Chickweed (Stellaria media) is one of the very first plants of spring. It sprouts up while temperatures are still quite cold and snow is still on the ground in patches.
It’s also called chickenwort because it’s a free source of tasty early spring chicken food, and winterweed because it grows year-round in milder climates. Though “winterweed” is cold hardy, the plant is actually quite delicate. You can break off individual stalks and leaves easily, and it makes a tender addition to salads.
Beyond being a tasty spring edible, it’s also a medicinal plant.
To identify chickweed, look for a low-growing plant mat of intertwining plants with small white flowers. It tends to intertwine as it grows, creating a tangled mat, but individual plants are only about 6 to 10 inches long.
It grows just about everywhere, and it can be difficult to eradicate from your garden. It grows everywhere, and can also be found in lawns, pastures, waste areas and even in the forest.
Chickweed flowers have 5 white petals, but the petals are divided in the middle and the indentation goes so deep that it looks like they have 10 very tiny petals until you look closely.
The herb’s Latin name, Stellaria media actually comes from the fact that the tiny white flowers resemble stars.
Chickweed leaves are oval with pointed tips, and they can be just slightly hairy. The leaves come in opposite pairs, alternating directions. A single pair of leaves will point north/south across the stem, and then the next pair of leaves will point east/west.
Chickweed stems have hairs as well, with a line of hairs going up one side of the stem. Unlike other similar plants, the stems do not exude a milky sap when broken.
Chickweed is often used for digestive problems, and it can help with constipation and stomach issues. Since it has laxative properties, chickweed tea is sometimes recommended for weight loss, but any weight loss would be temporary, so it’s not really practical. Topically, it’s used for skin conditions and it can be made into creams and ointments for psoriasis, itching and dry skin.
The soothing properties of this gentle herb are more than just skin deep, and it’s also used internally for soothing inflammatory issues such as arthritis and joint pain. Since it’s both soothing and mildly diuretic, it’s a common treatment for urinary tract infections.
Though the evidence is anecdotal, it’s said to be a good remedy for hot flashes, but only if it’s taken daily.
Chickweed Medicinal Uses
While you can just eat it fresh from the garden, if you want to preserve its medicinal benefits for later use, try making it into any of these herbal medicines.
Start typing chickweed into your search engine and you might see chickweed for weight loss in the autocomplete. Chickweed Tea has been promoted as a weight loss aid, and there’s anecdotal evidence that it suppresses appetite.
Studies show that chickweed is an effective laxative, but there’s nothing to support its use as an appetite suppressant. Taking chickweed for weight loss may seem tempting, but any weight loss drinking chickweed tea will probably be due to its temporary laxative effects.
Though it may not be the best for weight loss, chickweed tea is tasty in its own right. It’s taken traditionally for stomach issues, and to help move things along in your bowels. Chickweed tea is also high in vitamin C, so it’ll give you a bit of a boost if you’re feeling a spring cold coming on.
Chickweed infused in apple cider vinegar makes a great spring tonic or addition to salad dressing. Chickweed vinegar can also be used medicinally as a chickweed bath vinegar.
Chickweed is used for itchy, dry or irritated skin and by infusing it in apple cider vinegar you can soothe your skin while helping to balance skin pH with apple cider vinegar.
Chickweed Infused Oil
Fresh chickweed herb can be made into a soothing herbal-infused oil. The oil itself can be applied directly to the skin to treat irritation, or it can be made into a salve, ointment, cream or lotion. The finished infused oil can be made into a soothing soap, or you can use the dried herb as they do in this soap recipe.
A chickweed salve is made by mixing infused oil with an emulsifying wax, such as beeswax, to thicken it and make it easier to store and apply. It’s often mixed with other herbs, like in this herbal diaper rash salve or this gardener’s hand salve.
When made into a tincture, it can be used to treat inflammatory conditions like arthritis, gout and hemorrhoids. The same tincture can also be used externally as a treatment for acne.
The gentle soothing herb is used as a folk remedy for hot flashes during menopause, but it needs to be taken daily to have an effect. A tincture is a great way to ensure you have a year-round supply for daily use.
Beyond its medicinal properties, the tender yet crisp leaves are just downright tasty for fresh eating. It can be added to spring salads or eaten out of hand while you’re out in the garden. It has a very mild taste, and my husband says it tastes just like those juicy tiny microgreens you can find topping salads at a fancy restaurant.
Since the flavor is so mild, this spring green is a great choice for foraging with kids. My 1-year-old son can’t get enough of it.
The tender leaves wilt very quickly after harvest, often spoiling within hours, so it’s best to use them immediately. Try making it into a pesto if you want to save it for later use.