Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Meet Stellaria media – Chickweed

A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown –
Who ponders this tremendous scene –
This whole Experiment of Green –
As if it were his own.
- Emily Dickinson 

Meet Stellaria media  Chickweed


Family: Caryophyllaceae

Charming Stellaria media, the common star, is another non-native botanical – introduced from Europe – that has made itself quite comfortable and welcomed in North America.  It’s also made itself at home throughout Asia.

But calling this plant “it” doesn’t resonate with me, so I’m shifting that up here…

My experience with this little plant is that her seeds germinate in late winter, she flourishes, flowers, and goes to seed in spring, well before summer is even in our thoughts. In summer, when so many other botanicals are busy flourishing, chickweed is rarely seen. Yet, when those other plants mature and begin their waning, chickweed returns.

Maude Grieve describes chickweed like this:

“The stem is procumbent and weak, much branched, often reaching a considerable length, trailing on the ground, juicy, pale green and slightly swollen at the joints. Chickweed is readily distinguished from the plants of the same genus by the line of hairs that runs up the stem on one side only, which when it reaches a pair of leaves is continued on the opposite side. The leaves are succulent, egg-shaped, about 1/2 inch long and 1/4 inch broad, with a short point, pale green and quite smooth, with flat stalks below, but stalkless above. They are placed on the stem in pairs. The small white star-like flowers are situated singly in the axils of the upper leaves. Their petals are narrow and deeply cleft, not longer than the sepals. They open about nine o'clock in the morning and are said to remain open just twelve hours in bright weather, but rain prevents them expanding, and after a heavy shower they become pendent instead of having their faces turned up towards the sun, though in the course of a few days rise again. The flowers are already in bloom in March and continue till late in the autumn. The seeds are contained in a little capsule fitted with teeth which close up in wet weather, but when ripe are open and the seeds are shaken out by each movement of the plant in the breeze this being one of the examples of the agency of the wind in the dispersal of seeds, which is to be seen in similar form in the capsules of poppy, henbane, campion and many other common plants.
The Chickweed is also an instance of what is termed the 'Sleep of Plants,' for every night the leaves approach each other, so that their upper surfaces fold over the tender buds of the new shoots, and the uppermost pair but one of the leaves at the end of the stalk are furnished with longer leafstalks than the others, so that they can close upon the terminating pair and protect the tip of the shoot.”

The vernal darling, chickweed, creates a creeping yet matting groundcover.

As a backyard farmer, I do my best to harvest this little wild one before my chickens do, to use in spring salads, soups (a simple chickweed ‘n’ miso with Egyptian onion being a early spring ritual), and the occasional pesto.

If you are blessed to know someone with a cow field, request their permission to forage there, for I have discovered the most robust chickweed (among other botanicals) growing in such places.

Around these parts two “chickweeds” are common, the Stellaria media (cool and smooth) that we’re addressing here as well as Cerastium fontanum (warmer and fuzzy).

Harvest: Aerial parts. Spring and autumn (or whenever you discover the fresh, vibrant growth of this little contrary plant). The leaves, stems, flowers and seeds are all used as Food and Medicine.

Taste: Sweet and bitter

Humors: Cool and damp (much like her preferred environment).

Actions: Demulcent, refrigerant, promotes healthy tissue growth 

Constituents: Coumarins, saponins, and others.
Nutrients: Chlorophyll, minerals (calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc), vitamins (A – from carotenes, B vitamins – folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, C) and others.

Contraindications: Rare allergies.


Uses:

Internal

I consider the charming Stellaria to be yet another mineral-rich Food, and its saponins help us to absorb and use those nutrients.

Saponin-rich chickweed also supports the breakdown (and ultimate elimination) of unwanted matter like catarrh, digestive mucus, bacteria, and even fat cells. It’s also supportive in dissolving cysts (with an apparent affinity for ovarian cysts) and benign tumors.

Susun Weed suggests regular and consistent use of FPM tincture (1 dropper full, 2-3 times a day) over time (up to 16-monts) to dissolve ovarian cysts.

Chickweed has a long tradition of use for cooling, soothing and whisking away many an infection and inflammation. Over the years I’ve known of two folks who’ve praised its internal and external use for calming their rosacea, though that result isn’t consistent with everyone, but I’m still seeking folks to use it this way to see if we can spot some telling pattern!

It has a long-time folk reputation for supporting weight management.

It’s considered to be supportive to the lymphatic system, much like calendula, as a gentle lymph-mover, though I’ve never used it in this way, perhaps because I generally have more calendula with which I make tincture for this use. But, if I didn’t have calendula, I’d certainly give this a go!

Gerard said of chickweed, “the leaves of Chickweed boyled in water very soft, adding thereto some hog's grease, the powder of Fenugreeke and Linseed, and a few roots of Marsh Mallows, and stamped to the forme of Cataplasme or pultesse, taketh away the swelling of the legs or any other part . . . in a word it comforteth, digesteth, defendeth and suppurateth very notably.”

As I passed through my menopausal gate, my body simply wanted to be heavier. For me, I’m confident that a need for grounding was involved here (that’s a story for another time). But one of the folk-uses for this plant, as a long-brew infusion (or tincture), is for supporting weight (specifically fat cell) loss, and while I didn’t much care about this at the time, I may at some point in the future, for chickweed has a tradition of use among the matriarchs (or crones, if you prefer).

Finally, between her common name, nutrients and actions, I tend to associate her with sacral chakra energies. Culpepper associates her with the moon… and I

External

I appreciate chickweed worked into an infused oil. I use it as is, or processed into a balm for all things itchy. While my go-to for itchy situations is plantain, this is my number-two, and I’ve known many moms over the years who swear by it for preventing and treating diaper rash.

I have blended chickweed oil with calendula oil for itchy, rashes that manifest in those “places where the sun don’t shine” (quoted words lovingly stolen from herbalist, Matthew Wood). While calendula alone is most often sufficient for managing these dark, dank challenges, the addition of chickweed (or plantain) oil really quiets the symptom of itch and, in turn, supports the whole of the healing process.

The fresh plant makes a fine poultice for wounds and infections. Susun Weed says that it’s a favored application for managing pink eye in kids.

Dance with Stellaria media  – Chickweed


Make these things and more! Ignite your imagination, intuition, and inspiration to nurture a meaningful relationship with this lovely and generous little botanical!

Spring Miso Soup. This is an annual tradition of time. It’s usually my “first” Stellaria preparation.

Any soup, stew or braising medium.

Pesto.

Spring frittata. Oh yeah. Along with other wild harvests. ::nods::

Fresh, in salads.

Dehydrated– as out-of-season leaf additions to foods, teas, as well as for powdering to use as a condiment and garnish.

Frozen – for out-of-season additions to foods and topical treatments.

Infused Vinegar – for a mineral-rich Food supplement that's delicious on salads, in soups, etc.

Infused Oil – As is, for topical use, in balms and soap making. Here’s a link to a balm recipe from Rosalee dela Forět. And remember, this is just one method to make a balm.

Tincture – Fresh Plant Matter (FPM) is recommended by Susun Weed, yet other herbalists make and use a Dry Plant Matter (DPM) tincture. So… play, experience and see what you discover.


resources:   Rosalee de la Foret
                            Susun Weed, Chickweed Is a Star
                            John Gerard’s Herbal
                            A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. Maude Grieve
                            Culpepper’s Complete Herbal
                            Personal notes from multiple sources

                            Personal experience.


No comments: