Chickweed may be a common backyard weed, but it’s a little herbal powerhouse! Learn all about chickweed in this helpful article.
“Your kids are eating those weeds. Is that okay?” a concerned friend asked once when visiting our house.
I took a quick look, though I was pretty sure I already knew what they were munching on. Delicate green stems, bright green leaves, and demure white flowers confirmed my suspicion.
“Yep, it’s fine. That’s chickweed,” I casually replied.
This little wild plant may not look like much, but chickweed is an herbal powerhouse packed with nourishment and multiple healing properties.
Like its fellow wonder-weeds plantain and dandelion, chickweed is usually ignored at best or, at worst, seen as a nuisance by grown-ups who have lost the desire to eat wild things in exchange for perfectly manicured lawns.
But for those of us who can recognize a good thing, chickweed is an herb you don’t want to overlook. Grab some paper or pick up your copy of The Herb Study Notebook, and let’s dive in!
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Basic Chickweed Information
There are a few plants that might go by the common name Chickweed, but in herbalism, Stellaria media is the species we use. This is also known as common chickweed.
Stellaria pubera, or star chickweed, is similar to common chickweed with a few distinguishing characteristics. Its flowers are much larger than common chickweed’s, it’s covered in tiny hairs, and the plant is stiffer and less succulent than common chickweed. You can find an excellent comparison between the two chickweeds here.
Mouse-ear chickweed, Cerastium vulgatum, is in an entirely different genus than common chickweed. The plants resemble each other at first glance, especially the flowers, but the textures, growing habits, and leaf color are distinct from one another. You can get a close look at mouse-ear chickweed here.
Through this article, we’ll cover common chickweed, Stellaria media.
How to Identify It & Where It Grows
Chickweed is an early spring plant that’s relatively easy to identify.
- It grows in low mats with a spreading habit.
- It’s bright green with tiny white flowers a centimeter or less in width.
- The stems are delicate and juicy with leaves growing in pairs on opposite sides. Stems may be bright green or tinged with burgundy.
- Leaves are egg-shaped, juicy, and small, being about the size of a shelled sunflower seed.
- The tiny white flowers have 5 petals, but each petal is deeply divided down the center, giving the appearance of 10 petals.
- If you pull the stems of young chickweed apart, you’ll find that the stem center pulls to one side and the outer stem layer to another side.
Chickweed happily grows in moist areas of the yard and garden, often on the edges of landscaping and garden beds. It readily reseeds itself from season to season, so when you find a good patch of chickweed, you’ll likely be able to return to the same spot for a fresh chickweed harvest multiple times a year.
For additional chickweed identification help, you can watch me discuss chickweed in this video.
Parts Used in Herbalism
The aerial parts of chickweed, meaning everything that grows above ground, are used in herbalism for both food and medicine.
You don’t need to separate any aerial plant parts when you want to use chickweed either in a kitchen recipe or herbal formula. The stems, leaves, and flowers can be used together.
The Easy Way to Harvest Chickweed
When you want to gather chickweed from wild patches or garden patches, simply take a pair of scissors and snip the plant off about an inch above the ground. Handle it gently because it bruises easily.
If you harvest it this way, you shouldn’t need to wash or rinse your chickweed. But if extra soil is on the plant, rinse it gently in cool water before using fresh or setting it out to dry.
The best time to harvest chickweed is when the weather is mild during the day and cool at night, like in the early spring or late fall. In hot weather, chickweed dries out and loses its healing properties.
How to Use Chickweed as Food & Medicine
Chickweed’s Herbal Actions & Energetics
- Chickweed is cooling and moistening, so it’s often used to soothe hot, dry, and irritated conditions in the body.
- As a nourishing, nutrient-rich herb, chickweed can be used liberally in recipes and herbal infusion to provide vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial phytochemicals to the diet.
- Chickweed contains mucilage, a moist and slippery plant compound that soothes irritated or damaged tissue. This means it can act as an emollient when used externally, a demulcent when used internally, and a vulnerary when used on wounds to promote healing.
- Chickweed may play a role in helping with excess weight loss by acting as a mild appetite suppressant. Limited research suggests enzymes in chickweed may slow the absorption of fats and carbohydrates.
- Because it supports natural detoxification, chickweed is an alterative herb that helps the liver, lymph system, and digestive system do their jobs.
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Suggested Chickweed Preparations
Chickweed can be used in kitchen recipes, herbal formulas for internal use, and topical formulas.
In the kitchen, young chickweed makes a delicious addition to salads, soups, and egg dishes. You can use it anywhere you’d use baby spinach. It has a crunchy texture and a mild green taste.
If you have a bug bite, sting, or other painful skin irritation, you can mash fresh chickweed into a poultice and spread it over the painful area. Like plantain leaf, one of the easiest ways to make a chickweed poultice is by making a spit poultice: chew the leaf, then apply the herbal mash to the affected area for 15-30 minutes, repeating until the pain subsides.
You’ll feel like a total hippie, but it’s really effective.
Chickweed can be used either fresh or dry in herbal infusions, steeping a generous amount of the herb (1-2 tablespoons dry, 1/4 cup fresh) in 1-2 cups of freshly boiled water for 15-30 minutes.
Chickweed infusions offer numerous benefits:
- You can drink it liberally for its hydrating and nourishing properties, and also to soothe sore throats, upset stomachs, and diarrhea or constipation. If drinking chickweed makes you feel cold, add a little ginger or cinnamon to your chickweed infusion.
- You can use it as a soothing eyewash to moisten dry, irritated eyes.
- You can use it as a compress over rashes, bug bites, or other irritated skin conditions. Simply soak a clean cloth in the infusion, apply over the irritated area for 10-15 minutes, and repeat as needed.
- You can add the infusion to a local, sitz, or full-body bath to soothe skin irritations or injuries.
You can tincture chickweed using either the freshly dried herb (1:5 in 50%) or fresh plant material (1:2 in 95%).
Chickweed makes an excellent addition to salves, either on its own or in combination with other skin-soothing herbs. I prefer to use freshly dried chickweed in oil infusions so that water doesn’t enter the final product and shorten the shelf-life.
Chickweed starts to deteriorate soon after you dry it, so it’s important to use freshly dried chickweed anytime you need the dry herb. I like to gather chickweed in the early spring and again in the middle of autumn so I always have potent dry herb on hand.
If you can’t find chickweed around you, you can find the dried herb, chickweed powder, chickweed extract, and chickweed seeds here from Mountain Rose Herbs.
Chickweed Safety Considerations
Chickweed is an extremely safe herb that can be used with children, pregnant or nursing mothers, and the elderly. There is no known toxicity and no known contraindications.
As always, check with your doctor and a trusted herbalist if you are unsure about chickweed’s safety in your specific situation.
If you’re going to forage for chickweed, make sure the plant hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides, it’s growing in uncontaminated soil, and you have permission to forage if you don’t own the land.
With all of these benefits, it’s a wonder that more adults haven’t been able to embrace the humble chickweed.
You can’t really beat a genuine superfood that grows freely, can soothe your throat, stomach, and skin, naturally aids detoxification, and might even help you lose stubborn excess weight.
But now that you know better, you might just find yourself excitedly welcoming this little wonder-weed every spring and hoping for its return before winter sets in again.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll become like my kiddos (alright, and me, too), munching on fresh chickweed the next time friends come to visit.
Just do me one favor when that happens: convince your friends to try some, too.