Spring Hedgerow Happenings: Chickweed

The waysides and wild places are truly starting to stir from the slumber of winter.  As young leaves of verdant growth are peeping through the dead leaves and debris, one has called to me in a shy but insistent voice ...

The common, inconspicuous and humble evergreen Chickweed, often the bane of gardeners, is one of the most healing and abundant plants to be found in our fields, gardens, hedgerows and wild waysides. 

Pointed oval, bright green leaves that are succulent and soft grow opposite each other and on alternate sides of the stem.  Fine hairs also follow this growth pattern on the stem making this a helpful guide to identifying from other look a likes, such as Mouse Chickweed. 

The tiny, star like white flowers are linked to the botanical name of the plant, being Stellaria media, and this is reflected in some of the folk names: Starweed, Starwort, Satin flower.  Other country names allude to the use as a nutritional food for hens: Chickweed, Chick Wittles and Passerina.

The best season to harvest is from now until early summer, then again in early autumn when the fine new growth is evident.  The high summer growth becomes straggly and full of butterfly eggs.  I have found a pair of scissors or herb knife is best for removing the aerial parts, as Chickweed has shallow root systems which means you might also get a handful of soil when you pick it out of the ground - much easier for making medicines, with a clean getaway

A low and trailing plant, earth hugging, that ideally seeks out cool, shady and moist habitats - a nod to the gesture of wonderfully soothing properties...
Cupleper defined Chickweed as a 'fine soft pleasing herb under the dominion of the Moon'.  Certainly when I watch the moon, I am touched by the cool, silver light with a crispness that is refreshing.  This perfectly describes the signature of Chickweed medicine - highly cooling, soothing and moistening.

Medicine and Nutrition

Stellaria is demulcent and emmoillient (internal and external agents, respectively, that soften, sooth and protect tissue), a wound healer, blood cleanser, anti itch and refrigerant (releases heat from the internal organs).

It is excellent external medicine for use as a drawing poultice, soothing and clearing boils, abcesses eruptions and chronic skin conditions.  I have seen miraculous (I kid ye not) healing within days of acne rosacea, fungal skin infections, burns, and spotty itchy skin due to hormonal imbalances.  It quite literally removes the misery of the external heat and irritation associated with psoriasis and ezcema. 

The profound cooling effect extends into internal heat characterised by sharp, fleeting pains which move around the body in an excitable and irritated way : rheumatic joints and associated digestive toxicity.  It succesfully removes heat from the liver and purifies the blood so often seen with rheumatic, acidic conditions.  It will help to heal IBS and colitis. 

Chickweed also has an affintity with the lungs and respiratory system where it soothes and calms overly stimulated muccous membranes, healing imbalances such as pleurisy, bronchitis, asthma, and irritable coughs.

How best to apply this healing herb as medicine...for skin conditions external application can be as simple and effective as an infused oil.  For a wonderful recipe and an excellent article by The Herbarium on herbal oils

This can further be made into a soft cream, which I prefer to an ointment, being more readily absorbed  and doesn't leave a veil on the skin which, although is greatly protective in some cases, keeps the heat locked in.  A bath with the fresh juice or infusion is wonderful when the itchiness and inflammation is widespread over the body.  For internal application choose the tincture, tea or fresh juice.

And remember Chickweed is a wild food supremo, not only for being available in the hungry gap, but also for the high nutrition it yields...let food be your medicine...This little beauty tastes mild and succulent added raw to salads and is a storehouse of vitamins and trace minerals:  Vitamin C, B complex, Vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, and sodium. 

So diminutive it may be, but powerful in it's medicine, Chickweed really is a star of the hedgerow