one defining difference between us and healthier civilizations, is the loss of wild foods, flowers and herbs, in our everyday diet. Consider depictions of these civilizations and culture in art. As an art student years ago, this struck me suddenly viewing the great oil paintings of history, showing us Eras like the fabled Greek Golden Age, a time of health, abundance and enlightenment. Painters such as Lucas Cranach the Elder, or Pietro da Cortona, clearly depicted a better time, where people thrived off of the abundance and diversity of the natural world, living closely with the earth and happily thriving on her wild gifts.
I would like to talk about the wild gift of Chickweed, a food, medicine and Star of the Plant people.
Chickweed (Stellaria media - meaning "little stars")
AKA: Starweed, Mouseweed, Passerina,
Varieties of Chickweed:
There are said to be around 13 types of chickweed, however botanists have identified about 3 official varieties: Mouse ear, Common chickweed and Start Chickweed. The rest are considered natural variances, or deviations of S. media. Usually referred to as " Common Chickweed" , and is very common throughout the Midwest.
Spread & Origin
Chickweed is said to be found on every continent on the planet, and is native to all temperate and Northern regions of the world. Like the Plantago family, Chickweed is said to have spread with the movement of white settlers from Europe and Nordic areas, but also hailed from parts of Asia. I see it wherever I travel these days, it was one of the first local wild herbs that I noticed on my trips to Eastern Europe, and in each state I visit.
|First to pop up in our garden and vegetable planters|
Chickweed is a creeping herb, one of the first to pop up at the end of Winter, providing a beneficial food and medicine source for humans, animals and pollinators.
The plant grows in all directions from a single sprout that will take over any area of soil in large matts of soft, yet heavy shoots usually growing much longer in one direction.
The stems are weak and watery, so they tend to grow horizontally on the ground. You will find large plants growing out of cracks in a patio or sidewalk (pretty much anywhere the seed can germinate, they will grow). The following is a close up view of a true Chickweed from our garden this Spring.
Leaves appear in pairs along each stem, slightly swollen at the joints, with fine hairs growing up ONE side of the stem, and to each flower, covering the green shades with hair.
Leaves start to alternate in pairs towards the end of each stem, and have an egg like shape, connecting to individual stems on the rounded side.
As each plant grows, it will start to branch out, growing new segments onto the first, creating mat like areas.
As the plant grows larger, branches out and covers areas of ground, roots will start to form on the side of stems growing along the ground, helping the plant get established into a colony of plants.
The leaves feel soft and slightly succulent like, which makes the texture akin to hardy spinach leaves: thick but very tender.
Each leaved segment ends in clusters of tiny white flowers, each arranged on their own stem and are covered in hairy green covers, that nod when closed.
At high sun, these flowers and surrounding leaves close towards the stem to cool the plant.
The flowers contain small heart shaped petals, almost completely divided in two down the middle, making them look like tiny pairs of wings. In the center, you will find a tiny three pronged white stigma. The flower is held by its open star shaped cape. The flowers yield little brown striped seeds that are carried by wind and animals, spreading everywhere. It's the reason you will never fully eradicate it from a garden.
|Blooming Chickweed growing with Cleavers herb in tomato box|
Most references list that Chickweed prefers certain soil and full shade, it is a high water, cooling herb with mucilage, so this makes sense!
|Standing is oh so soft matts of Chickweed, about to rain!|
We find it everywhere.
Chickweed is also often found growing along with other ground cover and ground herbs, like in the picture above. In our garden beds, they favor the same areas with Cleavers, Cress and Wild Radish patches.
I love this aspect, it usually means that I will find half a dozen other wild herbs and greens that am out to gather.
Toxic & Medicinal Doppleganger
Although I have not yet had the "pleasure" of meeting it in person (mostly because it is not very cold hardy, favoring temperate and more tropical regions), there is an almost identical plant called Scarlet Pimpernel or Anagallis arvensis (most common), Family: Primulaceae. commonly called Red Chickweed, Adder's Eyes, Bipinella (Old English)
Medicinal uses for pimpernel are well know throughout the world and are still used by herbal medicine practitioners. Considered valuable in treatment of various mental disorders and epilepsy when prepared properly.
Although there are a range of medicinal uses for this plant (like many other poisonous plants) this plant is not supposed to be eaten in its whole, raw form. There are many toxic constituents that cannot be removed through cooking. There are toxic-ally strong narcotic attributes to this plant, so if you live in a region where you find both (temperate to tropical), beware, know what you are picking!
Not so popular with farmers
Chickweed has become the bane of conventional farmers in Ohio because it spreads like wildfire in fields, especially in areas where soil is regularly disturbed, and can take over vegetable beds and pastures before you notice them. Although it's roots stay very superficially on the top soil, many growers believe that it takes up valuable "real estate" of their sell-able crops. Though Chickweed can be a good companion herb.
Chickweed also acts as a top soil "net" keeping soil cool and moist, preventing erosion and runoff, and creating lots of small penetrating root ways that important critters like Earthworms use to aerate and break up our soil so that your plant's roots may grow and thrive. This benefits your whole garden, and your future planting.
|Feeding "weeds" to chickens from local organic farm|
Organic No-Waste Farming
Many farmers who use organic and permaculture methods, will pull the plant for their chickens, if they do not eat it themselves. High in nutrients and protein, this diet can help to create more nutritious eggs, with deep golden and orange yolk, and make happy chickens!
I have worked with farmers who are zero waste here in Columbus, and I can say this system is wonderful, and creates happy chickens, and more nutritious, deep orange yolks in their eggs. In the photo, I am feeding these ladies all of the weeds we have pulled from vegetable beds we are prepping, including chickweed, cleavers, thistles and other local "weeds".
Food & Medicine
Medicinally, Chickweed is used in whole herb form, fresh or dried,externally and internally. It is considered demulcent (meaning that it helps with inflammation by creating a protective and soothing coating, perfect for those of us with Celiac and mineral absorption problems!) and refrigerant (which refers to it's cooling nature in the body), and is most popular in oil infusions, tinctures, and as a table green. A great Pitta herb for us Spicy people!
Chickweed is a perfect herb for recovering from Winter, this tender green addresses inflammation and water retention that we usually come away with after the colder months of the year. It can also be applied to other situations where one takes on water and is an aide in women's moon cycle.
|A version of our wild salad at home, with local produce|
Chickweed is very high in Chlorophyll, which is beneficial to our overall health (and why you should try to use it fresh), oxygenates one's blood, is responsible for calming inflammation, helps the body eliminate toxins, heals, balances and regulates hormones.
This herb is also very high in many vitamins and minerals; A, B1, B2, B3, B12, C & D + Iron,
(especially calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorus, and potassium)
Bioflavonoids, phytonutrients, and Saponins.
Saponins are very healing constituents, and according to Susun Weed:
"Chickweed contains soapy substances, called saponins. Saponins, like soap, emulsify and increase the permeability of cellular membranes. When we consume chickweed those saponins increase our ability to absorb nutrients, especially minerals. They also dissolve and break down unwanted matter, including disease-causing bacteria, cysts, benign tumors, thickened mucus in the respiratory and digestive systems, and excess fat cells."
Matthew Wood points out that Saponins often "serve as building-blocks, or chemical precursors for steroids, cortisone and hormones" He cites Wild Yam's Saponin ability to help the body build these healthy chemical systems.
Saponins are pretty amazing chemicals!
Chickweed also has spiritual and magickal tradition of being used in love amulets and potions, given as tokens and often used in dream pillows and ointments meant to attract a lover.
As an herb of attraction, it was also employed in different image rituals for good harvest, wealth, fertility, new relationships, deals and friendships. It's a "Good vibe" herb.
Herb is ruled by the Moon employed during the New lunar cycle, after the new moon.
Is there a downside to Chickweed? I haven't found one.
By Another Name?
Eastern Europe and Germanic Traditions have many applications for this plant.
I don't know this plant in Polish, but in German, this plant is called "Augentrosgras", and from my short year and a half of German studies, this seems to translate to Eye Comfort. In many areas of the world, Chickweed has been utilized as an aide in eye treatments for infections, and other ailments of the eye (which makes sense since Chickweed is both gentle, and has the ability to eliminate many types bacterium safely).
However, this term is also applied to true Eyebright herb, of the Euphrasia family (currently an endangered medicinal herb).
Chickweeds can be taken internally, and applied externally for it's ability to heal and eliminate bacteria induced illness and infection, also including eye infections like Pink Eye. I appreciate this quality of chickweed, as it can pick up where Eyebright left off in our house, since Euphrasia has become increasingly endangered, and is very hard to come by in the US if you do not grow it yourself. It was a staple herb used by my father in our house while I was a child, and cleared up childhood eye infections in a matter of days, while our peers where on rounds of antibiotics for weeks at a time, often with reoccurances.
According to leading herbalists:
Chickweed, can also be successfully applied in healing cysts, tumors, and eliminates thickened mucous in the respiratory and digestive system, which many practitioners say is the key to eliminating chronic and life threatening illness because mucous stagnates the body. Many report success with shrinking, or completely healing some forms of cancer, preventing invasive surgeries. Herbalists like Susun Weed report seeing this amazing plant heal ovarian tumors and cancers.
Making Chickweed Tinctures
This herb is best used internally as a Tincture made from FRESH chickweed(and/or eaten fresh and often), as I have shown above --- see it's green!
You need at least 4 oz of fresh herb, placed in a Quart sized jar with a tight fitting lid, covered with 80-100 proof alcohol. Leave this to set up in a cool dark place for 4-6 weeks.
Make sure to finely chop your herb to increase surface area for infusion, and agitate the solution by shaking it a couple of times a day.
After 4-6 weeks, you can strain your tincture, and store in amber glass dropper bottles in a cool, dark place. I take this tincture by the dropperful 2-3 times a day, in rounds of 20-30 day cycles with 2-3 week rest period in between.
*Rest periods in between cycles of tincure use, helps us to see the cumulative effects of the herb being used, as well as giving our bodies a chance to use what the Herbs have taught us, reminding it how to heal as well.
Harvesting & Cleaning
I understand that aversion to picking your own wild greens also comes from being afraid of the condition and cleanliness of the herb or plant you are harvesting. This is a good concern, because you are what you eat, and so are plants.
With Chickweed, make sure that you harvest from a clean, safe area, free from chemical run off and animal scat. After you harvest what you are going to use, gently soak your herb in cool water with a spoonful of Apple Cider Vinegar with MOTHER, for 10-15 minutes. Strain and rinse with cold water.
In my next post, I will be expanding on Responsible Foraging, Identification, Cleaning & Preparation techniques. My thoughts, experiences and concerns.
How to Start Incorporating Wild Foods into your Diet?
"Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food."
***I am a huge advocate of teaching the daily use and inclusion of medicinal herbs and food into our
everyday diet. But how does one get started?
My clients love to start their experience with wild herbs and greens in sauces and salad dressings.
Chickweed & Cleavers Asian Ginger Dressing,
--- great on veggies, meat, and chips!
1 small/medium yellow onion
1-2" segment of fresh & peeled ginger root
3-4 Tablespoons GF soy sauce
2 Teaspn. Rice Vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
1/2 Tablespoon toasted Sesame oil
2 sprigs - 6" fresh Cleavers
1/2 cup Chickweed
1/2 Lime (Tastes great without, some dislike lime)
2-3 leaves lemon verbena (optional/seasonal)
Directions: Put all ingredients together in food processor or blender (I use my small ninja blending container), blend until smooth. Use over salad, steak, chips and salsa and more!
The inclusion of Wild Foods and Medicine in one's diet, sets up a naturally nourishing support system, that are millenia in the making. Many of these wild food plants contain important compounds that are important to your immune system and digestion.
As healthy as some of us are eating, even commercially cultivated whole foods are deficient in nutrients, essential qualities (like bitters), due to deficient soils, certain farming practices, anti-nutrients and over hybridization in favor of sugars and starches, and not necessarily phytonutrients.
One has to wonder about the rise of disease, and auto immune issues along side of hybridization, pesticide use, Monocrop agriculture, soil depletion and other modern farming practices & technology.
Currently the healthiest and longest living populations on the planet, are peoples who still eat their local wild, and heirloom foods everyday (also lead more active lifestyles, walk more and have more leisure and rest time). Take the island of Icaria, Greece, for instance, where citizens live on average well past their 100th year, and are dubbed the "Island of Longevity".
This Island community has very little in the way of processed food stuffs, few grocery stores, and their daily diet is made up of what they grow, find and forage in their local environment, from wild herbs and greens, to sea vegetables and garden snails. They have daily whole food diversity.
|Cred: National Geographic, Icarian elder herb garden|
They are connected to their historic, cultural foods and medicines, understand their place within (not over) the natural world, and visitors may notice the average people on the coast harvesting wild Samphire before the tides come.
Our Western diets can benefit from supplementation with even small to moderate amounts of wild food that never lost its potent nutrition & healing benefits. There is rarely a meal in our house that does not include at least a half a dozen herbs and spices, and often wild greens, fruits, seeds, and berries that we find seasonally.
So I realized while writing this blog edition, that I could write for days and hundreds of pages on my experiences with Chickweed, so I decided to make this edition sort of an introduction to what Chickweed is, and how to begin using it. In the future I may expand upon this information to share more experiences with this amazing herb.
I hope you have enjoyed this post, please feel free to post comments, questions or your own experiences with this amazing "weed" --- or you can contact me at: ArtemisaAnimaDesigns@gmail.com
A Modern Herbal, M. Grieves, Volume 1 (vol. 2 Red Pimpernel)
Rosemary Gladstar's Science & Art of Herbology Courses
The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra, pgs. 13, 33, 118-119
The Book of Herbal Wisdom, Matthew Wood, pgs. 56, 344
In Resonance with Nature, Hans Andeweg
Herbal Folk Medicine, Thomas Broken Bear Squire, pg. 66
Edible Wild Plants, Eastern/Central North America, Pg. 34
Disclaimer: This blog and all information contained in it, is told through my own herbalist experience and studies, and should not be considered a form of medical consult, treatment or advice for your own ailments, and is to be used solely as an educational reference. ***NEVER pick and eat an herb, or take an herb that you are not 100% sure of. When learning plant identification, it is always advisable to learn in person from an experienced forager or other such professional.
Copyrights: this blog, and all photos and artwork (unless otherwise noted) are the artistic and intellectual property of Kat Firor Colque, will not be used, copied or re-purposed without express written permission from her.