Materia Medica: Chickweed
Chickweed was traditionally harvested as a vegetable, also used to heal wounds and included in poultices for drawing boils.
Latin Binomial: Stellaria medica
Common Name(s): Chickweed
TCM Name: Yin chai hu
Ayurvedic Name: n/a
Physical Description of the Plant: Chickweed is covered in soft hairs on the stem, leaves and flower buds. The soft hairs on the stem are found in a line on one side of the stem. At each pair of leaves, the line of hairs switches to the other side of the stem. The small, ½-inch long oval leaves are arranged in opposite pairs along the stem. The flower has five white petals, which have very deep clefts so it looks like there are 10 petals. The flower has ten stamens with dark anthers that surround three white styles growing from the center. The flower opens in the mornings and closes in the evening. Roots are close to the ground surface and easy to pull up except for the one tap root, which is thin but has little rootlets growing from it.
Habitat: Europe and Asia
Harvest and Collection: Chickweed is an easy-to-grow perennial plant that loves nutrient-rich, moist soil in partial to full shade. I often find it bordering shaded gardens, in the forest under tree cover, and in well-fertilized (with animal manure) lawns. In World War II, Americans were encouraged to use chickweed in their victory gardens as an easy-to-grow green that self-sows seeds (thus acting like an annual), is nutrient-rich, and grows in colder weather. You will often find it popping up as one of the first greens of spring and as one of the last greens in fall. It can even be found green and blooming under the snow! When weather is hot, chickweed lays dormant, and comes back when the weather cools again. If you chose to plant chickweed in your garden or yard, be ready for it to spread vigorously. It is a self-seeding annual, and it disperses its tiny seeds at least twice a year. Because chickweed is rich in nitrogen, it makes a wonderful soft ground cover, and when it is cut down and allowed to self mulch, it adds vital nutrients to the soil. It is a wonderful natural fertilizer and a boon to any winter garden. Sow the seeds where you would like them to sprout and spread. Tamp down lightly and water well. I tend to let nature take its course allowing the spring and fall rains to water these tasty green weeds. This is a wonderful food for chickens, rabbits, gerbils, and other vegetarian animals around the home, but beware, if you allow the chickens and rabbits free range of the chickweed patch, you might not have any left for yourself!
Parts of the Plant Used: Aerial Parts – Leaves, Stems and Flowers. Harvest throughout growing period.
Qualities: Sweet, moist & cool (Ody)
- Herbal saponins are known to irritate mucous membranes: used as expectorants
- Mild laxative and diuretic
- Soothing properties when applies to the skin
- Internally used in helping to treat conditions characterised by fever and bronchial phlegm
- Taken orally it can be used as a cough suppressant
- Topically it may sooth inflamed and itchy skin. Anecdotal evidence suggests it has some effects when treating conditions such as urticaria, eczema, rashes and burns. (Braun & Cohen, 2010)
- Allergic skin reaction can occur with topical use.
- As with any other herb, some people may have an allergy to chickweed but most do not. Contact dermatitis has been reported in some cases. Chickweed is generally regarded as safe in food doses for pregnant and lactating women. Large doses may cause digestive upset with diarrhea, especially if large quantities of seeds are eaten.
- Freshly harvested: 1-3 cups a day fresh, cooked, pickled, or stewed
- Dried or fresh as an infusion (fresh is best, dried is better than nothing): 1-3 cups a day
- The roots of Yin Chai Hu are decocted 3-9 grams a day.
- Topically in a salve or oil for up to 6 months. Can be used daily and persistently for skin problems
- Succus: 3-6 mL daily
- DECOCTION: Use the herb fresh if possible for a cleansing, tonic mixture to help relieve tiredness and debility. Also good for urinary tract inflammations.
- TINCTURE: Add to remedies for Rheumatism
- POULTICE: Apply fresh plant to boils, abscesses , eczema or hot skin conditions
- COMPRESS: Soak pad in hot decoction or diluted tincture for painful rheumatic joints
- CREAM: Apply to eczema- ESPECIALLY if ITCHING. Use to draw out insect stings or splinters. Use on burns or scalds
- INFUSED OIL: Apply as alternative to creams for irritant skin rashes or add 1 tablespoon to bath water for eczema
- 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 4 teaspoons walnut oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 6 cups chickweed leaves and tender stems (about 6 ounces)
How to Make It
Pour the lemon juice into a large bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chickweed, toss until evenly dressed and serve at once.
A light, snappy red with a peppery quality and oak-free finish like a French Sancerre Rouge would pair nicely.
Bioactive constituents from Chinese natural medicines. XIV. New glycosides of beta-carboline-type alkaloid, neolignan, and phenylpropanoid from Stellaria dichotoma L. var. lanceolata and their antiallergic activities.
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Time. 100 Most Healing Foods.