|Posted by Sage Traditions on July 10, 2014 at 10:30 PM|
For my second feature plant in the series Wonder Weeds, I have chosen a Star ...
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
by Bev Wein
Another favorite ‘weed’ of which we have an abundance here in our garden is Chickweed. I chuckle these days when I think back to how bothered I used to be about the problem of getting rid of the Chickweed in my vegetable garden. Turns out, as I began to love the Chickweed, I began to discover its many benefits to the point where now I actually nurture her in my garden.
Maybe I began to love her because her name means ‘Little Stars’. How can you not appreciate something like that which is so delicate beautiful and cheerful? Stars light the way in the darkness! Can it be that this little creeping plant also lights a way for us? I believe she will reveal herself to those who will take the time to love, respect and meditate or communicate with her. I’ve found that she is a powerful psychic healer, and helps us connect more deeply with cosmic energies while providing the inner strength needed to handle those energies.
Coincidentally, or not, in the years since I have begun to fall in love with Chickweed, I have also been blessed with a little Star who lights up my life daily. My darling granddaughter is appropriately named Star as well. Here is a suitable namesake!
Beautiful little star flowers.
Even though this delicate little plant is an annual, she is fairly cold tolerant and I find that in very early spring, the she is one of the first who begins to grow and bloom in the greenhouse. It’s one of those wonderful fresh green treats to delight in when there is still snow on the ground outside those thin translucent walls. Her tiny early blossoms also are a double blessing since they draw beneficial insects into the garden as they search for food before much else is in bloom. Now, at this time of year, she is also in abundance in the outdoor beds smiling her starry face up to the sun, just waiting for another round of harvesting and quite ready to come again.
Chickweed is a bountiful plant and it is pretty easy to find in most garden beds ... if left to grow. Often people will hoe out the tiny seedlings before they are recognized and may not realize they have yummy, nutritional and medicinal Chickweed right before them.
Chickweed leaves are oval with a bit of a pointed tip. They can be smooth or slightly hairy. She has a fun particular pattern on her stem which has little hairs that go up one side and then at the next leaf node the little hairs switch and go up the other side, and so on. Her stems grow together in a unique intertwined manner. Her flowers are star shaped, white, tiny and delicate, turning their faces to the sun during the day, nodding downward in the rain and tucking inside the upper protective leaves at night. She can grow 5 -50 cm tall.
While its best to weed back a bit when planting your seeds to give them a head start, this creeping ground cover plant turns out to be a wonderful living mulch around my established plants. I especially encourage her around the tomatoes. Chickweed loves the moisture and also keeps the moisture form evaporating away for the thirsty tomatoes. This helps keep the tomato roots at a nice and even moisture, which is perfect for juicy, sweet red fruit that doesn’t split open from uneven water content.
Chickweed under tomato. A living mulch.
To ensure she doesn’t completely take over, I diligently harvest what I can by trimming them back to the ground knowing that she will eagerly come again. Invariably, some of it goes to seed and I always have an abundant supply next spring again!
Purposes of Chickweed
Once harvested, Chickweed has numerous purposes. First off, this is a delicious green to be eaten raw - leaf, flower and stem. I often munch away at it while out working in the garden. Her cooling properties make her so refreshing on a hot day! They are great in salads and on sandwiches. When the plants are harvested very young, the stems are also tender and can be eaten. A bit older, when the stems become tougher you can still chop them and add to soups and stews. The leaves can be cooked as a spinach substitute or added to a variety of cooked greens.
Chickweed ready to be chopped for salad. Yum!
If the plants become too mature, and begin to go to seed, they may not be quite so tasty and a little tough. These can be left to go to seed for next time. Or if you are fortunate enough to have a little flock of hens and/or chicks, harvest and toss it to them. They get pretty excited about it too, probably because its very nutritious for the birds! (Thus the name, 'Chick'weed.)
Chickweed gone to seed. Yummy chicken feed!
Not only nutritious for the birds, this is another of those nutritious gems to have in your own diet! She is packed full of Vitamin C; Beta-carotene (precursor to Vitamin A); and B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin; as well as minerals calcium, copper, magnesium, potassium, iron, manganese, selenium, silicon, and zinc. She is rich in bioflavonoids, and GLA, essential fatty acid. She also contains saponins (a soapy substance) which increase the permeability of cellular membranes therefore increasing the ability to absorb nutrients, especially minerals.
Traditional Medicinal Uses
If you have more than you can eat fresh, Chickweed can be used for a number of medicinally beneficial products as well. Medicinally, she has traditionally been used as an astringent (draws together tissues), carminative (relieves digestive gas), demulcent (soothing), diuretic (improves efficiency of urinary system), expectorant (loosens congestion and mucus), laxative (relieves constipation), refrigerant (cooling), and vulnerary (wound healing). Those saponins mentioned above, also help to break down unwanted stuff like disease causing bacteria, cysts, benign tumours (best to use in tincture form), thickened mucus in the respiratory and digestive systems, and excess fat cells. Chickweed water traditionally has been an old wives’ remedy for obesity.
She has been extensively used externally for skin conditions, diaper rash, roseola, to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers and eye infections such as pink eye. Internally, she has been used as a postpartum depurative (helps cleanse waste and toxins from the body), emmenagogue (stimulates blood flow to the pelvic region), galactogogue (promotes milk production in lactating women), and circulatory tonic (tones and strengthens the circulatory system) . She has also been used to relieve constipation, and in treatment of kidney complaint and as an infusion for coughs and hoarseness during cold and flu.
Save Some for Later
Chickweed drying on screens.
If you’re short on time, she is easily dried bundled and hung or spread out on a screen, both ways out of direct sunlight with some air circulating around it. Once dried, they make a great tea or infusion, or you can use them later, alone or to blend for some herbal preparations. Daily drinking an infusion of dried Chickweed, up to 1 litre a day, can be a beneficially contributing part to a weight loss program. For tinctures though, its best to use fresh Chickweed. Fresh Chickweed, once wilted, can also easily be infused into Olive Oil as a base for many skin preparations.
A Chickweed tincture is easily made by filling a jar with fresh chopped chickweed and cover with 100 proof vodka (or Everclear (190 proof) diluted 60/40 with distilled water). Cover tightly with a waxed paper barrier for an extra seal. Label and date clearly. Wait 6 weeks (if you want you can shake it once in a while and poke all herb back under the menstrum again) and its ready to strain and use. Store in a dark dropper bottle in a cool place. The usual dose for dissolving a cyst, for example, is a dropper full of tincture 2-3 times a day. It’s said that consistency and patience is the key. A common course of treatment may last for 2-16 months.
While it is traditionally common to make infused oils by allowing the herbs to sit in the oil, out of direct sunlight for up to 4 weeks, or using the Sun-Infused method, infusing the herbs in oil, in direct sunlight for 2 weeks, I find the double boiling method safer and more efficient when it comes to oils. Traditional methods increase the chances of molds growing into your preparation and there have been some serious safety concerns of botulism developing in the oil while sitting unpreserved at room or sun temperatures for long periods of time. As a result, traditional infused oils should be consumed internally with extreme caution at least. A cloudy product or one with mold like floaties on top would be an indication of spoilage. Botulism, however, is one that is not easily detected before consuming and the symptoms set in.
It’s pretty easy to infuse on the stove top though. Chickweed is best infused from the fresh plant rather than dried. However, its important to first allow the plants to wilt at least for a few hours or overnight, until it is decreased in weight by about 1/3 - 1/2. This eliminates a lot of the water from the plant that may contaminate your oil. Water in the preparation will increase the chances of mold growth. You can use a double boiler or infuse right in mason jars in a water bath canner. The jars should sit on a rack or towels inside the canner to keep them from direct heat and from rattling together. Either way, begin with cold oil and cold herbs.
Chickwed wilting before an oil infusion.
Stuff the coarsely chopped herb in the jar or pot, pour oil over until its covered. Ensure the water level in the pot is at the same level as your oil and not too close to the top of the jars to splash into them. I sometimes lay a jar lid on top just to keep the splashes out (and the bugs since I often do this outside) Slowly begin to bring the water under the oil to a low simmer. Heat slowly for 30-60 minutes, stirring the oils frequently to make sure the oil is not overheating. The lower the heat, the longer you can infuse, and the better quality the oil will be.
Coarsly chopped herb.
Once oil is infused, let it cool thoroughly and then strain through a cheesecloth. Choose a preservative according to the use you intend for the oil and add it now. Vitamin E or essential oils will increase the shelf life and protect it from molds and rancidity. Bottle and cap preserved oil, preferably in a dark bottle, and store it in a cool and dark place. This oil can now be used as a base for skin products, blended with other herbal oils or used directly for rashes, itching etc.
Rather than infusing the oil alone and blending with other herbal oil afterwards, you could also infuse it together with other herbs for a specific recipe such as the Boreal Skin Oil recipe listed below.
This recipe comes from one of my favorite books The Boreal Herbal, by Beverley Gray. www.facebook.com/pages/Boreal-Herbal/111000865658409
Boreal Skin Oil
Helps alleviate itching, chapping, and drying. Also makes s good infusion base for diaper-rash ointment.
1 part plantain leaf
1 part yarrow flowers
1 part fireweed flowers
2 parts chickweed herb
3 parts rose petals
15 parts grapeseed oil
1 part rosehip seed oil
Choose method of preparation for infusing oils and follow instructions. This oil can be used on its own, or as a base for a herbal salve or cream.
I hate to say I wish for you a garden full of weeds... but I do wish for you many opportunities to experience the beauty of Chickweed. Take time to get to know her. You may never look at weeding your garden the same again!
I wish many blessings on you and your garden including your weeds! When nature gives you weeds...Eat them with gratitude!
Please note that this blog is for informational purposes only and no diagnosis, treatment nor prescription is implied or offered, nor do I make any claim for a substitute for medical care for any specific medical issue. If you are experiencing any specific medical concern, it is recommended that you consult with your medical doctor as soon as possible.