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chickweed identification

Chickweed

Stellaria media (Caryophyllaceae)

Parts Used: aerial parts

Common names: Adder’s Mouth, Passerina, Satin Flower, Starweed, Star Chickweed, Starwort, Stitchwort, Tongue-grass, Winterweed

Chickweed is one of those early spring “weeds” that many gardeners complain about. I think that’s because they just don’t realize its value as a wild edible plant. 

This highly nutritious edible grows nearly everywhere, and often with wild abandon, making it a wonderful plant for foragers.  There’s usually no limits to how much you can harves as it’s often considered invasive. 

You’ve most likely got some growing in your own backyard.  Read more to learn chickweed identification, health benefits, poisonous look alikes,,,and more!

Key Constituents

  • triterpenoid saponins
  • coumarins
  • flavanoids
  • carboxylic acids
  • mucilage
  • vitamin C, potassium, iron, zinc

Key Actions

  • astringent
  • antirheumatic
  • demulcent
  • heals wounds
chickweed identification

Chickweed Identification

Proper chickweed identification is important because it does have a poisonous look alike. More on this later.

That said, chickweed is easy to identify for even the beginner wildcrafter once you know exactly what to look for. 

Chickweed is an extremely hardy, low growing, spreading annual, but often does not completely die off over winter. It is tender with stringy and hairy stems, bears small oval leaves and small, delicate star-shaped flowers.

Forager John Kallas points out a defining characteristic for chickweed identification – a “Mohawk” – a single line of hairs running the length of each stem. 

Culinary Uses for Chickweed

chickweed identificationOnce you have mastered chickweed identification, you can enjoy the fun part…foraging!

You will be hard pressed to find a more delicious springtime treat than chickweed. It has a delicate, fresh taste that is pleasing to most everyone.  The trick is to harvest it appropriately.  

Chickweed has four edible parts: the tender leafy stem tips (the top 1-2 inches of the plant), flowers, buds, and leaves.  

You want to skip the fibrous, stringy and hairy stems and only harvest from the tender new growing tips. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy chewing on hairy plants! 

Chickweed can be consumed raw or cooked like spinach.  I like them either way, often adding them to a spring salad of other foraged greens or as you would sprouts on a sandwich.  I also like to cook them into quiche or frittata…yummmy! 

Keep in mind that they will cook down significantly like spinach.  You’ll need around 7 cups to yeail 1 cup of cooked chickweed. 

They can also be blended into smoothies for an extra vitamin boost.  

I find chickweed to be a versatile herb that goes well with many dishes. 

Health Benefits of Chickweed

Aside from its culinary uses, chickweed has many medicinal benefits as well, mostly for the skin.

Chickweed leaves have been used externally as a juice, poultice, or ointment to treat irritated skin, eczems, psoriasis, uncers, and boils. The leaved contain steroid saponins, which may help relieve itchy skin and rashes. 

Native Americans used chickweed to make a decoction of leaves to treat sore eyes. 

Chickweed Remedies

  • Tea of the fresh herb are used as cooling demulcent and expectorant to relieve cough
  • Tinctures are added to remedies for rheumatism.
  • Poultices made from the fresh plant are applied to boils and abscesses and to painful rheumatic joints.
  • Compresses are soaked in hot decoctions or in diluted tinctures and applied to painful rheumatic joints.
  • Creams are used for eczema and other skin irritations, including psoriasis, ulcers and boils.
  • Infused oil is made by the hot infusion method and applied as an alternative to creams for skin rashes, or added to a bathwater for eczema.
  • Juice from the fresh plant can be used internally or externally for skin problems.
  • Decoctions from the root are used for fevers.

Poisonous Look Alikes

chickweed identificationChickweed really only has one dangerous look alike, and that is Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis).

Scarlet pimpernel grows just like chickweed.  It is considered poisonous so it’s important to distinguish between the two plants. Scarlet pimpernel has squarish stems, lack of prominent hairs, and reddish flowers rather than the white star-like flowers of chickweed. Beware, these plants often grow intertwined, so careful harvesting is often required. 

How Do You Make Chickweed Tea?

Chickweed is best when consumed right away as it tends to wilt quickly.  It can also be dried for future use. 

Whether fresh or dry, chickweed can be used in herbal tea and tea blends. 

Chickweed is known as a diuretic and was traditionally used for weight loss. It is said to also help with inflammation. Use in moderation.

To make chickweed tea, simply steep about 2-3 tablespoons in one cup of boiling water for 5 minutes, then strain out the chickweed and serve.

Sources

Foster, Steven, and James A. Duke. Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America, Third Edition (Peterson Field Guides). Third ed., Boston, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Kallas, John. Edible Wild Plants – Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. Layton, UT, Gibbs Smith, 2010. 

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