Chickweed is an opportunistic and nutrient-dense plant that offers soothing and cooling relief to many symptoms of heat, dryness, and inflammation. While it is native to Europe, it has spread to many temperate parts of the world and is naturalized in North America. It loves cooler weather and is often one of the first plants to emerge in the spring. It disappears with the heat of the summer and, in some climates, returns in the cooler fall months.
Chickweed’s growing habit is indicative of its use as medicine. Chickweed loves cool moist weather and it is often indicated whenever we want to bring cooling and moistening relief to hot and dry tissues. While there are many nuances to understanding chickweed as medicine, if you only applied it energetically, as in using it as as a cooling and moistening plant, you would be able to use this little plant with lots of success.
Chickweed is high in many nutrients, including calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C. This nutritious and ubiquitous plant is recommended as a delicious wild edible and can be especially beneficial for those in recovery from illness or other nutrient depletion.
Chickweed helps the body absorb nutrients better. It is a safe and nourishing herb for a person of any age to take over several months when weak, chronically tired from overwork and stress, traumatized, anemic or recovering from a long-term illness or surgery. - Deb Soule, Herbalist 2
Chickweed is high in saponins. When plants high in saponins are agitated in water, a visible soap-like foam appears. This foaming ability is caused by the interaction of fat-soluble and water-soluble constituents.
Saponins have a range of activity within the body. They can regulate blood sugar, support a healthy microbiome, and modulate inflammation. For more information about how plant saponins affect our physiology, see this article by herbalist Guido Masé: Plant Saponins.
Herbalists have long used chickweed to address infections. In-vitro studies have isolated various constituents in chickweed that have shown antiviral activities against HSV-2 and Hepatitis B. 3,4
Your eyes naturally like to be both cool and moist. The discomfort of redness, irritation, dryness, styes, and pink eye (conjunctivitis) can be soothed with chickweed. For best effect, mash up the fresh plant and apply the juicy pulp to a closed eye. After 10-20 minutes, or when the poultice becomes warm, remove the poultice and apply a fresh poultice of chickweed. For best results, this can be repeated multiple times and over the course of several days.
Chickweed gently moves the lymph. Consider it when there are swollen lymph glands or when there is swelling and edema, indicating a stagnant interstitial fluid or lymphatic system.
Chickweed is also famously used for benign cysts. It can be used topically and frequently for common types of cysts, including ganglion cysts. Susun Weed recommends it internally for women with ovarian cysts. 5
Many hot or inflamed skin conditions are a good match for chickweed. Redness, irritation, and itchiness can be soothed with a topical poultice of the fresh plant. Herbalists report using chickweed successfully with eczema, boils, and many insect bites or stings, such as those of mosquitoes and bees.
Chickweed also calms angry red wounds, blisters, or scrapes, and is even said to pull out splinters.
Herbalist jim mcdonald reports that chickweed, along with plantain (Plantago spp.), is a staple in his all-purpose salve.
I have seen the fresh leaves bruised and applied as a poultice to indolent, intractable ulcers on the leg, of many years’ standing, with the most decided and immediately beneficial results; to be changed 2 or 3 times a day. - King’s American Dispensatory, 1898 6
So far we’ve mainly discussed using chickweed topically for external signs of heat and irritation, but chickweed can also be used internally for the same types of symptoms. Dry and irritated lungs can result in spasmodic and unproductive coughs. In this case, the cough is actually a reaction to the irritated lung tissue. Chickweed can be used as a tincture, oxymel, or tea to restore moisture and bring cooling relief to the lungs.
Chickweed is also a mild expectorant and can help move mucus stuck in the lungs. This could be explained by the reflexive effects of saponin on the mucus membranes of the body. Herbalist Guido Masé explains: “Pick your saponin-rich herb: licorice, Senega snake root, yucca root, Platycodon, fenugreek – almost all have at least some degree of expectorant activity. This is probably due to what Simon Mills calls “acupharmacology” – the fact that our gut lining is connected to other tissues in the body via nerve fibers, particularly the vagus nerve, allows a slight irritation to affect those other tissues by reflex. So saponins encourage the upward movement of material from the lungs by slightly irritating the stomach lining with their soap-like quality.”7
Chickweed is a mild diuretic that helps to relieve signs of heat in the urinary system, such as frequent and painful urination. While not generally used as a simple for UTIs, it can be combined with other herbs such as Uva-ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) to address the irritation of bacterial infections in the urinary tract.
Both Matthew Wood and Susun Weed remark on chickweed’s ability to reduce fat and aid weight loss. Weed points to the high saponin content as the mechanism, while Wood looks to its effects on metabolism and endocrine function. Wood elaborates in his book, The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants: “Chickweed not only subdues heat and lubricates dry conditions, but also regulates water levels and drives off excess dampness and fats. These actions show that it stimulates both sides of the metabolism, building and breaking down, not only through the liver but also through the endocrine system. Thus, it is used to lose weight, not just short-term water weight, but long-term deposits of fats.”8
Used as a febrifuge, chickweed can calm an excited fever. It’s not indicated when someone has a fever and also feels cold; instead, it is used when someone has a fever and feels hot and restless.
Fresh is best when it comes to our starry friend. Use scissors to harvest the young plant. It can be harvested while flowering, but avoid harvesting it if it has gone to seed as it becomes more tough and fibrous. Regularly harvesting chickweed will inspire it to branch and produce thick regrowth.
Chickweed can be eaten as a raw salad green or added to cooked foods. I love chickweed pesto! Make this as you would a basil pesto, simply substitute chickweed. Pre-chop the chickweed before adding it to the blender as the stems can become entangled around the blades.
Use chickweed fresh to extract in alcohol or vinegar.
If infusing into oil, let it wilt overnight or dry for a few days to lose some of its water content. (Excess water in an oil infusion can lead to problems with mold or rancidity later.)
Chickweed can be dried, but you’ll notice its potency declines quickly over just a couple of weeks. If you want to dry it, use it up quickly.
Recommended Amounts: Chickweed is both medicine and food. As a result, the “dosage” for it can be quite high when eaten as a vegetable.
Susun Weed recommends drying it and using it as a nourishing infusion. In this case that would be 1 ounce of herb to 1 quart of water, steeped 4-8 hours. You can drink up to a quart a day, or take a cupful every 3 hours for acute conditions.
Tincture dosage: 60 - 100 drops, 4 times a day.9
External applications, as discussed above, can be frequent and may need to be used consistently for several months in chronic irritated skin conditions.
Chickweed is a very safe herb. Because it is high in saponins, extremely large amounts of it may cause nausea or diarrhea in some people. As with any herb, start slowly with chickweed until you see how your body reacts. Having eaten large salads of fresh chickweed myself without any reaction, it’s hard to imagine the amount needed to cause problems.
Chickweed is a low growing herbaceous plant that, in the right conditions, can form a thick mat along the ground. It thrives in cool and moist conditions and grows readily in disturbed soil.
It has small white flowers with five sepals and five petals, which look like ten due to deep divides. Chickweed flowers are said to look like a star. The genus name, Stellaria, means star-like.
The leaves are oval shaped and grow opposite along the stem.
One distinguishing feature of chickweed is a row of tiny hairs that grow along the stem. With each leaf node the row of hairs shifts along the stem. (You may need a magnifier to clearly see these little hairs.)
The roots are thin and shallow, making the plant easy to pull out from the earth. It re-seeds readily.
There are anywhere from 90-120 different species within the Stellaria genus.
Chickweed is a delicious and nutritive plant that brings cooling and moistening relief to hot and dry tissues, whether it’s an inflamed eye, itchy skin, or irritated lungs. This plant is best used when fresh. Luckily for us, it grows readily in cool moist locations in disturbed soils and flourishes when it is harvest regularly.