Welcome to another installment of The Herbal Series! Today, we’re talking about another widely available early spring herb known as chickweed.
Chickweed is often coming on even before the snow has completely subsided, making it one of the earliest spring forageables. But what makes it particularly easy to forage is the fact that you can find it just about anywhere: your yard, pastureland, or in the woods. If you know what you’re looking for, you can find it just about anywhere!
I am not a doctor and do not recommend any remedies in any way as an alternative to medical care. If you are having serious health problems, be sure to consult a physician.
Chickweed is fairly easy to identify. The white flowers have what look to be ten tiny petals, but if you look more closely, you’ll see it’s actually five petals with a deep divide that goes nearly to the center of the flower.
The leaves have an oval shape, coming to a point on the ends, and they have “opposite facing pairs,” which means each leaf will have another directly across from it. Both stems and leaves will have a lightly hairy texture, and when the stems are broken, they do not produce a milky substance as some similar plants will.
The plant, as a whole, grows low to the ground in a kind of intertwined mat that can easily take over if left to grow. Those who do not use it for its edible and medicinal purposes might find it hard to remove for good.
A Bit of Chickweed History
A native European plant, chickweed is now found extensively across North America and was extensively used by Native Americans. They used it freely to treat cold and flu symptoms, sore throats, coughs, and other respiratory problems. They also used it as an effective remedy to heal wounds.
In Europe, it was used for many of the same purposes, but included treatment for indigestion, asthma, and bronchitis. Sailors even used it to fend off scurvy, as it has a high vitamin C content.
Nutritional Benefits of Chickweed
Nutritionally speaking, chickweed is full of beneficial attributes. It contains the following:
- Ascorbic acid
While the flavor is a bit on the bland side, it’s a great addition to salads, soups, and stews and can be used as an herbal addition to various recipes. If you plan to harvest these plants for food, make sure to cut them near the base of the leaves and remove any leaves that aren’t in prime condition. If they are droopy, brown, black, or show signs of damage, remove them.
You can keep chickweed in water at room temperature if you plan to eat them in 24 hours or less. It’s always best to only harvest when you’re ready to eat or process them so you can take advantage of the freshness.
When used in much the same way as other types of greens, there are various ways you can add chickweed to your diet. Mix them with kale, collards, mustard greens, or spinach. Add them to sandwiches, wraps, sauces, and smoothies. Garnish quiches, omelets, and frittatas. And don’t forget to toss some into your stews and soups.
Chickweed is often used in herbal remedies, especially to support digestive health, reduce inflammation, and improve skin health. It is known to have astringent properties as well and works to prevent damage from free radicals. As a natural diuretic, chickweed is particularly beneficial in treating bladder and kidney infections.
The plant is often used to treat the following:
- Skeletal health
- Swollen joints
- Kidney function
- Fluid retention
To make a tea, first, let your chickweed greens and flowers dry for a couple of days. You can use one tablespoon to a cup of hot water, allowing it to steep for at least ten minutes. For optimal results, drink this tea at least three times per day for about two months.
Benefits for your skin
This plant contains many properties that make it super beneficial for your skin. It has drying and cooling effects, is an anti-inflammatory and natural astringent, and has anti-viral properties as well. When used externally, it’s great for treating:
- Cuts and scrapes
- Minor burns
- Insect bites
To get all the skin-healing benefits from the plant, you can use it in several applications. A natural salve is a great way to apply chickweed. You can also consider using it in homemade oil, tea, or fresh juice to create poultices and compresses.
To make a quick DIY skin salve, harvest the greens, including everything but the root, and let them dry for a couple of days. Chop them up nicely, toss them into a pan, and cover with olive oil. Using a very low temperature, heat gently and then let it sit, covered with a breathable cloth, for at least a week. Finally, strain through a cheesecloth or similar fabric and store, in glass, in a place that is cool and dark.
This salve can be stored easily for one year. Use it liberally on any areas that are irritated or swollen.
Are There Side-Effects of Using Chickweed?
This plant is considered completely safe to ingest and use externally in moderate amounts. However, if large quantities are consumed, it can sometimes lead to digestive issues that include upset stomach, gas, increased urination, diarrhea, cramping, and vomiting. These chances are even higher if you aren’t used to eating greens. If that’s you, start with small amounts and gradually increase your intake slowly.
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