Family: Caryophyllaceae (Carnation Family)
Synonyms and Common names: Starweed, Star Chickweed, mouse ear, satin-flower, tongue grass
Description and Habitat: Chickweed is one of the commonest weeds, it’s the bane of the gardener, and once it has a foothold it’s difficult to eradicate. It’s native to Europe but has spread to most of the world.
Chickweed has shallow fibrous and fragile roots and is easily uprooted by accident. The plant’s weak stems trail along the ground, but the growing tips may be upright to around 8” high. The stems branch very frequently and take root at the leaf junctions. The leaves are opposite each other, smooth and oval with a point at the tip, the older leaves are stalked whilst the new leaves are not.
Chickweed flowers all year round except the middle of winter, its tiny white flowers have five notched petals and five green sepals that are longer than the petals. The flowers develop into small capsule-like fruits which contain many tiny seeds (up to 15,000 per plant). The seeds generally germinate within a few years but can remain viable for much longer
Parts used: The whole herb
Harvesting: Collect chickweed between May and July, when it is in the best condition, and dried in a dark, cool place well spread out to keep the leaves from mustiness. It is used both fresh and dried.
Constituents: Ascorbic-acid (vitamin C) Beta-carotene, Calcium, Coumarins, Genistein, Gamma-linolenic-acid, Flavonoids, Hentriacontanol, Magnesium, Niacin, Oleic-acid, Potassium, Riboflavin, Rutin, Selenium, Triterpenoid saponins, Thiamin, and Zinc
Actions: Astringent, Carminative, Demulcent, Depurative, Diuretic, Emmanagogue, Expectorant, Galactogogue, Laxative, Ophthalmic, Poultice, Refrigerant, Vulnarary
Indications: Eczema, coughs, rashes, burns, chapped skin, inflammatory skin conditions, insect bites, stings, wounds, nappy rash, itchy skin, psoriasis, blood cleanser, stomach ulcers.
Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Chickweed has a very long history of herbal use, being particularly beneficial in the external treatment of any kind of itching skin condition. It has been known to soothe severe itchiness even where all other remedies have failed. It can be applied as a poultice and will relieve any kind of roseola (reddening of the skin). An infusion of the fresh or dried herb can be added to the bathwater and its emollient property will help to reduce inflammation (in rheumatic joints for example) and encourage tissue repair. The decoction is also used externally to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers. The expressed juice of the plant has been used as an eyewash.
Contraindications: In excess doses, chickweed can cause diarrhoea and vomiting. It should not be used medicinally by pregnant or breastfeeding women. Today, chickweed is rarely taken by mouth due to potential toxicities. That hasn't stopped certain cultures from using it as food, including Japan where it is widely eaten during the springtime festival, Nanakusa-no-sekku. Others believe that chickweed is an effective weight-loss remedy.
Preparation and Dosage: Chickweed is used primarily as a topical cream or an ointment and applied to an affected area.
Concoct an Infusion of Chickweed and use as a poultice.
Additional Comments & Folklore: Chickweed water is reputed to be an old remedy for obesity. However it is not usually used today internally, so beware on this one.
Chickens and many other birds love chickweed and eat both the plants and the seeds, which is how it got its name.
The Chickweed is an instance of what is termed the 'Sleep of Plants,' for every night the leaves approach each other so that their upper surfaces fold over the tender buds of the new shoots.
The flowers close at night and open in the morning. They also close when it's about to rain. Possibly they respond to changes in air pressure. It does seem that the flowers don't open at all when a low-pressure system is lingering.
In European folklore and magic, Chickweed was used to promote fidelity, attract love, and maintain relationships. A sprig of chickweed carried was used to draw the attention of a loved one or ensure the fidelity of one’s mate. Sailors used chickweed vinegar to prevent scurvy when fresh citrus was unavailable. The Herb is associated with fidelity and love in magic.
Found in pre-neolithic dig sites in Great Britain, native to Europe and naturalised throughout much of the world including North America, it was used worldwide for a wide variety of complaints, chickweed’s prolific and steadfast qualities have earned it a smaller place than she deserves in world mythos and folklore. Chickweed makes an appearance in some of the First Nation tribal tales of North America. References to Chickweed in European mythos are sadly limited. Despite its small role in mythos, the Herb has been recognized and used extensively for a wide variety of physical complaints throughout the world.
There is little mythology to be found with this beautiful starry Herb, but the story below is an interesting one from the Lore of Japan.
The Ainu people are an indigenous tribe located in a part of Japan. The Ainu people have a legend that says:
"The Ainu lived in this place a hundred thousand years before the Children of the Sun came. Traditional Ainu dress was a robe spun from the bark of the elm tree and decorated with geometric designs, with long sleeves, folded round the body and tied with a girdle of the same material. The men never shaved and had full beards and moustaches, and men and women alike cut their hair level with the shoulders, trimmed semicircularly behind. The Ainu lived in reed-thatched huts, without partitions and with a fireplace in the centre, and never ate raw fish or flesh, always either boiling or roasting it, using wild herbs for flavor. Intermarriage and cultural assimilation have made the traditional Ainu almost extinct.
The cosmology of the Ainu people consists of six heavens and six hells where gods, demons, and animals lived. Demons lived in the lower heavens. Amongst the stars and the clouds lived the lesser gods. In highest heaven lived Kamui, the creator god, and his servants. His realm was surrounded by a mighty metal wall and the only entrance was through a great iron gate. Kamui made this world as a vast round ocean resting on the backbone of an enormous trout. This fish sucks in the ocean and spits it out again to make the tides; when it moves it causes earthquakes.
One day Kamui looked down on the watery world and decided to make something of it. He sent down a water wagtail to do the work. By fluttering over the waters with its wings and by trampling the sand with its feet and beating it with its tail, the wagtail created patches of dry land. In this way, islands were raised to float upon the ocean. When the animals who lived up in the heavens saw how beautiful the world was, they begged Kamui to let them go and live on it, and he did. But Kamui also made many other creatures, especially for the world. The first people, the Ainu, had bodies of earth, hair of chickweed, and spines made from sticks of willow. Kamui sent Aioina, the divine man, down from heaven to teach the Ainu how to hunt and to cook."
Chickweed is termed an ‘invasive weed’, and is eradicated by gardeners as soon as it arrives in the garden, however, the definition of a weed is a plant that grows prolifically and literally isn’t wanted. Perhaps if people knew of the benefits this small herb can offer to both the table and the herbal practitioner, it may be accorded the respect it deserves.