Sunday, 30 June 2013

Common chickweed (Stellaria media)

Common chickweed (Stellaria media) is an annual wild plant distributed widely in the British Isles. From the Caryophyllaceae family, it is native to Europe but found in many parts (usually temperate regions) of the world including North America. It is also called common starwort, satinflower, starweed, craches, winterweed, chickenwort, chicken grass and maruns.

An image of common Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Common Chickweed (Stellaria media)




















Chickweed likes a mild wet climate and is available throughout most of the year in the British Isles, only really disappearing during the very harsh winter weather. The soft foliage and tiny white flowers form a carpet up to 0.45 metres in height. The very tiny mature seed is dark brown in colour and produced in abundance. Seed readily falls from the plant ensuring a continuous supply of lush salad greens for the taking.

Where to find Chickweed

There is no need to go gallivanting around the countryside to find this plant because it is very widespread and likely be found in any old back garden. Chickweed is usually found in disturbed soils such as flower borders or vegetable patches. It shouldn't be necessary to grow this plant but if there is nothing available anywhere, seed can be purchased online.

Raw edible parts

The raw edible parts of this plant are the flowers, stems, leaves and seeds. Cut plants with a pair of scissors when about 10 cm in height or snip off the top 10-20 cm on mature plants (stems can get a bit stringy). Flowers, stems and leaves can all be used as a main ingredient in green salads, green smoothies, pesto or anywhere else where greens are used. It is a good lettuce or spinach substitute.

Chickweed is bland tasting and as such is an ideal first food for those new to foraging. Some wild plants can be very strong tasting and off putting but this one can be used as a main ingredient without overpowering a dish. Once cut the leaves will remain firm and succulent for a few days stored in the fridge. However, to preserve the nutrition in the plant, it is best to cut and eat immediately. Chickweed can be dried in a dehydrator and stored in an airtight container for later use but will lose its colour and some of its nutritional properties.

Chickweed can also be made into a tea. Use 4 tsp of the fresh plant to one cup of hot water. Infuse for 15 minutes and drink.

Other uses

Chickweed has a long history of use in medicine particularly for skin problems. It contains saponins which can be beneficial to health (see also 'Issues'). American herbalist Susan Weed says in her Wise Woman Herbal Ezine that "Saponins, like soap, emulsify and increase the permeability of cellular membranes. When we consume chickweed those saponins increase our ability to absorb nutrients, especially minerals. They also dissolve and break down unwanted matter, including disease-causing bacteria, cysts, benign tumors, thickened mucus in the respiratory and digestive systems, and excess fat cells."

Chickweed is a dynamic accumulator. It is a good plant (they all are) for wildlife and is food for a variety of moths and butterflies.

Issues

This plant contains saponins. Saponins are poorly absorbed by the body and it is often reported that plants that contain saponins should be used in moderation. Some references suggest pregnant women and very young children should avoid imbibing this plant. It can absorb nitrates from the soil.