Chickweed: The Celestial, Alterative Herb
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a darling little herb, as abundant and essential as stars in the night sky.
Like the stars, its tiny white flowers twinkle in its expansive, network-like mats which spread prolifically as ground cover. Look to Chickweed, too, for meteorological advice: when its flowers and leaves are fully opened, expect good weather, but ‘If [Chickweed] should shut up, the traveller is to put on his greatcoat!’2 As a medicine, it is a mineral-rich, nutritive spring green with broadspectrum cleansing properties. Its genus name, Stellaria, comes from the Latin word for “star,” named by taxonomist and botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753, and inspired by its star-shaped flowers.
The common name, Chickweed, originated from its use as a fortifying feed to birds, especially beloved by young chickens.4 It is a low-growing, self-seeding annual herb with a slender taproot and thin, flexible stems which branch out, giving it the appearance of a matted blanket of plant material. Small, oval leaves are arranged in opposite pairs along the stem and soft hairs cover the stem, leaves, and flower buds. Chickweed flowers are miniscule, less than a quarter-inch in diameter, with five white petals which are very deeply clefted, so they appear to be ten.3 The flowers open in the mornings and close in the evening; flowers will also close against inclement weather. It grows well in shady, moist areas and can be found in fields, under trees, on roadsides, and in disturbed areas. Chickweed is a sign of fertile soil, and a nitrogen fixer, which helps soil health.5 Chickweed has been used as food and medicine by many beings for millennia.
The following is a brief overview of the recorded history of its uses. Your Weekly Dose Of Wellness Receive the latest savings, events, herbal education and 10% Off your first purchase. It is native to Eurasia but has now become naturalized and widespread throughout North America and most of the world, aside from arctic regions. It is currently one of the most common “weeds.” Cross-culturally, it has been harvested and eaten as a vegetable; it’s also been used globally as a fresh poultice to heal wounds and draw boils. Aside from being a favorite feed for chickens and other meat birds, both wild and caged, it has been used medicinally for a multitude of skin complaints, usually as a fresh poultice. It has also been used as a cleansing, alterative herb which helps to remove waste from the body. Old World European herbals list Chickweed as an ally for weight loss in addition to its more well known topical applications. In the Highlands of Scotland, it was employed as a remedy for insomnia. A decoction of Chickweed has been historically recommended as a treatment for rabies, scurvy, constipation, coughs, and hoarseness.4 Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, published in 1653, describes it as, ‘a fine, soft, pleasing herb, under the dominion of the Moon,’ and describes its virtues, “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...It helpeth the sinews when they are shrunk by cramps or otherwise, and extends and makes them pliable again”2 It is a nutritive herb that is cooling, moistening, and diffusive in energetics. Its actions are alterative, lymphatic, nutritive, galactagogue, vulnerary, diuretic, and expectorant. Its main indications are skin eruptions and inflammation, toxicity and liver issues, stagnant lymph, cysts and fatty tumors, and poor absorption and malnourishment.7 It is a gentle, cooling ally to inflamed skin and tissues8. Topically, it’s a wonderful remedy for eczema, psoriasis, rashes, acne, itchiness (including of the eyes), bites and stings, burns, sunburn, bruises, and splinters (as it has an astringent drawing action as well).1 For the itchier, drier conditions, oil or salve is best. To harness the more drawing, cooling properties, a fresh poultice is the best bet (never put oil-based preparations on skin issues like burns, boils, and abscesses). For extensive, inflamed areas of skin or conditions like rheumatism or arthritic joints, Chickweed or a Chickweed infusion can be added to a bath or soak. Its saponins help to remove toxins and bacteria present in topical infections and reactions by increasing the permeability of the cell walls and providing antimicrobial action.7 8 Those same saponins present in external applications of Chickweed also work internally. Like soap, saponins emulsify and increase the permeability of cellular membranes. When we consume it, those saponins increase our ability to absorb nutrients, in particular minerals (like those present in Chickweed itself), which can be difficult to assimilate otherwise. Additionally, it is chock full of minerals, vitamins, 9 essential amino acids, and beneficial phytochemicals like chlorophyll, silica, calcium, magnesium, selenium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorus, potassium, GLA, vitamins A, C, and certain B factors like folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamine.3 Thanks in large part to its saponins, all of the beneficial and nutrient-dense aspects of it are available to us when we eat it as a vegetable, drink Chickweed infusion, or use Chickweed vinegar. As you can imagine, it can also soothe inflammatory conditions internally. Its energetics cool and calm inflammation while the saponins allow cells in organs like the liver, kidneys, and lungs, in particular, to release their wastes and blockages while better absorbing the active healing constituents. By this mechanism, it can dissolve and break down even long-term conditions like cysts, benign tumors, blocked lymph, thickened mucus, and excess fat cells. Chickweed is especially adept at dissolving ovarian and non-cancerous breast cysts, though it should be noted that this can be a slow process that requires consistency depending on the size and severity of the cyst. In these cases, multiple daily doses of Chickweed tincture/vinegar or twice daily infusions are recommended. In Traditional Southern Folk Medicine, it is used to “balance fats” in the body, meaning that it aids the processing and digestion of fats. Herbalist Mathew Wood elaborates, “[Chickweed] removes lipid deposits and improves lipid usage. It is an excellent remedy for lipomas or fatty tumors.”6 No side effects of taking Chickweed have been documented in healthy individuals. In rare cases of excessive intake, mild diarrhea, or vomiting may occur. As always, consult with a trusted herbalist or physician before taking high doses of herbs regularly. Its possibilities for use and application are as infinite as the stars in the sky! This herb may be used in many forms; the following preparation suggestions are the most widely used and accessible to make or obtain in the practice of modern herbalism. Aside from eating it fresh, making an infusion of the fresh or dried herb is the simplest, purest form of consumption. It is a great addition to an everyday, nutritive tea blend. I often suggest Chickweed tea for clients who are looking for ways to gently detox their systems after periods of lethargy or rich food indulgence; often at times of seasonal change, like from Winter to Spring. I will usually include other gentle detox herbs like Nettle or Dandelion leaf. To make a Chickweed tea, simply infuse 1-2 tablespoons of the dried herb in about 12-16 oz of hot water, covered, for 2-4 hours (to extract as many nutrients as possible). Strain, and enjoy! It can be made into a salve or an infused oil for so many inflamed skin conditions; this application works especially well for the drier, itchier things like eczema, psoriasis, and chapped irritated skin. To make an infused oil, pour about 8 oz of oil of choice (I like olive, jojoba, rosehip seed, and apricot kernel oils) over about 2 oz of dried Chickweed, making sure the herb is completely covered. Let this mixture sit for 2-4 weeks, shaking daily (or as often as you remember), then strain, and enjoy! To speed up this process, gently heat the herb and oil mixture over the course of a few hours. To make the strained oil into a salve, add about 2 tablespoons of grated beeswax and gently heat the mixture until the beeswax dissolves, then pour into containers of choice and let cool before capping. Chickweed oil makes a wonderful addition to many all-purpose first aid salves; I like to combine mine with Plantain, Comfrey, Calendula, and St. John’s Wort. I love to make Chickweed vinegar with raw apple cider vinegar.
The vinegar is a premier way to extract minerals from herbs and acv has its own benefits. I tend to make vinegar when it is fresh and in season, as a way to preserve its properties. This vinegar is a wonderful base for salad dressings. I also use it to cook, or just to sip on! To make Chickweed vinegar, fill a glass jar with (ideally, though you may use dried, too) fresh chopped chickweed and cover it with raw apple cider vinegar. Wait 2-4 weeks, shaking daily, then strain, and enjoy! It is so common and ubiquitous, and has such a long growing season, that it’s relatively easy to source yourself! It’s found mainly in nutrient-rich soils in disturbed places, roadsides, field margins, gardens, seashores, low mountains, and cliffs. Be sure not to harvest from waste areas or very urban, likely polluted places. Make sure you properly identify it before harvesting, as it has a few, somewhat toxic look-alikes (though if you’ve met Chickweed even once, you won’t mistake them). See if you can find it growing (or better yet, try growing Chickweed) in your yard, garden, on local, organic farms, or pollutant-free meadows. If this isn’t accessible, you can’t find it growing nearby, or it isn’t in season, you can source dried Chickweed. Ideally from small, local businesses, like a neighborhood herb store. Or a health food co-op, or reputable source on the internet. Carefully selected, small-batch herbal products containing Chickweed can also be found at The Alchemist’s Kitchen. My favorite is this amazingly effective Allergy Remedy Tincture by Plant Alchemy. Micaela Foley is a practicing herbalist and writer currently living in Providence, Rhode Island. She attended both ArborVitae School of Traditional Herbalism in New York City and Blue Otter School of Herbal Medicine in Northern California. Her herbal work is focused on accessibility, community healing, and issues of social justice. Her writing aims to be holistic, an attempt to interweave the scientific, political, spiritual, poetic, ancestral and contemporary. Follow her on IG @mickfoley_official and @quintessence_herbs.
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