The saying goes “April showers bring May flowers”, and everywhere I look, this seems to be true. I have seen beautiful displays of spring wildflowers in gardens, roadsides, abandoned lots and nature areas. Due to the limited supply of actual “April showers” in California this year, for many of the flowering plants in our own garden, we have had to rely on a careful and judicial use of drip irrigation, combined with reclaimed household and personal wash water. However, even in the neglected and non-irrigated parts of our garden, there are drought tolerant plants thriving and blossoming. Of course, many of these drought tolerant plants are what most would consider “weeds”. However, as we discovered in the previous Seasonal Herbcrafting blog posts, many common “weeds” can actually be powerful herbal allies. This is true of Chickweed (Stellaria Media), the magical and medicinal herb we will focus on in this third and final installment of “Herbal Allies for Spring”.
Chickweed is easily recognized by her thin hairy stem, paired leaves and white star shaped flowers. The flowers, leaves and stems are traditionally harvested from March -July in the West, but can be found growing nearly year round, in many different climates (some tender leaves can even be found growing under the snow). It is said that there is no part of the world where chickweed doesn't grow- including the North Arctic regions.
Chickweed boasts 12 times more calcium, 5 times more magnesium, 83 times more iron, and 6 times more vitamin C than spinach (the most nutrient dense of the cultivated greens), and wise women and herbalists have traditionally consumed teas and salads made from fresh chickweed as one of the classic spring tonics to cleanse and build the blood. Chickweed is also an old remedy for obesity, and was extremely popular for this use in the Victorian era--eaten fresh by the leisure class in fancy salads and sandwiches. Unfortunately, Chickweed fell out of favor with the advent of the modern grocery store, as she does not take well to refrigeration.
In addition to the previously mentioned nutrients, chickweed is high in chlorophyll, manganese, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A, and several B vitamins including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamine. Chickweed also contains soapy substances, called saponins, which (like soap), emulsify and increase the permeability of cellular membranes. Consuming these saponins increases the absorption of nutrients and aids in breaking down and dissolving unwanted matter, such as bacteria, cysts, benign tumors, thickened mucus in the respiratory and digestive tracts, and excess fat cells. Chickweed has a cooling and drying effect on wounds and skin eruptions, is excellent for the skin, both internally and externally, and is a popular ingredient in salves and lotions. There are few skin conditions chickweed has not been traditionally used for- from minor burns, wounds and insect bites to acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
Spring Herbcrafting with Chickweed
Herbal First Aid: As Spring turns to summer, many of us focus our energies on outdoor pursuits. Hiking and camping is a great way to reconnect with nature and “unplug” from our digital world...it also comes with its share of bites, stings, scratches and rashes. Fresh chickweed can be used as a poultice for immediate relief, or can be made into an oil or tincture for future use.
Poultice: Poultices are your best bet for emergency first aid in nature, when chickweed is fresh at hand. Pick a small handful of the fresh herb, crush (or chew) it until juicy, and apply directly to the wound. Cover with a small towel or cloth, and leave in place until the chickweed heats up (indicating that bacteria are dying), then remove and compost the plant material. Generally, after the first application, symptoms will start to subside. However, using several more chickweed poultices, once or twice a day for several more days, will help promote full healing (Note: to avoid reintroducing bacteria, it is vitally important to use fresh chickweed for each application).
Chickweed Tincture: Chickweed Tincture on a cotton ball is one of the best ways to remove and heal a splinter, without the trauma of tweezers. You can buy tincture from a reputable supplier, but it is also easy to make if you have fresh Chickweed on hand. To make: fill any clean glass jar, large or small, with fresh, NOT dried, chopped chickweed, cover with 100 proof vodka, and infuse for 4-6 weeks, shaking occasionally (Apple cider vinegar may also be used for a non-alcohol version). Strain and store in a cool dry place. A dropper jar of Chickweed tincture is great to have in your herbal first aid kit. In addition to the healing and soothing effects of the chickweed, the alcohol (or vinegar) can help disinfect cuts and take the itch out of bug bites, and the sting out of bee stings and sunburns.
Chickweed Oil: Chickweed Oil soothes Spring sunburns, rashes and itchy skin, To make the oil: harvest fresh chickweed, let it wilt for a day or so, until it is at least half dried. Chop finely, and place it in a double boiler or crock pot. Cover the herb with extra virgin olive oil and heat on VERY low, being careful not to let the oil boil. Allow to cool fully and repeat several times – until all water in the plant has evaporated off, and the herb is fully infused into the oil (have to judge intuitively by color and smell). Strain with muslin cloth, then store in a glass jar in a cool dark place. The oil will last about a year and can be used straight or added to creams or salves.
Spring Herbal Magic: With her delicate white star-shaped flowers, Chickweed is associated with the moon, and can heighten any full moon working. Chickweed is also traditionally known as both a love and fertility herb.
- Lunar Magic: Working to bring harmony to the home and family seems particularly fitting within CAYA this month, as we celebrate the Singing Moon. Chickweed is said to bring peace and harmony to the home when the dried herb is strewn (or the tea is sprinkled about), and harmony and good relations in the family when added to food.
- Love Magic: Spring is the time when "Love is in the Air". If you are looking to attract a new romance and/or maintain the fidelity of an existing relationship this Spring, adding Chickweed (alone or in combination with other love attracting herbs such as roses, basil and/or hibiscus) to a magical bath, incense, or candle dressing can enhance your magical and mundane workings.
- Fertility Magic: Chickweed is associated with fertility due to her hardiness and prodigious production of seeds (much like our previously discussed fertility ally, Dandelion). Making an offering to the spirit of the plant and strewing the seeds, or creating and carrying a sachet or poppet filled with Chickweed (alone or with Dandelion) can magically boost your efforts to enhance fertility and productivity this Spring.