Wednesday, 16 January 2019

5 Facts About: Chickweed

Chickweed article by Debs Cook
Spring is just around the corner, she says in the throws of Winter - if but a rather mild one thus far here in Derby - and round about this time of year wild edible green herbs are few and far between but we can take a leaf - pun intended! - out of our ancestors foraging books and go out and forage for wild Spring greens to add to our salads and smoothies even now! One such useful wild herb that can be found in winter is Chickweed (Stellaria media), unless there has been a good layer of snow recently, but that won't stop this rambunctious herb for long, as soon as the snow has melted, Chickweed bounces back!

T
raditionally used as a winter pot herb at this time of year due to its highly nutritious nature, although it grows all year round, it is one of the few herbs in the green in Winter and Spring. Like one of its other often foraged counterparts nettles, chickweed is a good source of chlorophyll, and contains vitamins and trace minerals. You can add the herb in small amounts to smoothies and green juices, it can also be dried and powdered and used to help thicken soups or stews, one of my favourite culinary ways of using Chickweed is turning it in to a yummy pesto ever since I discovered a recipe for it in Julie Bruton Seal's book 'Hedgerow Medicine' in 2008. Incidentally, did you know that Chickweed gets its name because it was used to feed chickens? It has also been used to feed caged birds such as budgies and canaries who are rather partial to its green goodness.

Chickweed has been a soothing remedy for skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis for centuries, it’s useful for calming itchy skin and for cooling hot inflammations, as such, it was a popular and much used old external remedy when added to a poultice for treating boils, abscesses, and ulcers of the skin. It was also used to ease mild cases of constipation, and its high vitamin C content made it perfect to use in cases of deficiency of this vital vitamin in sufferers of scurvy. Its anti-inflammatory properties have also been used to help relieve muscle and joint pains.

1) Chickweed has astringent, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, anti-tussive, carminative, demulcent, depurative, emollient, expectorant, laxative, ophthalmic, refrigerant and vulnerary properties. The herb contains coumarins, flavonoids, mucilage, minerals, phytosterols, saponins, vitamins C, B6, B12, D and A. The saponins content of chickweed is believed to be how chickweed helps to soothe itchy skin.

2) 100g dry weight of chickweed herb contains 43 calories and 32g of dietary fibre, plus the following vitamins and minerals: -

• Calcium - 1,210g
• Iron - 25.3mg
• Magnesium - 529mg
• Niacin (B3) – 4.7mg
• Phosphorus – 448mg
• Potassium - 840mg
• Riboflavin (B2) - 0.13mg
• Selenium - 0.22mg
• Silicon – 0.57mg
• Thiamine (B1) - 0.21mg
• Vitamin A - 7,229 IU
• Vitamin C – 6.9mg
• Zinc - 0.52mg

3) Chickweed, as has been mentioned earlier, is a useful herb for skin health, it can be added to creams to soothe skin conditions such as eczema and a decoction can also be made and added to skin lotions and salves. Chickweed's emollient properties help to moisturise dry skin conditions. A poultice of chickweed when applied to a foreign body in the skin e.g. a splinter can help draw the splinter to the surface, it can also draw out impurities in skin infections such as boils. The astringent properties of chickweed make it useful when added to external preparations for soothing rashes, acne, eczema and psoriasis. Nicholas Culpeper in the 17th century recommended its use for treating skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema saying that chickweed ‘is effectual for all imposthumes and swellings whatsoever, for all redness in the face, wheals, scabs and the itch’.

4) Chickweed was one of the herbs used by Dioscorides in the 1st century A.D. to treat such conditions as eye inflammation and earache. In fact herbalists for centuries have used chickweed either in eye-baths or compresses to help clear eye infection's such as ‘pink eye’ more commonly known as conjunctivitis, due to the herbs ophthalmic properties. John Gerard in the later part of the 16th century and Nicholas Culpeper recommended the distilled water of chickweed ‘for all heat and redness in the eyes ... as also into the ears...’ mixed with eyebright it makes a brilliant lotion for clearing the eyes and helping with general eye health.

5) Chickweed has long been used as a spring tonic and blood cleanser, either as a pot herb or as a tea or infusion, and has also been used in some dieter’s regimes, in fact an infusion of the herb known as ‘Chickweed Water’ was an old wives' cure for obesity. To make a chickweed infusion add 1-2 teaspoons of dried chickweed to a teapot or jar and pour on approximately 250ml of boiling water, allow too steep for 15 minutes; strain the liquid from the herb and use. A chickweed infusion can be added to the bath to help ease itching associated with insect bites and dry skin. Whilst Chickweed can be very good for you, its not good to eat it in large quantities because it contains saponins which are toxic, small amounts say a handful every now and again should be fine.

Debs Cook is a Herbal Historian and our Webmistress, you can see more articles by Debs over on her blog Herbal Haven.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to source the most up to date and accurate information, we cannot guarantee that remedies in our articles are effective, when in doubt, consult your GP or a qualified Medicinal Herbalist. Remember also that herbal remedies can be dangerous under certain circumstances therefore you should always seek medical advice before self-treating with a homemade remedy, especially if you are pregnant, breast feeding or suffer from any known illness which could be adversely affected by self-treatment.