Right below our feet grows a green treasure that often goes unnoticed: chickweed. This so-called “weed” is common in temperate climates, but its short stature and humble flowers make it easy to overlook. Chickweed grows abundantly in nutrient-rich areas like garden beds, greenhouses, compost piles, and other nooks and crannies across the yard. This small, earth-hugging plant has tiny, white flowers that resemble stars, hence the plant’s Latin name, Stellaria media, which means “in the midst of stars.” It's a fitting moniker for such a stellar plant medicine.
Photo by Sarah Baldwin
When it comes to herbs, the line between food and medicine can be blurry, and chickweed definitely qualifies as both. It’s a tasty, wild green that is slightly salty without a trace of bitterness. The plant makes a delicious addition to salads and often volunteers alongside cultivated greens like kale and lettuce. A versatile food, chickweed can also be used as a cooked green in stir-fries, soups, omelets, and more. While most modern folks consider this plant a pesky weed, during World War II it was encouraged in American victory gardens as an easy-to-grow green that survives cool temperatures.
This green goody is deeply nutritive, providing abundant vitamins and minerals. According to Mark Pederson in Nutritional Herbology, chickweed is high in calcium, chlorophyll, cobalt, zinc, copper, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese, silica, and vitamins A and C. Chickweed also contains over 20 percent protein, and it's a nice plant to munch on while working in the garden to help stave off hunger. What’s more, chickweed increases the permeability of mucous membranes, promoting better absorption of nutrients from the digestive tract. This makes it a good food for those who tend toward anemia or malnourishment as well as folks recovering from illness.
As a medicinal plant, chickweed’s cooling effects help soothe fever, infection, and inflammation. A poultice of the fresh plant is useful for inflammatory conditions like insect stings, wounds, acne, cysts, blisters, rashes, and inflamed eyes. In her book Healing Wise, Susun Weed recommends eating chickweed regularly to improve thyroid function, dissolve reproductive cysts, soothe a chronically inflamed urinary tract, and ease myriad digestive issues from constipation and hemorrhoids to ulcers and stomach cancer.
Photo by Sarah Baldwin
According Maude Grieve's famed 1931 book, A Modern Herbal, chickweed is an old-wives’ remedy for weight loss. The plant contains saponins, soap-like compounds that can dissolve excess fat from the system. One study found that chickweed juice was able to suppress the accumulation of body weight, liver weight, and cholesterol in mice fed a high-fat diet. In The Earthwise Herbal, Matthew Wood attests to chickweed’s weight loss properties and lists cellulite, high cholesterol, and fat deposits like lipomas as indications for the plant.
As you can see, there are many reasons to make friends with this versatile herb! Foraging for wild foods provides many essential nutrients missing from the modern diet in a way that the body can absorb better than most manufactured supplements. It’s also an inexpensive way to eat plenty of greens, connect with nature, and make healthy living part of your regular routine.
One of my all-time favorite ways to eat chickweed is in smoothies, so I’ve included a recipe below. An easy way to preserve the plant is to put it in a food processor or blender, adding just enough water to blend. Once blended, fill ice cube trays with the green mash and then freeze and store them in freezer bags. Then you can add these chlorophyll cubes to smoothies during hot months when chickweed is not as abundant.
• 2 large handfuls (about 2 oz.) chickweed
• 1 1/2 c. unsweetened coconut milk
• 1 c. carrot juice
• 1 banana
• 1 apple
• 1 avocado
• 4-5 oz. strawberries
• 3 oz. frozen raspberries (or berry blend)
1. In a blender, add coconut milk, banana, apple, and chickweed. Blend until combined.
2. Turn off the blender to add carrot juice and avocado; blend until combined.
3. Add strawberries and frozen raspberries and blend well, adding more liquids (coconut milk, carrot juice, or water) if needed. This recipe makes two 24-ounce smoothies.
Sarah Baldwin is immersed in the world of herbalism, writing and teaching about the physical and spiritual benefits of healing plants. She is the author of The Herbal Healing Deck, an earthy and mystical oracle deck featuring guidance and wisdom from medicinal plants. Sarah is a regular contributor to Plant Healer Magazine and The Herbarium and has also written course material for The Herbal Academy. Her interests include gardening, yoga, meditation, dance, and music.