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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

PEARLWORTS OF CULPEPER: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF UPRIGHT CHICKWEED AND (BIRDEYE) PEARLWORT


Sagina procumbens, birdeye pearlwort

UPRIGHT CHICKWEED, MOENCHIA ERECTA AND (BIRDEYE) PEARLWORT, SAGINA PROCUMBENS 
 In Nicholas Culpeper’s time, the 17th century, these plants were both in the Sagina genus. Now, however the upright chickweed or pearlwort as he called it has been moved to the Moenchia genus. Sagina procumbens lies along the ground and trails, annoying gardeners who want to have immaculate lawns without tufts of this plant in them. This plant is difficult to distinguish in its natural state as it doesn’t grow very tall – around two centimeters high.
  Upright chickweed, on the other hand can grow to the dizzying height of ten centimeters, although it is usually smaller. Its green sepals and white petals make it an unusually pretty plant.
Upright chickweed
   Both plants belong to the Carophyllaceae family and so are related to carnations, cloves, common sand spurry, the now rare corn cockle and wallflowers. The pearlwort is found all over the Northern hemisphere although the upright chickweed is native to Europe, including the British Isles and was introduced to North America and Australia. It is not yet classed as one of the invasive weeds in those countries however. Sagina procumbens is native to North America and can also be found in parts of the South American continent.
  It has been reported that the upright chickweed was at one time hung over doorways in one of the Inner Hebridean islands off the coast of Scotland, as it was believed to ward off evil and bring good luck.
  The 17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper had this to say of both plants which he called Pearlworts in the same Sagina genus: -
upright chickweed
  “Government and virtues. The Moon governs these little plants, but the knowledge of their virtues is not supported upon the authority of experience, but very considerable ones are attributed to them. They are said to be powerful diuretics, and good against the gravel and stone, taken in the form of an expressed juice, or in a strong infusion. The opinion of dissolvents of the stone, is at this time over: but while it remained in credit, and the several kinds of saxifrage were supposed to possess it, these plants had their share in character.”
  Of course, these days they are not used for their health benefits, perhaps because they are so easily overlooked.

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