Common Chickweed – Herbal Remedy for Irritated Skin
Welcome to the Weekly Weeder, where we learn how to use common weeds from our yards and gardens. Today's featured weed is common 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.
There are over 100 related species in the Stellaria genus, so odds are that common chickweed or a relative are somewhere near you.
Stellaria media neglecta is also known as common chickweed, and is a subspecies of Stellaria media. Grass-Leaved Chickweed, Stellaria graminea, is much more common in my yard than Stellaria media. Stellaria longifolia (Long-leaf Starwort) is another chickweed cousin.
I became acquainted with chickweed in the summer of 2010. Huge swaths of German chamomile were growing in my garden where it had reseeded from previous years. Mixed in with the chamomile were plants with small white flowers that were similar in size.
I took a big box of chamomile with me to the farmer's market to process and load into my dehydrator between customers. (Our little market was pretty slow, and the boys were helping man the table).
When I showed the mystery flower to the other market vendors, not one person could identify it. “It's just another weed” was the main response. (Disappointing!)
I finally recognized the plant 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.
Range and Identification of Common Chickweed
Where Does Common Chickweed Grow?
As you can see from the USDA range map, common chickweed is very widespread. It grows nearly everywhere around the world.
Common chickweed tolerates sun or shade, wet or dry conditions, and pops up in disturbed soil such as gardens and lawns. I find it in and around my garden.
Chickweed prefers rich, fertile soil. Excess fertility may encourage its growth (see below). It prefers cooler temps to scorching sun, and is a winter weed in warm climate areas.
In the book “Weeds, Control Without Poisons“, the author notes that chickweed often thrives on excess organic matter.
Specifically, “It is frequently the case of too much grass clippings not being consumed, a lot of pet or manure on a garden, with acids coming off organic matter flushing out minerals that become a little too hot for grass or vegetables. This situation is an invitation for chickweed to set up shop.”
This would explain the flush of chickweed growth at the end of friends' lawns where grass clippings stacked up against taller field grass.
Common Chickweed Identification
Common chickweed 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.
The whole plant is a bit hairy, but not bristly. (You won't be poked like you would by a thistle.) Stems are juicy.
It grows in low, ground hugging mats, and starts out quite small but spreads fairly rapidly. It's an annual in cool regions, but may act as a tender perennial in warmer areas.
Wildlife Uses of Chickweed
From Illinois Wildflowers:
The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract primarily small bees and flies, including cuckoo bees (Nomada spp.), Halictid bees, Andrenid bees, Syrphid flies, bottle flies (Lucilia spp.), Muscid flies, and Tachinid flies. Less common floral visitors include nectar-seeking butterflies and parasitoid wasps.
In the absence of such visitors, the flowers of Common Chickweed can self-pollinate. Some insects feed on the foliage and other parts of Common Chickweed. These species include both the adults and larvae of Cassida flaveola (Pale Tortoise Beetle) and the larvae of such moths as Agrotis venerabilis (Venerable Dart), Haematopis grataria (Chickweed Geometer), and Lobocleta ossularia(Drab Brown Wave); see Clark et al. (2004) and Covell (1984/2005).
Vertebrate animals also feed on Common Chickweed and other Stellaria spp. The seeds of such plants are eaten by the Mourning Dove, Chipping Sparrow, House Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow and Field Sparrow; the Ruffed Grouse also browses on the leaves. The Bird Table displays a more complete list of these seed-eating birds.
The foliage, flowers, and seeds are a minor source for various mammals, including the Cottontail Rabbit, Groundhog, and White-tailed Deer (Martin et al, 1951/1961).
The seeds are able to pass through the digestive tracts of White-tailed Deer and remain viable, spreading Common Chickweed to new areas (Myers et al, 2004). Other herbivorous mammals probably spread the seeds in their feces as well. The Prairie Deer Mouse eats the seeds of Common Chickweed to a minor extent (Houtcooper, 1978).
Is Chickweed Edible?
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. Use it fresh and raw. It doesn't stand up well to cooking.
Susun Weed suggests, “Use chickweed like parsley: as a bland but salty, herby garnish.”
She also notes, “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.”
Backyard Medicine recommends using chickweed to make an herbal pesto sauce.
Medicinal Uses of Chickweed
Common Chickweed can be tinctured, dried, and made into poultices. Susun sings heavy praises of the power of chickweed. Healing Wise states:
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.
The book Backyard Medicine suggests using chickweed topically for itches, bites, stings, inflammations, burns, swellings, sunburn, bruises, splinters and sore eyes.
You can make a soothing chickweed bath by gathering a few handfuls of fresh chickweed and bundling it in a piece of fabric (or an old sock) and hanging it under the running water as you fill your bath.
Adapted 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 dispenser-top bottle. 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.
How to Get Rid of Chickweed
Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. I've seen more than one reader complain that chickweed likes to take over their garden.
Chickweed is shallow rooted, so although it may look like a green carpet, it's easy 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 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.
More Herbal Resources
This is post #2 in the Weekly Weeder series.
You may also enjoy other posts in the Weekly Weeder Series and Herbs and Wildcrafting, including:
- Recommended Wildcrafting Reference Books – Weekly Weeder #1
- Herbal Antibiotics – the Top 15 Herbal Antibiotics
- How to Grow Stevia and Make Homemade Stevia Extract
For more in depth plant studies, consider The Herbal Academy. They offer learn at your own pace research tools through The Herbarium, along with more structured options through online courses from beginner to advanced.
Originally published in 2011, updated in 2017.
Thanks so much for sharing this! I know this plant (I call it stitchwort), but didn’t realize it could be eaten or used as a medicinal herb. I have it growing in my backyard! Although I’m really familiar with native plants in my area in terms of WHAT they are, I really don’t know much at all about HOW they can be used so I really enjoy posts like this!
cool! i just found you a couple of days ago and i’m intrigued by what you have to share. thanks for the education! 🙂
First, Thank you again for this information. Herb,Plant, Weed identification is something I want to learn this year and I love this post. I found it from reading your seed starting post and I’m glad I stumbled upon it. My hubby thinks I’m crazy because I won’t let him pull any weeds before I know what they are. I tell him ” STOP! I don’t know what that is used for yet, it might be the cure for cancer!!” haha
Next my question has to do with wheat. I looked on your list of things you are planting and didn’t see it included but thought you may have some insight anyways.
We (my family of 5) have been eating a healthy, non-processed, natural/organic diet for 5+ years. Despite all my efforts I still felt like junk 99% of the time. i.e. bloated, tired, no energy, unable to lose weight etc.
I’ve been looking into the Paleo diet and the wheat free/grain free lifestyle. I do this with caution because I really don’t support any “diet” that omits a food group. However, something in my life needs to change.
With that said- the premise of Wheat Belly, is that we (Americans) do not eat wheat as it was intended and do not prepare it in a way our bodies can properly digest it.
Do you or any of your readers know of a Wheat seed that is Heirloom or dates back to the roots when Wheat was still wheat that was meant for us to digest? The Google searches have me puzzled.
Future post: I would love to be your shadow for a day. You seem to accomplish so much in the same amount of hours we all have but get very little done. how do you do it? It would be great it you could post a minute by minute break down of how you get it all done. Or maybe you don’t sleep? haha
In addition: You are an inspiration. Please keep posting, blogging, etc no matter how many ‘likes’ or feedback you get. We are out here, we’re reading, we’re using your shared knowledge to help live better lives, keep inspiring us!
Amber – Bless your heart and your kind words about what I get done. Most days I barely scratch the surface of the to-do list, but I’ve always found that things are there waiting for me when I get to them, and if don’t, I guess something else was more important. For a look on the less tidy side, you can check out this recent post – https://commonsensehome.com/what-you-dont-see-in-the-photos/
My well-trained google search and I have heirloom wheat seed sources at the ready – http://www.bountifulgardens.org/Wheat/products/232/ and http://sustainableseedco.com/grains/
You can also buy these grains ready to grind from companies like Bob’s Red Mill and others. Look for Einkorn and Kamut. These are heritage types.
The book Small-Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers explains how to grow wheat and other grains on small acreage.
I’m gluten free right now, and haven’t noticed a dramatic change (I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis). Have you had your thyroid checked? Thyroid trouble kicks a lot of people’s backsides. I’m studying adaptogens now with my herbalism training, and I’m hoping that these herbs may be one of the missing links that I’ve been looking for with my health. There has been a lot of chronic stress in my life, and it’s taken a heavy toll. Several big problems will hopefully be resolved shortly, so that should lighten the load.
Thank you for taking time to reply, and so quickly. I will check both links. I do have hypothyroidism. I was on meds for a couple of years without any significant difference. I had a baby, after 40+ yrs, & doctors told me it was a “safe” med to take while nursing. Well my baby wouldn’t gain weight . After 1 yr of the doctors constantly questioning if I was properly feeding my child, I quit taking my thyroid medicine and she gained 2 lbs in 1 week! I would love to learn to support my thyroid function through nutrition and herbs if possible. I have only scratched the surface with research though. Please keep me posted with what you learn. I really don’t want to continue with the synthetic drugs for life.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause is the best book I’ve found to date for identifying triggers and understanding how the disease works in your body, but the author is very focused on supplements instead of herbs I might be able to grow myself or obtain from quality sources. Still, it’s a big step up from the “just take more thyroid hormones crowd”. Magdelena (Thyroid Diet Coach) has some great info on her site, too. Some is subscribers only, but other parts are public access. I purchased her Hashi’s course. https://commonsensehome.com/hashimotos-thyroiditis/
In a perfect world, I’d put this research front and center, but as it is I end up squeezing it in here and there. Like everything, it’s a journey!
I started foraging chickweed this spring. I love it! I was surprised by your comment that it doesn’t hold up well to cooking. I’ve been lightly wilting it in butter or olive oil, with a bit of garlic or wild onion, and find it delightful. This morning, I added a big handful to my oatmeal as it was cooking, and enjoyed that as well. On the other hand, I’m not as hip on eating it raw. I don’t post this to be disagreeable, just to give another perspective as everyone has a different palate. I think I may try raw again, mixing with some other greens and dressing. To be honest, my raw experimentation was limited to eating it out of hand while harvesting.
Thank you for a lovely thorough post. Just found your blog today. ????
Thank you for sharing your experience, Cindy. I have no problem with differences of opinion, unless someone goes out of their way to be a jerk. 🙂 We don’t have a ton of chickweed growing around here, so I haven’t experimented with it as much as I would like. Since it’s a tender plant, I find it easy to overcook and get mushy. I never would have thought about putting it in oatmeal.
My backyard has always boasted a large crop of chickweed, which I have ignored, for the most part, until this year. It pulls up easily by the handfuls, which made it a great treat for my chickens. This year, it took over my garden area, which sounds like a bad thing. Truly, it has been a blessing! I pass by them on my way to the rabbit cages daily. I scoop up double handfuls for the bunnies, and they absolutely love it! Now, they all run to their cage doors when they see me coming with chickweed. 🙂 I haven’t tried eating it yet, but I am ready to give it a whirl now! Thanks for the information and insights!
They call it “chickweed” for a reason. 🙂 Glad you have critters on hand who get to enjoy the abundance.
When you taste it, aim for young tender growth. The older leaves and stalks will be tougher and more chewy.