Monday, April 8, 2019

Medicinal Monday - Common Chickweed

Common Chickweed is a bright green annual flowering herb that appears all across North America. For many gardeners, when they see chickweed in their lawns they know it is time to start preparing for spring plantings. It is a plant that many love to hate because of the way this plant spreads and sprawls and seems to pop up everywhere. Native Americans found a use for just about everything in the natural world and not only ate common chickweed, a plant known for its' great nutritional value, they also used this plant medicinally.

About Chickweed

Chickweed is a cool weather plant native to Europe but widely naturalized in the United States and, throughout the world.  There are several closely related plants referred to as chickweed, but they lack the culinary properties of common chickweed which is in the genus Stellaria family.

Common chickweed is considered an early spring and late fall plant because it likes cool weather. When first beginning to bud, the leaves of this plant fold over the new shoots and buds to protect them at night. The flowers are oval-shaped and grow in pairs opposite one another.  The flowers consist of five white petals supported by a whorl of five green leaves.  The plant grows in dense mats that hold the soil together in the same way that cover crops do. The flowers resemble carnations because this plant is a member of the carnation family. A unique characteristic of this plant is that bears both flowers and mature seeds almost simultaneously.

Common Chickweed has hair that goes up just one side of its slender stem in a line.  The stem of the common chickweed, which can grow up to a foot and a half is elastic, so if you pull the stem apart the outer sheath will separate while the inner part stretches. Unlike its relatives, Common Chickweed doesn't have milky sap when the stem is broken.  The roots of this plant are shallow and fibrous.

Medicinal and Culinary Uses of Chickweed

In the early spring, common chickweed is a nutritional treat for Native Americans.  It added the health benefits of fresh greens to their diet before plants they cultivated were in season. Common Chickweed has a fresh and spring-like flavor and is often compared to spinach.  The leaves and tender stems could be eaten raw, boiled, and added to soups or stews. 

The Chippewa made a decoction from the leaves of the Common Chickweed and used it as a wash for sore eyes.  The Iroquois made a poultice of the entire plant and used it to treat cuts and wounds; the poultice would be applied raw and wrapped around the affected area. A tea was also made out of this plant as a kidney and liver tonic.  The Cherokee used an infusion to treat an eye infection.  In general, poultices and salves from dried, fresh or powered common chickweed were used to treat coughs, colds, hoarseness, and inflammation.

Did You Know...

A common chickweed plant can produce 2,500 to 15,000 seeds that can remain viable for more than a decade. 

Common chickweed is one of the ingredients of the symbolic dish consumed in the Japanese spring-time festival, Nanajusa-no-sekku.

Modern herbalists prescribe common chickweed for iron deficiency anemia because of its high iron content.

Stellaria is derived from the word stellar meaning star in reference to the shape of its flowers.

The name chickweed came from this herb's appeal to fowls, in particular, chickens.

The Institute for American Indian Studies

Located on 15 woodland acres the IAIS preserves and educates through archeology, research, exhibitions and programs.  We have an outdoor replicated 16th c. Algonkian Village, Wigwam Escape Room, Museum with temporary and permanent displays of authentic artifacts from prehistory to the present that allows visitors to foster a new understanding of the world and the history and culture of Native Americans. The Institute for American Indian Studies is located on 38 Curtis Road in Washington Connecticut

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