Traditional and Modern Use of Chickweed

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a familiar garden weed recognisable by its tiny white flowers. The seeds were once fed to birds, which is how the plant earned its common name. In pastimes, the plant was a common potherb and had various medicinal uses.

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Common Name

Chickweed

Scientific Name

Stellaria media

Family

Caryophyllaceae

Botanical Description

A fast-growing weed that covers the ground in clumps with leafy, hairy stems and bright green, egg-shaped leaves with pointed tips and smooth edges. The flowers are small, white and star-like, and the fruit are egg-shaped, pod-bearing seeds.

Status

Annual, rarely perennial. Native.

Habitat

Bare ground, cultivated land, wasteland.

Parts Used For Food

Largely leaves and stem.

Harvest Time

Spring to summer.

Food Uses

Chickweed can be boiled and eaten as a green vegetable much like spinach.1 In the past, the plant was used as a potherb by farming communities in Europe and Asia.2

Chickweed leaves can also be eaten raw as a savoury herb in salads and sandwiches, or chopped and added to soups, omelettes, stuffing, meatballs, pies or used as a garnish.

Nutritional Profile

Chickweed is a good source of vitamin C.3 It also contains vitamins A and Bs, fatty acids and minerals.

Chickweed Recipes

Traditional Medicine Uses

Chickweed was widely used as an anti-inflammatory herb. For example, chickweed cream was used to soothe eczema, sunburn and insect stings as well as to draw out boils and splinters.4

Other Uses

Chickweed yields lilac dyes for woolens.2

Cautions

Chickweed may cause allergic reactions in some people. The herb is also best avoided during pregnancy and when breastfeeding because there is not enough information about its safety.5


References

  1. Hedrick, UP. Sturtevant, L. Sturtevants edible plants of the world. Dover Press. UK, 1972. ISBN: 978-0-48620-459-8.
  2. Turner, NJ et al. Edible and Tended Wild Plants, Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Agroecology. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, January 2011. DOI: 1080/07352689.2011.554492.
  3. Kermath, BM. Bennet, BC. Pulsipher, LM. Food Plants in the Americas: A Survey of the Domesticated, Cultivated, and Wild Plants Used for Human Food in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. August, 2013. Edition: Draft.
  4. Jackson, PW. Ireland’s Generous Nature. The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland. Missouri Botanical Garden Press. St Louis, Missouri. 2014. ISBN: 978-0-915279-78-4.
  5. Mills, S. Bone, K. The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety. Churchill Livingstone. 2005. ISBN: 0-443-07171-3.

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