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Nutrition

Chickweed: The Edible Weed that Supports Gut, Skin & Immune Health

Chickweed - Dr. Axe

Chickweed is a fast-growing plant that has been utilized as a folk remedy for many conditions, including arthritis pains, skin conditions, such as rashes and eczema, asthma, constipation, and kidney related issues.

While there have been few reliable studies investigating chickweed benefits compared to those of other common greens, there’s reason to believe that this herb is high in antioxidants, saponins, vitamins C and A, and a number of other anti-inflammatory compounds.

Whether consumed as a tea, tincture of fresh juice, or applied to the skin as a compress or salve, chickweed can be used to help decrease swelling, pain, redness and congestion.

What Is Chickweed?

The herb called chickweed (Stellaria media), also sometimes referred to as common chickweed, is a plant native to Europe that’s used for several medicinal purposes. There are actually several different species of plants in the Stelleria genus that are called chickweed, which are members of the carnation plant family (Caryophyllaceae).

The plant earned its name due to the cluster of white flowers it produces. According to the Wild Foods and Medicines website, stellaria means “star” and media means “in the midst of.”

Other names that chickweed sometimes goes by include:

  • white bird’s eye
  • starweed
  • winterweed
  • mouse ear
  • satin flower
  • scarwor

Is chickweed safe to eat? Yes, and there’s good reason to considering it’s high in several nutrients.

You can eat it both raw and cooked, and unlike some other nutrient-dense plants, such as dandelion or mustard greens, for example, chickweed is described as having a pleasant and mild taste that is not very bitter.

How do you identify common chickweed? Chickweed species are cool weather plants (they thrive in climates between 53 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit) found throughout Europe and the U.S.

They tend to grow prolifically in sunny or partially sunny patches of grass where there’s moist soil, usually in the fall and in early spring.

Because they grow quickly and in abundance, some even consider them to be weeds, however they can make a great addition to your diet due to their supply of beneficial compounds.

Here are some tips for helping you to identify chickweed:

  • Look for succulent stems that grow up to a foot and a half. A single line of hair grows down the middle of the stem.
  • Chickweed also produces tiny white flowers throughout the growing season. The flowers grow in pods of about five white flowers and look similar to carnations. Each petal is shaped like rabbit ears, making it appear like there are 10 flowers.
  • The plant should have oval-shaped leaves that grow in pairs opposite each other. The green leaves are about a quarter inch to one and a quarter inch long.
  • If you puncture the stems and press them and pull them apart, no milky sap should come out, which distinguishes them from similar plants.

Health Benefits

What is chickweed good for? While more credible research studies are needed to confirm exactly how it can impact our health, chickweed has a number of traditional uses in herbal medicine — including reducing inflammation, increasing antioxidant intake, supporting gut health, reducing pain and improving skin health.

In addition to supplying you with many valuable nutrients, it also contains compounds called saponins, which studies suggest fight bacteria, inflammation and have astringent properties. (Saponins are also found in similar plants such as soapwort, which is also in the Caryophyllaceae plant family and has many similar uses.)

Here’s more about some of the most researched chickweed benefits:

1. Good Source of Vitamins and Antioxidants

What vitamins are in chickweed? Stellaria species are rich in nutrients including vitamins C and A, B vitamins (such as thiamine, riboflavin and niacin), magnesium, iron, calcium, and zinc. This plant even contains a decent amount of protein, as well as a good dose of fiber.

Studies have demonstrated that chickweed contains antioxidants including phytosterols, tocopherols, triterpene saponins, hentiacontanol, coumarins, organic acids and flavonoids, which have the ability to fight free radical damage.

Because it’s a great source of vitamin C and zinc, it can support overall immune system health and protect against a number of conditions, such as coughs, asthma, allergies and bronchitis.

It also benefits skeletal health thanks to its supply of calcium and magnesium, as well as skin health due to its supply of antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin A along with zinc.

2. May Have Anti-inflammatory, Pain-Reducing Effects

Stellaria plants have long been prescribed in homeopathic and traditional systems of medicine for managing painful symptoms tied to rheumatism, arthritis, PMS, digestive and respiratory issues, and more.

Depending on the symptoms it’s being used to treat, it can be taken internally as a tea or tincture, or applied topically to painful and swollen joints or areas of the skin.

Additionally, it’s been shown to have expectorant effects, meaning it may help loosen mucus and support respiratory health.

3. Can Help Support Digestion and Gut Health

Chickweed offers gut, digestive, kidney and intestinal support due to its antioxidants, fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, and due to its natural diuretic properties.

Including greens in your diet can help support overall gut health by having prebiotic effects (which “feed” beneficial probiotic bacteria), fighting oxidative stress and inflammation. This in turn facilitates functions such as nutrient absorption, detoxification and elimination.

Some use this plant to help prevent or treat constipation and stomach bloating. Due to its fiber content, it may also be filling, help control one’s appetite and encourage bowel movement regularity.

In fact, some animal studies suggest it may have certain anti-obesity effects when consumed in high doses. It’s believed it may support weight loss by delaying intestinal absorption of dietary fat and carbohydrates by inhibiting digestive enzymes.

4. Has Natural Diuretic Effects

Chickweed is considered to have mild, natural diuretic effects that support the health of the kidneys and bladder. It may help fight bladder infections and kidney-related issues, while decreasing fluid retention and swelling.

5. Has Astringent Properties and Supports Skin Health

Because it has natural astringent, anti-inflammatory, cooling and drying effects, Stellaria media has been used to support skin health in folk medicine for centuries. Popular uses include externally helping to treat issues such as:

  • rashes and itchiness (research suggests it has emollient, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties when applied to the skin)
  • sores and boils
  • cuts and scrapes
  • acne
  • eczema
  • psoriasis
  • minor burns
  • insect bites
  • splinters
  • hemorrhoids
  • varicose veins
  • wounds and ulcers

There are several ways to use this plant to soothe inflamed and itchy skin, including by making a natural salve with homemade chickweed oil or adding some brewed chickweed tea or fresh juice to compresses or poultices. For astringent and cleansing effects, a tincture may also be used on the skin.

Why does chickweed help clean, moisturize and protect the skin? In addition to its ability to reduce inflammation, it also contains steroidal saponins that form foam when combined with water.

Saponins can increase permeability of many membranes in the skin and body, helping beneficial compounds seep into the body and reduce swelling.

Risks and Side Effects

Is chickweed poisonous? No, it’s considered safe to eat and drink in moderate amounts and is also generally very safe for topical use.

Another positive is that it’s usually grown in the wild, organically and is rarely sprayed with pesticides.

What are the side effects of chickweed? Consuming it in high amounts may lead to digestive issues and other effects.

It can possibly cause an upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, gas, cramping and increased urination. If you’re not accustomed to eating greens, start with a small amount and gradually increase your intake up to about one or two cups daily.

One potential concern with eating lots of these greens is that their supply of saponins may be aggravating for some people. Excessive intake of raw greens containing saponins should be avoided, especially during pregnancy or breastfeeding — however for most people moderate amounts won’t pose a risk.

Cooking the greens is also one way to lower the saponin content.

Stick to drinking two to three cups of chickweed tea per day for several weeks at a time; then consider taking a break for one to two weeks. If using it long term, it’s a good idea to get your doctor’s opinion, especially if you have any kidney, bladder or intestine-related issues.

Uses, Dosage and Recipes

Nearly all parts of the common chickweed plant are edible, including the stems, leaves, flowers and seed pods.

If you live in a temperate climate you can easily grow chickweed in your own yard. The plants live for about six weeks and quickly germinate.

Once the greens are mature, cut the stems near the base of the leaves and remove any wilted or brown leaves.

Keep the greens at room temperature with the stems placed in a cup with water, and ideally use them within a day or so of cutting. (Some do not like to refrigerate the greens since this can cause them to wilt, however others find that they last for several days if you wrap them in a damp paper towel or place it in a plastic bag in the fridge.)

Making Chickweed Skin Salve:

As mentioned above, chickweed has soothing, cooling, hydrating and healing properties when applied to sensitive or dry skin, especially in combination with oils such as coconut or olive oil. It can help fight inflammation, cracking, wounds, boils, rashes, acne, bites and swelling due to infections.

If you can’t find chickweed salve in stores or you prefer to make your own, a DIY version is simple to prepare.

  1. First take your greens (you can use flowers, stems and leaves) and dry them on a countertop or in a basket for a day or two.
  2. Chop the greens up finely and cover with extra virgin olive oil in a pan, heating on very low. Let the mixture sit for several days at room temp, then strain with a muslin cloth and store in a glass jar in a cool, dark place.
  3. Use the oil on your skin for up to one year, applying it anywhere that is swollen or irritated.

Making Chickweed Tea and Dosage Recommendations:

While there’s no standard dosage recommendation for chickweed, most experts recommend sticking to about one to two handfuls of fresh leaves, stems and flowers per day or one to three cups of chickweed tea.

To make homemade chickweed tea, dry the greens first for one or two days. Use about heaping tablespoon per cup of hot water.

Steep the greens in very hot (not boiling) water for about 10–15 minutes before straining. To support overall health, drink about two to three cups per day for several weeks at a time.

Recipes:

You can consume chickweed either raw or cooked, much like other herbs, greens and sprouts. Here are some ways it’s used in recipes:

  • Mix it with other greens, such as spinach or kale in a salad.
  • Add a handful to a sandwich or wrap.
  • Substitute it for Swiss chard, mustard greens, collard greens, spinach, etc., in your favorite dishes.
  • Bend some into smoothies, pestos and sauces.
  • Add it to eggs, omelettes, frittatas or quiches.
  • Try some in pasta sauces, soups and stews.

Conclusion

  • Common chickweed (Stellaria media) is a plant that grows in cool climates throughout the U.S. and Europe. It’s a nutrient-rich plant that is a good source of antioxidants, vitamins A and C, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and more.
  • What is chickweed herb good for? Potential chickweed benefits include fighting inflammation and oxidative stress, decreasing pain and swelling, supporting gut and digestive health, supporting skin health, and having natural diuretic effects.
  • Nearly all parts of the common chickweed plant are edible, including the stems, leaves, flowers and seed pods. You can eat these greens both raw or cooked, such as in salads or steamed just like spinach/kale.

Source: Dr. Axe | Nutrition

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