If you are a gardener, you will probably recognize this weedy beauty called chickweed (Stellaria media). I always welcome the arrival of this world-wide weed in my garden. Although it has a history of being used as chicken fodder (especially the seeds), I tend to gather it for the humans at my little homestead, since it’s a mild, tasty and super nutritious green that takes care of its own seeding and cultivation. I don’t have to do anything other than harvest it and leave some seed for the following season.
Chickweed is easy to identify – it has succulent, floppy stems with a single line of white hairs growing up the stalk. The leaves are shaped like arrows, and the star-like flowers have 5 petals that are split and look like 10 tiny ones. It likes to grow in cool and damp climate, and can typically be found in garden beds in winter, spring and fall. You may find it in the late spring and summer months, growing under the shade of your warm weather crops – if this is the case, make an effort to clear it out – it can carry viruses that can damage tomatoes and cucumbers.
When you take a bite of chickweed, you will experience a moistening, or mucilaginous quality, and indeed it is soothing when applied externally to the skin and internally to the digestive track. Chickweed can be used internally as a mild laxative, or on the skin as a healer of rashes and abrasions. Chickweed is cooling and soothing, and is a common ingredient in herbal balms for diaper rash, eczema, and other itchy inflammations. Chickweed is also considered a “spring tonic” herb, providing support to our bodies as we transition out of winter into the activity of the spring season. It is a diuretic, supporting the cleansing of the kidneys, and stimulates the lymphatic system (part of our immune system that helps clear the body of infections). Other traditional uses include the treatment of eye infections, obesity and arthritis.
Nutritional Qualities & Preparing it into Food
Chickweed is high in antioxidants, vitamin C and A, and has about the same amount of calcium and potassium as raw spinach. In fact, think of using it as you would spinach – raw in salads, sandwiches, green smoothies, or lightly steamed with other vegetables. My favorite way to enjoy the beneficial qualities of chickweed is prepared raw as pesto! Such a delicious green treat. Here’s a (modified) recipe from herbalist Susan Weed. I like to add milk thistle seed to include some extra support for the liver for spring cleaning!
1 cup fresh chickweed
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup ounces roasted walnuts
3 tablespoons ground milk thistle seed
salt to taste
optional: 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast
Blend all ingredients in food processor or blender and enjoy!
USDA National Agricultural Library
Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Healing Wise, by Susan Weed
Making Plant Medicine, by Richo Chec
Chickweed, growing at large