From the May 2008 Idaho Observer:
Chickweed: "When medicine is food and food is medicine"
Commonly known as chickweed, this garden weed is one of my favorite spring salad additions.
The first weekend in May, we took a trip to visit our daughter and granddaughter in Washington state. When taking a walk with our three-year-old granddaughter, I was able to show her chickweed and we began "grazing" on it. Young children tend to crave fresh, enzyme-rich, mineral-laden real food and she was no exception. She couldn’t eat enough of it, consuming several fistfuls of the herb. Since chickweed is one of the most common of weeds and is native to all temperate regions of our planet, I felt it was important to share with you the many uses of this valuable herb.
By Ingri Cassel
Birds and chickens are known to avidly feed on the seeds and leaves of chickweed hence its name, chickweed. The ancient Latin name for it was morsus gallinae which means a morsel or bite for hens. In German it is vogelkraut, the bird plant; in French mouron des oiseaux, a bite or a morsel for the birds; and in Spanish, pamplina de canarios and hierba pajarera, canary food and bird herb.
Chickweed (Stellaria media), also called starweed, is an annual or biennial weed, six to 12 inches in length, with thin, weak stems bearing two "twin" small oval leaves at each joint on opposite sides. It is easy to distinguish between chickweed and other plants of the same genus by the line of hairs running up the stem on one side only, then when it reaches a pair of leaves, the line of hairs continue on the opposite side of the stem. The leaves are succulent, egg-shaped, about a half an inch long and a quarter of an inch wide, pale green and delicate. The small star-like flowers are situated singly in the axils of the upper leaves.
Chickweed grows "wild" in moist areas of fields, in lawns, along roadsides, and in gardens. In some areas it comes out as early as March and continues to grow throughout the fall season. This year our chickweed patch is just beginning to "sprout" (mid-May) after excessive mounds of snow had to melt away.
Chickweed is one of the more nutrient-dense weeds readily available for nourishment and medicine. It contains generous amounts of the following minerals: Magnesium, iron, calcium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, silicon, zinc and sodium. It is also high in vitamin C (ascorbates), bioflavinoids, vitamin A, and some of the B-complex vitamins such as niacin.
Chickweed is classified as a demulcent herb, meaning that it soothes and reduces irritations of the mucous membranes. Demulcents coat, shield, lubricate and soothe inflamed tissue while relieving the pain associated with inflammation. It is also classified as an expectorant, acting upon the bronchials and lungs to promote the expulsion of mucous from the respiratory tract. Due to these qualities, European herbalists used chickweed successfully in the treatment of tuberculosis, whooping cough, bronchitis and the common cold and flu.
In the School for Natural Healing textbook written by Dr. John R. Christopher, he states the following:
The demulcent/expectorant herbs are especially valuable in purifying and cleansing the system. Catarrh, or the common cold and its variations, is nature’s signal that the body needs cleansing. It is very often caused by a nutritional shortage of potassium chloride, the element that enables the fibrin to remain in solution in the blood. In inflammatory ailments, the fibrin is released out from the blood into the surrounding tissue causing blockage. No new fibrin can be formed without an adequate supply of potassium chloride, which the body badly needs because it is now thrown out of balance. If the potassium chloride is not available, the body will combine the potassium and chloride stolen from other combinations in the body, such as potassium phosphate (thus robbing the nerves) or calcium chloride (robbing the heart muscle) until the body becomes progressively more out of balance. Since we consume so much sodium chloride (salt) and so little potassium chloride, we add to the problem with our dietary practices. Chickweed, along with other botanicals, provides the necessary elements to put the body back into balance.
According to Louise Hay in her book, Today’s Herbal Health, chickweed is a good blood purifier and useful in treating fevers, all skin ailments and inflammations. Its mucilagenous elements have proven to be valuable for resolving stomach ulcers and inflamed bowels. It can also assist in dissolving plaque in blood vessels as well as other fatty substances in the body. Due its ability to cleanse the blood, it has been used to treat all forms of cancer and tumors. It has been used as a poultice for boils, burns, abrasions, sore eyes and swollen testes. Chickweed has also been recommended as an aid in weight loss.
According to Alma R. Hutchins in her book, Indian Herbology of North America, chickweed is useful in the treatment of liver ailments, bronchitis, pleurisy, coughs, colds, hoarseness, rheumatism, inflammation, weakness of the bowels and stomach, scurvy, and kidney trouble.
Another unusual attribute to chickweed is the transmission and flow of blood to the liver and hepatic veins, making them more pliable and, therefore, assisting the eliminative organs. For an inflamed appendix, Dr. Christopher suggests that an infusion or decoction be made from the dried herb and applied in the form of an enema. At the same time, drink the warm infusion (tea) and apply very hot fomentations of the decoction over the site of the appendix.
The famous herbalist Juliette de Baïracli Levy said the following about chickweed in her book, The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable :
Chickweed is one of the herbs most praised by Turkish gypsies, not only for its edible qualities but also its potent medicinal properties, as it contains many of the soothing and tonic powers of slippery elm. The whole plant is used. It is a highly tonic herb for the entire digestive system, and a remedy for all stomach ailments. Externally it makes an important eye lotion and an ointment for rheumatic inflammations and stiff joints....All animals should be encouraged to feed upon it; but sheep must be prevented from over-gorging themselves, especially lambs, or severe digestive upset can follow owing to the richness of this herb...It is an important tonic for poultry and all birds, especially caged birds. Dose: Several handfuls per animal per day. Eye lotion: one handful brewed in ¾ pint of water.
The following story reveals the value of chickweed in the treatment of serious skin ailments:
At one of Dr. Christopher’s lectures, a woman brought a bundle to the front, a little baby all wrapped up. She unwrapped the bundle and, as she did, eczema scalings flew up all around and dusted Dr. Christopher’s dark suit. The baby was simply covered with eczema; he described it as horrible to see. The family had adopted the baby six months previous, and it was entirely covered with the scaling, evidently from birth. The family had employed the usual doctor, a pediatrician, and a skin specialist, but no one could do a thing for the little sufferer.
Dr. Christopher told the mother to fill a bassinet with warm Chickweed tea and to bathe the baby, pouring the tea over the head that could not be submerged. The mother was also to give Chickweed tea internally, in small amounts.
Within just a matter of days, the baby began to improve, and after a week or two, the eczema disappeared completely, though the child had suffered with it so many months.
~Dr. Christopher’s Natural Healing Newsletter, Volume 6, No. 5
As the experience above shows, chickweed is specific for skin ailments. For abrasions, eruptions, itching, hives and inflamed skin conditions (even cancerous sores), bathe the skin with chickweed tea, or make a poultice of the fresh herb.
For immediate first aid, the fresh herb is crushed and applied directly to the afflicted area, covering it with a washed leaf (lettuce or cabbage will do), and holding it in place with a bandage. The application should be changed every three or four hours, or when it begins to dry out, replacing the poultice with another batch of freshly crushed chickweed. In addition to these external applications, it is good to drink two to three cups of chickweed tea daily and eat it fresh in a salad or steamed as a vegetable to hasten healing. Chickweed can be added to soups and stews, tasting similar to spinach when cooked.
If it is not convenient to apply the fresh herb due to the season or being in a large city, chickweed ointment makes a good substitute. The simplest way to make chickweed ointment is to take one pound of fresh chickweed chopped in a food processor, put the chickweed in a deep baking dish (non-aluminum), add 24 oz. of virgin olive oil and two ounces of beeswax. Cover the baking dish and place in the oven for three hours at 200 degrees F. Strain through a fine wire mesh or cheese cloth, place into small jars, allow to cool and cap. If this is not possible, you can purchase Dr. Christopher’s original formulas from HerbFirst.com or ihealthtree.com. The product name is "Itch Ointment".
My first experience in using chickweed medicinally was last year at this time when I came home from Virginia and Don was experiencing a strange sore on his calf. The "wound" had not been triggered by a recent trauma but appeared to be a past wound that had scabbed over leaving foreign elements (gravel, dirt) inside his leg tissue. Don wanted to ignore it and while I was busy with catch-up work, the wound turned serious. It was red and angry, emanating heat, clearly infected, and worsening daily. I wasn’t thinking clearly so I consulted with a kindred spirit who has the same herbal healing background and philosophy I have on health and healing. She took one look at it and got out her chickweed and plantain ointments. She put on a generous portion of each and bandaged up the penny-sized wound that was inflamed to the size of a half dollar. The cooling effect was nearly instantaneous. Since we had plenty of chickweed and plantain in our yard, subsequent treatments were with masticated plantain and chickweed poultices. Chickweed was added to our salads and carrot juice along with plenty of vitamin C consumed daily. As soon as the wound was on the mend, Don switched to chickweed and plantain ointments.
Dr. Christopher suggests adding chickweed to a "green drink" which is made by adding fresh comfrey leaves and other mild tasting herbs to apple or pineapple juice and blending it up in a blender. He also offers a recipe for "Chickweed Salad Dressing": Blend together a large handful of chickweed, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 cup of cold-pressed, unrefined oil, the juice of a lemon, powdered dulse, Bragg’s Aminos and cayenne to taste. Its shelf life in the refrigerator is about a week.
There are so many ways to use this common garden "pest" in your diet and medicine cabinet that I have simply highlighted the most common applications of chickweed.
With economic collapse on the horizon, it is becoming more imperative that we learn how to use the weeds growing all around us for both food and medicine.