Among the asparagus, arugula, lettuce, spinach, chives, radishes and scallions in our garden this spring, we also harvested lots of chickweed. Today, this loosely tangled mat of small oval leaves is considered a common garden weed. In the past, however, this little creeping plant was listed in herbals for its numerous health benefits.
Even if you don't have a garden, you can find Stellaria media permeating lawns and other open, shady places. The small white star-shaped flowers on bright green stems gave rise to its Latin name, stellaria. The common English name, chickweed, came about because it's favored by chickens - as well as other animals, both wild and tame. They recognize a tasty tonic! Dogs and cats often eat chickweed to soothe the digestive tract and help with the expulsion of hair balls.
This Eurasian native has now spread throughout the world. It is abundant in spring, when its lush greens are quite tender. Later, they'll be tough and scraggly, and die back during hot summer months.
Chickweed's medicinal properties have been known since the 1st century, when the Greek physician Dioscorides used it to treat eye inflammations and ear infections. In Chinese medicine it is considered a cooling herb, and Nicholas Culpeper, an English 17th century physician, treated "all pains in the body that arise of heat" with chickweed. In rural parts of Europe, it was used as a tonic for malnourished children.
Old-time herbals recommend chickweed for "convalescents, weak children, the anemic, and the old." Herbalists use it to cool inflammation and speed healing for internal or external flare-ups. Poultices of chickweed will soothe burns, rashes and dry, itchy skin irritations. Internally, it is used as an astringent, diuretic, expectorant and laxative. A tea from chickweed is brewed for chest ailments like bronchitis and coughs, as a tonic to cleanse the blood, and as an old remedy for obesity.
The herb is rich in vitamins C, A, and the B vitamins niacin, thiamine and riboflavin, as well as the minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese. It contains GLA, an important omega-6 fatty acid, as well as many flavonoids and antioxidants, including rutin, which strengthens capillaries and is helpful for bruises and varicose veins. Genistein is a powerful cancer fighter, and coumarins soothe the vascular system and may help with migraines. Chickweed is a gentle, effective laxative, and has antiviral and anti-microbial properties. It contains saponins, soapy substances that emulsify and increase the permeability of cellular membranes, thus increasing the ability to absorb minerals and other nutrients.
In the kitchen, you can add the greens raw to salads, or cook them in soups and stews. For a medicinal tea, pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 tablespoons of fresh chickweed and steep for 10 minutes. For a healthy green drink or smoothie, blend some chickweed with yogurt and fruit juice.
1 Tablespoon butter or oil
4 oz. mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups chickweed
1/3 cup cottage cheese
1 - 2 Tablespoons Cheddar or other sharp cheese
Heat butter in large skillet. Add chopped onions and mushrooms, sprinkle with salt, cover and cook on low 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add chickweed along with any water clinging to it, and cook, covered, 2 minutes to wilt slightly. Beat eggs with cheeses, pour over, cover and cook until set. Serve warm, with potatoes and a salad. Serves two to three.
1 cucumber, sliced thin
1 cup radishes, sliced thin
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chickweed
6 black olives, sliced in rings
2 Tablespoons plain yogurt
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Slice cucumbers and radishes into salad bowl. Sprinkle with salt, toss to combine, and set aside for 10 to 20 minutes.
Add chickweed and olives, and stir to combine. Fold in yogurt and feta. Taste, and adjust seasonings if needed.
Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers' Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing.
She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.