Welcome to the Wednesday Weekly Weeder. Today's featured weed is chickweed, Stellaria media; stellaria (Latin) means little star; media (Latin) means “in the midst of”. It is also known as starweed, starwort, winter-weed, satin flower, tongue grass, chick wittles, passerina, clucken wort, skirt button, stitchwort, white bird's eye, adder's mouth, chickenyweed.
The plant can be best identified by its small white flowers, which have five petals that are so deeply divided that they appear to be ten. The leave type is simple, the leaf attachment is opposite (see Wildflowers of Wisconsin Field Guide by Stan Tekiela for further explanation).
It grows in low, ground hugging mats, and starts out quite small but can spread fairly rapidly. I find it in and around my garden, and along the edges of the adjoining tall grass pasture. Here's a small patch on the edge of my garden, next to a tomato patch.
Chickweed prefers rich, fertile soil, so if you have it, you should be pleased, because it means you've got good dirt. 🙂 It prefers cooler temps to scorching sun, and is a winter weed in warm climate areas.
I first became acquainted with chickweed in summer 2010. A combination of a warm spring and my being late working some of my garden beds because I was relocating plants from a neighbor's place led to verdant growth of huge swaths of German chamomile growing in my garden where it had reseeded from previous years. Mixed in with the chamomile were these plants with small white flowers that were similar in size. I took a big box of the plants with me to the farmer's market to process them and load them in my dehydrator between customers (our little market was pretty slow, and the boys were helping man the table). I took the mystery flower around to the other market vendors, all of whom were older than me with more experience in the garden, and not one could identify it. “It's just another weed” was the main response. (Disappointing!)
I finally realized what the plant was as I was reading through Healing Wise. Susun's fanciful description of “the little star lady of the fields who spreads her stars at your feet” gave me an “Ah hah!” moment. The flowers really do look like a field of stars on a green background.
So what do you do with it?
Chickweed is edible, and fairly tasty. I include it in my salad mixes when I'm out harvesting greens in the garden. The flavor is mild, even the stems aren't too chewy. It can also be tinctured, dried, and made into poultices. Susun sings heavy praises of the power of chickweed. Healing Wise states:
Chickweed is bio-available optimum nutrition replete with minerals, proteins, carotenes and vital life energy. Chickweed, the little star lady, thins the cellular membranes so nutrients are absorbed and utilized to their maximum.
The little star lady chickweed is a powerful nourisher to the glandular and lymphatic systems. Poultices externally, as needed, and twice daily doses of 40 drops of fresh tincture are used with other Wise Woman ways for those with thyroid irregularities, reproductive cysts, ovarian cancers, and testicular troubles such as cancers, swelling, burning, or itching.
She also recommends it for digestive issues, internal organ health, wound healing, weight loss, joint pain relief, and eye healing. You can use a chickweed poultice to heal conjunctivitis (pink eye), without the side effects of prescription drugs. This forum shares a very interesting story on how a member used chickweed to cure an infected sty.
Chickweed Poultice from Weed Wanderings with Susun Weed
*Apply the fresh herb, washed, directly onto sores, closed eyes, wounds.
or *Cook the greens and stalks, especially when using older plants or treating deeply; cool somewhat before applying.
or *Simmer chickweed in half water, half vinegar for about five minutes, cool and apply.
Then cover chickweed with a cotton towel or a thin layer of clay, and poultice for five minutes to three hours. Replace when poultice feels hot to the touch and oozes. (Yes, hot! Though most poultices are applied warm and removed when they cool, chickweed poultices actually heat up as they draw out infection and heat.)
Relief often begins within a few hours of the initial application, with pain and swelling diminishing steadily as treatments continue.
Poultices used on infections, such as pinkeye, must be thrown away after use. Poultices used on clean wounds and unbroken skin can be reused several times if chickweed is in short supply.
Chickweed Eye Lotion
4 oz/125ml distilled water
4 oz/125ml witch hazel
1 Tbs/15ml chickweed tincture
Combine all ingredients in a clean plastic dispenser-top bottle. Use pre-pared witch hazel from drugstore. Shake well.
To use: Wet a cloth or cotton ball with lotion and apply to closed eyes for 3 minutes. Discontinue if eyes are sensitive.
What's the best way to get rid of chickweed if it's taking over my garden?
Chickweed is shallow rooted, so although it may look like a green carpet, it's much easier to remove. If it has not yet flowered, The Gardener's Weed Book recommends tilling it under as green manure (once it flowers, this is not generally recommended, as the plant will continue to mature and set seed even after it has been pulled from the soil). If you need to pull it out, Barbara recommends winding it up like spaghetti on a tined garden tool such as a rake or pronged hand spade. I usually just pull it if it gets a little too invasive, but overall it's pretty well behaved and I'm happy to have it around to eat and to brighten up the garden.