HEALING AND HERBS

Chickweed: The Healing Star – How to Use and Formulate with Stellaria Media

Shi Yao Lian, Practitioner Buddha’s Alchemy

April 18, 2018

I was visiting my friend and surveying the first early signs of life in her garden, and we spied our trusted friend Stellaria media, already heaping masses of its untidy but dainty leaves and flowers in a shady corner. A few minutes of scooping and several armfuls later, I was home busily making Chickweed tincture and infused oil.

Chickweed can go largely unnoticed both visually and practically in the herbal world, but for such a dainty, subtle and soft-spoken herb, it has quite a variety of uses, and historically it has been acknowledged for its plethora of applications.

History and Traditional Uses

Traditional European folk uses of Chickweed were very much similar to its applications today.

Culpepper states that, “The herb bruised, or the juice applied, with cloths or sponges dipped therein to the region of the liver, and as they dry to have fresh applied, doth wonderfully temper the heat of the liver and is effectual for all impostumes and swellings whatsoever; for all redness in the face, wheals, pushes, itch or scabs, the juice being either simply used, or boiled in hog’s grease; the juice or distilled water is of good use for all heat and redness in the eyes … as also into the ears…. It helpeth the sinews when they are shrunk by cramps or otherwise, and extends and makes them pliable again,…”

Native American Indians used Chickweed for respiratory disorders and inflammations. In Europe, it was also a herb of common employment in the treatment of TB.

chickweed

Chickweed

Photograph by Dawn Bertram

Plant Basics

Plant Family: Caryophyllaceae

Species: Stellaria media is the medicinal species used in Western herbalism. Stellaria dichotoma root is used in Chinese medicine. There are over 100 Stellaria species.

Names: Starweed, Starwort, Stellaria Herbs, Indian Chickweed, Star Chickweed, Great Chickweed, Scarwort, Starwirt, Stitchwort, Adder’s Mouth, Tongue Grass, Satin Flower, Mouron des Oiseaux, White Bird’s Eye, Winterweed.

Energy: Cool and moist.

Flavors: Bitter and sweet.

Organs/Channels Affected: Lungs and Stomach in Chinese medicine, and skin, blood and digestive system in Western herbalism.

Chemistry: Chickweed contains flavonoids, anthraquinones, coumarins, saponins (which are anti-inflammatory), vitamin C, and phytosterols.

Properties and Actions: Demulcent (moisturizing and soothing), vulnerary (healing), anti-inflammatory, alterative (blood and lymph moving/clearing), expectorant, antipyretic, anti-rheumatic, laxative, analgesic, and diuretic. In TCM, Chickweed nourishes Yin, dispels Wind-Heat, transforms Phlegm, and stops coughing. In Ayurveda, Chickweed decreases Pitta and increases Kapha, and may decrease or help regulate Vata.

Stellaria media (the Western medicinal species) can be differentiated from other species by strips of hair growing in a line on just one side of each stem.

Habitat and Harvesting

Chickweed is very hardy and can be found all over the US and Canada, and as far North as Alaska and Greenland. It is often found growing next to plants like Miner’s Lettuce and Cleavers.

Chickweed can grow throughout the year, beginning in the fall, surviving the harsh Winter weather, and developing “mats” of tiny leaves, upright stems and white star-like dainty flowers in early Spring. It can quickly take over an area.

Stellaria media (the Western medicinal species) can be differentiated from other species by strips of hair growing in a line on just one side of each stem.

Scoop bunches of Chickweed up by pulling lightly, or cut near root with sheers.

chickweed

Indications and Uses

Chickweed is cooling and demulcent and primarily used to treat hot diseases and imbalances.

Skin Irritations and Inflammations: Chickweed is a fine vulnerary and can be applied as an oil, salve or poultice to affected areas to moisten, relieve itching and dryness, decrease irritation and inflammation, and heal tissues. It is useful in cases of eczema, psoriasis, carbuncles, general itchy hot rashes, abscesses, cuts, burns, hemorrhoids, wounds, erysipelas, and inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis and pink eye).

Ulcers and GI Tract Inflammations: Chickweed’s demulcent, vulnerary and cool properties make it soothing and healing for gastrointestinal ulcers and irritations when taken internally.

Respiratory Inflammations: Chickweed can be used as a demulcent and expectorant to relieve stuck phlegm and mucus, and dryness in the bronchus and lungs. It is soothing to inflamed tissues in cough and bronchitis, as well as sore throats and hoarseness. It is useful for asthma. It alleviates fever and could be a good addition to a healing regime for an upper respiratory cold with heat signs (Wind-Heat).

Lymphatic Congestion and Spring Tonic Cleansing: Chickweed is often included in Western “Spring Tonics” to help move and clear toxins in lymph, blood, and tissues after a cold, damp, stagnant Winter. This is akin to breaking up and eliminating “ama” in Ayurvedic medicine. There have been reports of Chickweed being effective for reducing phlegm type accumulations like ovarian and breast cysts, especially when used over a long period.

Bladder Irritations and Inflammations: The same properties that make Chickweed useful for other inflammations also apply here. It can help in treatment of irritation and inflammation of the bladder mucosa in conditions such as urinary tract infection and interstitial cystitis.

Weight Loss: The mechanism is not totally known, but Chickweed may assist in weight loss through it demulcent, diuretic, and laxative properties, as well as via the actions of saponins which affect cell membrane permeability and absorption of nutrients. It also accelerates the break down of fats. It is especially useful for weight gain due to hypothyroidism.

Constipation: Chickweed is effective for constipation due to its demulcent, diuretic and laxative effects, and is used especially in decreased thyroid function. It can also be applied to accompanying hemorrhoids to heal and ease itching, burning and inflammation. An old recipe calls for 3 TBSP fresh plant boiled in 1 quart of water and reduced to 2 cups. 1 cup of tea was taken every 2-3 hours until relief was obtained.

Malnourishment: Chickweed has a history of use in cases of children’s malnourishment syndromes. It is rich in Potash salts, and was said to quickly revitalize, revive and strengthen a constitution.

Fibromyalgia: In some cases, Chickweed has been found useful for treatment of related signs and symptoms due to its ability to aid mitochondrial function, thereby increasing energy supply to the cells, muscles, and bodily systems.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Chickweed is used to ease inflammation and reduce pain.

Dosage and Delivery

Chickweed can be eaten as a potherb, and traditionally this was a most common way of consumption. It blends nicely in fresh Spring salads, and can also be juiced.

Chickweed can be applied directly to external inflammations as a poultice. Simply grind/mash the herb into a pasty consistency and apply to affected area. Alternatively, chew the Chickweed into a paste.

Fresh tincture is made with the aerial parts (could also include roots) with the standard formula of 1:2 plant to alcohol ratio, at an alcohol content of 50%. Macerate for 4 weeks. Chickweed is best used fresh, and dry herb tincture or applications are thought to not be as effective. A standard dose is 20 – 75 drops up to 4 times daily.

Fresh plant infusion/tea is made at a ratio of 1:10 herb to water. Pour boiling water over the herb and steep for at least 20 minutes before straining and drinking tea. A standard dose is 1 cup three times daily.

Infused oils and salves are made beginning with a 1:3 wilted plant to oil ratio. The plant is wilted overnight, and then infused into the oil (olive, coconut or other desired oil) with the warm method (over low heat/double boiler for at least 6-8hrs, longer is better), and then strained. A salve can be made from the oil for easy external application.

Chickweed lends itself well to tincturing in vinegar, and can be mixed with other alterative and tonic herbs like Cleavers and Nettle for tasty “Spring Cleansing”. Use a 1:4 fresh herb to vinegar ratio and macerate for 4 weeks. It is nice to integrate vinegars into meals, and use them on salads or other dishes.

Healing Chickweed Salve

1 part Chickweed infused oil

1 part Plantain infused oil

1 part Comfrey infused oil

1 part Calendula infused oil

Beeswax

Essential oil (myrhh, frankincense, sandalwood or lavender)

Pour oils into a double boiler and warm gently. Add beeswax (approximately a 1:10 ratio of oil volume) and warm until dissolved into the oil. Pour a few drops of chosen essential oil into the bottom of the jar you will use. Pour oil mixture into jar. Let cool before covering with lid. Label.

chickweed

Resources:

Delleman, J (2016) Fireweed Farm and School Course Manual

Tilgner, S (2009), Wise Acres LLC, Pleasant Hills, OR, Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth

Alfs, M (2003), Old Theology Book House, New Brighton, MN, 300 Herbs Their Indications & Contradictions

Tierra, M (1998), Pocket Books, New York, NY, The Way of Herbs

Tierra, M & Tierra, L (2017), Ben Lomond, CA, East West Herb Course Section 3

Angier, B (2008), Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, Field Guide To Medicinal Wild Plants Revised & Updated

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