and label.

Since my initial dabbling with chickweed as an ointment I discovered a number of other properties of this healing little plant.

Firstly the leaves are delicious added to salad - they are slightly crunchy, sweet and mildly bitter. I have read you can cook the leaves or add them to stews which would be an excellent way to boost vitamin content during the colder months. No need to purchase expensive vitamin supplements, chickweed has it all, containing large amounts of a wide range of vitamins and minerals. It is also a well-known antioxidant and weight loss enhancer. Consequently you will find ‘stellaria media’ listed in the ingredients of many slimming tablets.

My older herbal books explain how crushed chickweed was once made into a poultice to draw out poison and boils. The juice and oil is still used for this purpose by some herbalists.

A medicinal tea can be made with a large handful of freshly picked, washed chickweed, in a tea pot filled with boiling water. This can be used for a number of purposes such as lowering fevers, or curing coughs and other chest complaints.

The tea is also useful as a detoxifier, clearing the body of built up waste. It is a blood cleanser but also a mild diuretic and a laxative. These properties combined, make it a perfect weight loss aid.

Eaten raw or taken as a tea, chickweed works as an internal anti-inflammatory, soothing digestive and bowel issues, and cramps. For this reason the plant is excellent for people suffering from conditions such as colitis and IBS.  

Chickweed is also known to help with rheumatic conditions and gout. This treatment works internally, either eaten or taken as a tea, and externally with the oil applied to the affected area.

One last little known fact is that the presence of chickweed in a garden works as a deterrent to some pests, decreasing insect damage to other plants – helpful information for any gardener.

It seems quite amazing that a common wayside weed can be so therapeutic and useful, it is one of the first herbs I ever researched and to me it is still one of the most remarkable. Such surprising results sparked my interest in herbalism and set me on my path to learn more about the remarkable plants that surround us every day.

This is my personal experience of using Chickweed combined with information I have researched over a number of years. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the above please stop using the herb immediately. And always take care when identifying the plant.

Happy Hunting, Claire Fleetneedle

LIFE ON PIG ROW DISCLAIMER: We’d like to thank Claire for this wonderful piece, as she points out, this is her personal experience and common sense must prevail in homemade herbal remedies. Therefore, if you are out and about foraging and aren’t confident that what you are about to pick is edible or medicinal the best advice is to leave it where it is. In the event of an adverse reaction to any homemade herbal remedy or foraged edible food you are advised to seek out medical advice. While every care is taken in the production of these posts neither Claire Fleetneedle nor Life on Pig Row are responsible for adverse reactions. Please remember to check local by-laws before foraging and never forage on private land without permission. Please use common sense when foraging.


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