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Wednesday, March 2, 2011
CHICKWEED-A USEFUL HERB FOR HEALTH: MEDICINAL BENEFITS AND HOW TO USE CHICKWEED
Chickweed is known by a variety of other names including Starweed, Passerina, and Winterweed. In Welsh it is A Gwylydd y Dom (the sentinel or watchman). It grows almost everywhere in temperate regions, in the North Arctic, and the Indian subcontinent. It has star-like white flowers which droop their heads in heavy rain, and whose leaves move closer to each other at night to protect the new leaf buds and shoots. It isn’t sensitive to the touch however as is Tickle Me.
It has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, and there is an old wives tale that says that it controls obesity. It does have mildly laxative effects and is a diuretic, so stops water retention, but somehow it seems a little over-optimistic to claim that it can control obesity.
Like chamomile and marigolds it is useful for skin problems when applied to the affected areas in a poultice and it has a cooling effect and stops itching. The bruised leaves can be applied directly to the skin to relieve inflammation etc. It can be found in skin care products and the tisane is also useful for applying to irritated skin. To make this you need 2 tbsps of the fresh plant to 1 cup of boiling water, and pour this over the herb. Leave the herb to steep for 15-20 minutes then strain and drink. If you drink this regularly for a period of 6 weeks you should notice an improvement in your general health as it clears the body of toxins. It is rich in vitamin C so helps if you are susceptible to colds and coughs. Don’t drink too much though as it has a mild laxative effect and could cause diarrhoea.
It might have got its name, chickweed because birds love it as Gerard notes writing in the 16th century. “Little birds in cadges (especially Linnets*) are refreshed with the lesser Chickweed when they loath their meat whereupon it was called by some ‘Passerine’”
*Linnets are song birds that were often kept in cages during the Renaissance.
All birds love to eat its seeds and the young tops and leaves. It is good for people too being full of minerals such as zinc, iron, manganese, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, selenium silica, magnesium and sodium. Chickweed is a good source of Gamma-Linoleic Acid (GLA) which is an Omega-6 fatty acid derivative. GLA is recommended for skin problems and hormone imbalance such as occurs during PMT/PMS and for arthritis. It is also responsible for clearing congested lungs and it has anti-inflammatory actions. Apart from being helpful for these things, GLA also reduces the negative effects of drinking too much alcohol, and is good to stop water retention.
Chickweed also contains the flavonoid rutin the B-complex vitamins and beta-carotene which is converted to vitamin A.
The tisane will clam the stomach, and in the Indian subcontinent it is used for indigestion. When applied externally it will relieve pain very quickly and is good for rheumatic pains in the joints. It is best collected from May-July and can be laid out flat to dry in the sun, or hung in a warm sunny place. It can be boiled and used with young dandelion leaves in a salad or even made into pesto (see pine nuts). It flowers from March through to autumn when the seeds form in a capsule. These are shaken out of their pod by the wind and scatter so that the plant reseeds itself.
Gerard says “the leaves of Chickweed boyled in water very soft, adding thereto some hog’s grease, the powder of Fenugreek and Linseed and a few roots of Marsh Mallow …” and made into a poultice, “ taketh away the swelling of the legs or any other part, in a word it comforteth, digesteth and suppurateth very notably.”
The chopped plant may be boiled in ghee or lard to make an ointment for cooling piles and sores and other skin problems, used externally.
Culpeper writing in his Herbal in the 17th century says that Chickweed is a “fine, soft, pleasing herb.” And recommends the juice or distilled water “for all heat and redness of the eyes…as also into the ears…It helpeth the sinews when they are shrunk by cramps or otherwise…” he also recommends the juice for “wheals, itch or scabs” and suggests that the bruised leaves made into a poultice should be placed on the liver region to “temper the heat of the liver.”
Little research has been done into Chickweed’s properties yet, but it seems as though this is another common weed that we could use to our benefit.