Mother Earth Living

Herb to Know: Chickweed

By Betsy Strauch
June/July 1998
Add to My MSN

Photograph by J. G. Strauch, Jr.

Content Tools

Related Content

The Herbal Artist: 3 Annual Herbs for Stress Relief

Reduce stress with these three fabulous annuals. These herbs for stress relief are easy to grow and ...

Kids and Gadgets: The Effects of Electronic Media on Developing Brains

Before handing your kid a gadget just to shut him up, learn about the long-term effects electronic m...

How Will Technology Affect Today's Children Tomorrow

Jessica contemplates how growing up with technology affects children today and how it will affect th...

Battle Stress With Herbs

Guest blogger, Randy Buresh, knowns that life can be stressful. He provides a list of herbs to help ...

• Stellaria media
• (Stuh-LARE-ee-uh MEE-dee-uh)
• Family Caryophyllaceae
• Annual herb

Widely known and despised as a weed, chickweed (Stellaria media) is also a nourishing salad green or potherb that’s available almost year-round in much of the country. It’s called chickweed because chickens love to eat the leaves and seeds, but it might just as well have been called rabbit­weed or goldfinchweed or quailweed—a long list of animals find it tasty. The generic name Stellaria comes from the Latin word stella, “star”, from the shape of the flowers; media is Latin for “medium”, referring to the size of the plant.

The genus Stellaria comprises about 120 species of annual and perennial herbs found throughout the world. S. media, probably native to Eurasia and now found wherever Europeans have traveled, is a low-growing annual (or sometimes a short-lived perennial) that may produce as many as five generations in a single growing season.

Chickweed’s weak, brittle, sprawling, pale green stems up to 2 feet long are much branched and slightly swollen at the nodes. A line of tiny hairs runs up one side of each stem, shifting to a different side at each node. Pairs of small oval leaves with sharply pointed tips emerge at each node; the lower ones have long stalks.

Minute, starry white flowers, solitary or in small clusters at ends of branches and stems, bloom from February to December. (A folk belief holds that if the flowers are open, it won’t rain for at least four hours.) Each flower has five petals, which are so deeply cleft there appear to be ten, and five sepals, which are longer than the petals. Flowers may have three, five, or ten stamens. They are mainly self-pollinated.

The reddish brown kidney-shaped seeds may be dispersed by the wind or by animals that eat them; passage through an animal’s digestive tract often doesn’t hurt their viability. Plants also spread by rooting where nodes touch the ground.

To humans, chickweed tops taste slightly of raw corn but otherwise have hardly any taste. As a salad ingredient, they add a delicate texture and temper the bite of more assertive greens such as dandelion and mustard. To serve as a potherb, cook chickweed only a few seconds to preserve its structure and nutritive value. Chickweed’s high vitamin and mineral content supports its former use as a scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) preventive.

Medicinal Uses For Chickweed

Chickweed, which also contains mucilage and saponins, was believed to have numerous medicinal uses. Teas made from the tops have been taken to relieve constipation, rheumatism and gout, blood disorders, and respiratory ailments including tuberculosis. The tea also has been diet fare: drinking it was thought to cause weight loss by promoting urination. In addition, the fresh tops have been made into poultices to alleviate itching and inflammation of eyes, skin, and hemorrhoids.

Science has confirmed that chickweed inhibits the growth of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis but has not supported any of its other folk uses.

Growing Chickweed

Chickweed is easily grown from seed, but it’s probably already growing in your yard. To encourage it, give it good garden soil and water it regularly. It thrives in sun or shade. To harvest it, snip the tops with scissors or save the plants you pull while weeding.


• Abundant Life Seed Foundation, PO Box 772, Port Townsend, WA 98368. (360) 385-5660. Catalog $2.
• Horizon Herbs, PO Box 69, Williams, OR 97544-0069. (541) 846-6704. Catalog free. Seeds.
• Richters, Goodwood, ON, Canada L0C 1A0. (905) 640-6677. Catalog free. Seeds and dried herb.

Previous | 1 | 2 | Next

Post a comment below.


Subscribe today and save 58%

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living!

Welcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.