After a long bout of cold weather, things are quickly warming up. This means we are about at the end of our spring emphemerals and summer is quickly approaching. I would be remiss if I didn’t post about at least one delightful spring plant, and so today I want to share about the edible, medicinal, and magical properties one of my favorite plants is in abundance in the spring—chickweed (stellaria media). I found some incredible specimens of this plant just this week, so it is still out there, working its magic, in its own very humble way. This post will talk about chickweed’s medicinal and edible qualities, sharing recipes for chickweed pesto and chickweed salve, as well as its incredible magic and symbolism.
Chickweed is certainly a plant in abundance in the spring and fall through most temperate regions in the world, and it can still be found throughout the summer months.
Chickweed is a small, succulent plant that has a smooth stem with a line of hair running along with it like a horse’s mane. It has a tiny white flower with 10 petals (in five directions). In fact, M. Grieve writes that “It has been said that there is no part of the world where Chickweed is not to be found…it has naturalized itself anywhere that man has settled” and I have found this to be the case in many places that I have visited. Here, it is a plant that you find both in urban and wild areas–I find it here near the edges of sidewalks, around telephone poles, growing graciously in the lawns, or tucked into the edges of the woods.
Chickweed is a Healing, Tonic Food
Chickweed it is an extremely nutritive, healing food. We, herbalists, call this a “tonic” food; it’s when a plant is both medicinal and edible, and when you eat it, it is restorative to multiple systems in the body. Chickweed is the reason we call food medicine and medicine food. Chickweed is very nutrient-dense, like many delicious wild foods, and is high in Vitamins A, B, C, Magnesium, Manganese, Zinc, Calcium, Phosphorous, and potassium, among others. It also helps the metabolism, broadly, to more effectively eliminate waste and soothe inflammation. It can be consumed moderately and with effect.
Chickweed Pesto: You can make a chickweed pesto that is nutritive and delicious.
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 cup of chickweed (or more)
- Small handful of garlic mustard (also abundant and easy to find) or 2 cloves garlic
- Walnuts or pine nuts
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- Optional: 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
This delicious pesto can be used in all sorts of ways: tossed in noodles, baked into bread, as a sandwich spread, as a dipping sauce for treats. You can freeze this (I like to freeze it in an ice cube tray and once frozen, put it in a bag so I can pull out a few cubes at a time). Then you can enjoy it all year, even when chickweed is not in season.
Chickweed Salad: I also like to make a salad with various spring ephemerals (garlic mustard, dandelion greens, chickweed). Make sure you chop the chickweed up pretty good. Raw, it tastes a lot like a mild corn silk. Toss it the greens with a vinaigrette and enjoy!
The Healing of Chickweed
Chickweed is a first-rate herbal plant ally, helping with a number of conditions. Chickweed is a demulcent (that is, it coats and soothes dry or inflamed tissues); is cooling (addressing hot conditions, like burns or inflammation). It is also an alterative, working broadly on the metabolism to help the body more effectively absorb and use nutrients and more fully eliminate waste. As a gentle tonic plant, it can help rebuild these systems over time.
Chickweed is considered a “slimming remedy” for those that specifically have underactive thyroid issues. It has a folk reputation for being a “slimming remedy” when underactive thyroid is a cause of weight gain. But more broadly, because it works with the metabolism, it also supports digestive processes.
Most people use Chickweed as a skin healer—in fact, in many Amish stores in my area, you will see chickweed salve for sale! It is particularly good for any dry and inflamed skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or the may minor bites, cuts, scrapes, brush burns, bee stings and so on. It pretty much works for any skin conditions that are dry and inflamed—although because it is demulcent, you don’t want to use it for damp or mucus laden skin conditions. You can use it fresh as a poultice for this purpose (and combine it with plantain for added effect). You can also make an amazing salve from it. A fresh poultice of chickweed is good for poison ivy issues as well.
I want to stress that in all of the medicinal actions I’m describing above, chickweed is an extremely gentle plant. She is powerful, yes, but in a gentle and soothing way. I kind of see her like a friendly old grandmother who has a careful touch, yet powerful knowledge and healing ability.
Chickweed Healing Salve
Here is my recipe for a simple chickweed healing salve, which you can make and use for at least a year or more. It is fantastic on burns, scrapes, sunburns, bug bites, cuts, etc.
Harvesting plants: Pick some chickweed in a place where it is safe to gather (not from a yard that is sprayed, for example; see my post on foraging for more on how to harvest safely). Please be very careful where you gather chickweed–it is often in places other things can’t grow that are typically sprayed. For added medicinal effect, also pick some plantain and add this to your mixture! The two of these combined are really stellar.
Ingredients and materials
- 1 cup chickweed (or 1/2 cup plantain, 1/2 cup chickweed); more is even better
- High-quality olive oil (about a cup)
- Double-boiler with a lid
- Small jars to place salve in
Begin by cleaning your chickweed (wash it off, and garble it to make sure nothing else is in there; sometimes speedwell can look very similar). Lay it out on a towel to dry. You will want to wilt it for a few days–let it sit on a counter or table for 24-48 more hours before continuing the recipe. If you are using plantain, treat the plantain like the chickweed.
Chop up your chickweed/plantain fairly finely and place in a double boiler. Bring your water to a boil, and then keep it on low, infusing for at least 24 hours (if you have to turn the heat off for a few hours while you leave the house, that’s OK). Beware of using a crock pot for this–crock pots typically get too hot and fry your plant matter. You want it infusing, not frying! If you don’t have a double boiler, you can place it in the sun for about 10 days infused in the oil. Make sure the oil fully covers your plant matter. I just prefer the double boiler method for the reason described in the next paragraph.
Chickweed is a very wet plant, so you need to make sure the water is getting out of the mixture. This is why we wilted it! Water will make your salve go rancid very quickly. You can do this by putting a lid on your double boiler for about 10 min and then lifting it, seeing if there is condensation. As long as there is condensation, there is still water in the mixture. This is ok–you just need to be aware of it.
After you are done with your mixture, let it cool and then strain it into a clear glass jar. I usually put the strainer on top of the jar and let the oil drip out. Squeezing it is sure to bring water into the mixture, which you don’t want. Let the mixture settle overnight–if there is water in it, it will look like little bubbles on the bottom. Pour your oil back into your double boiler. When you pour it off, avoid those bubbles and pour off only oil.
Reheat your oil gently in the double boiler and add beeswax (I would start with 2 tbsp to a cup of oil). You can add as much wax as you want—the more wax, the thicker your salve will be. You can check the thickness by dropping a tiny bit of the salve onto a cold spoon (put the spoon in the freezer for 5 min). Once you are happy with the thickness, you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil if you’d like and then pour it into small tins. It will keep a year or more this way, and can be used for many purposes. It also makes nice gifts!
The Magic of Chickweed
Chickweed might be a humble, gentle plant, but she packs a magical punch. I have spent a lot of time working with this plant over the last few years, and one of the things that I realized is that she is a very potent magical plant, emphasizing protection and healing. In fact, I’d argue magical symbolism is drawn from her botanical features (see image above). I came to this conclusion not by reading through herbals (although they certainly have a lot to say about the matter), but through my own powers of observation.
One of the things we have around here a lot are barn signs; these are painted signs, called Hex signs, that people placed on their barns to ward off evil or to encourage the good to come in. They primarily come out of the Pennsylvania Dutch magical tradition. So many of these signs feature a pentacle or ring ray of petals facing outward–just like chickweed. Here’s one such barn sign (left) that I think looks a lot like the petals of a chickweed plant.
When you look at the chickweed itself, close up (see photo, below), the petals themselves are paired and shoot off in five rays. The sepals (the small leaves right behind the petals) form a pentagram. The pistil is shaped almost like a triskele. So much magical symbolism is present here, in this tiny, unassuming flower. Culpepper puts chickweed as under the dominion of the moon.
I have come to understand chickweed as an extremely protective and potent plant. I very much welcome in it in the beds around my house, and cultivate it when it appears–its protective, healing energy is always welcome. She is an excellent guardian, functioning quite similarly to those barn signs of old, quiet and yet potent protection for all who cultivate and welcome her.
New Herbalism Blog: Star and Thorn Botanicals
I wanted to end this post by telling you about the herbalism blog I have started–this is a joint effort between myself and my sister, Briel (who is also a practicing herbalist). You can visit the blog here. It will cover a variety of different herbal techniques and plants, drawing upon traditional western herbalist practices. I’ll post wild foods and these kinds of magically-enriched posts here, however, still :). Please check it out!