Soothe Me With Greater Stitchwort

It's Saturday and that means tomorrow is #foragingsunday and we are here to bring you Claire of Fleetneedle's Forage who will share with you everything she knows about the lovely, soothing Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea).

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Greater Stitchwort is a starry white wildflower commonly found in damp hedges, on shady verges and carpeting woodland floors. Often thriving alongside red campion and bluebells this five notch petalled flower usually grows to mid-calf height. When trodden on or pressed the seed pods explode with an audible pop.
Presumably this was the plants way of ensuring wide seed dispersal but in days gone by children delighted in these mini seed explosions and the plant was consequently known as ‘Nanny Crackers’ in some parts of the UK. The herb is a relative of Chickweed (Stellaria media) and whilst possessing many similar attributes it has some wonderful uses of its own.
Being larger than its cousin Chickweed, Greater Stitchwort is far easier to collect, the leaves, stalks and pretty flowers making a good addition to any salad. The leaves have a sweet fresh green flavour and are very cooling on a hot summer day. The plant is also highly nutritious containing vitamins A, B12, C and D along with iron, potassium, calcium, silica and zinc. Who needs shop bought vitamins with a handful of Greater Stitchwort on your sandwiches?
The herb is a great favourite of butterflies and moths but is more commonly known as bird food, particularly for caged birds. Like Chickweed the plants leaves have cooling, anti-inflammatory and healing properties and an ointment made from the crushed leaves is very soothing for eczema, bites, heat rash and even psoriasis. I have made an easy and effective ointment from it in the past. It may be bright green but it is so cooling for itchy skin and well worth keeping in the fridge for summer bites and rashes.
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Greater Stitchwort - Easy soothing ointment
Ingredients:
½ a mug full of washed Greater Stitchwort leaves
1 ½ mugs of plain aqueous cream
Method:
Liquefy the leaves in a blender then add in the aqueous cream and continue blending until it is thoroughly mixed and smooth. Transfer to a sterilised jar, seal with a lid, label and store in the fridge. Due to the lack of preservatives this ointment lasts for around 3 weeks if refrigerated.
Although the plant is largely overlooked these days it was once considered useful for a range of ailments. For instance in John Gerard’s Historie of Plants (1597) he writes of Greater Stitchwort… ‘They are wont to drinke it in wine with the pouder of Acornes, against the paine in the side, stiches, and such like…’ this is probably why the plant was known as Stitchwort. Earlier sources hint of the Anglo Saxons utilising this plant to ease the pain of elf-shot (inexplicable pains and stitches in the body which were often attributed to tree dwelling elves). In ancient medicine the herb was believed to heal broken or fractured bones. These properties are reflected in its name as holo means whole and ostea derives from the word bone in the Greek language.
In folklore the plant was believed to provoke lightening if picked, and in Cornwall it was thought that Greater Stitchwort belonged to the pixies. Collecting Greater Stitchwort flowers was believed to anger them exceedingly – so much so they were likely to use their pixie magic to charm an adder snake into biting you. With its pure white flowers the herb also has some Christian associations particularly for Whitsunday (15th May this year); consequently it was once known as the Star of Bethlehem.
In modern herbalism the plant is rarely used, however recent research could change this. Scientific analysis undertaken in 2002 determined that Greater Stitchwort seeds contain methanol, a substance known to have powerful anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-biotic properties. This could treat a range of ailments which have proved resistant to normal anti-biotic medications. Currently it is being tested in the treatment of intensive care, organ transplant and serious burns patients and in cases of sepsis. Clearly there is far more to this pretty wayside wildflower than meets the eye...
Happy Hunting,
Claire Fleetneedle
Cautions:
Greater Stitchwort - none known
This is information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate and in the treatment of specific conditions it is always best to consult a herbalist or your GP. As stated due to conflicting information regarding this plant this article is for your interest only. Some sources say the plant is highly narcotic and can slow the heart.
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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