Native to southern Europe and a member of the family that includes garden pinks (Dianthus spp.), chickweed now grows throughout the world as a common weed. A hardy, low-growing, spreading annual, chickweed often overwinters, meaning that it does not completely die back during the winter months. It bears oval leaves and small, white, star-shaped flowers.
The genus Stellaria takes its name from the Latin word stella, meaning “star,” a reference to the shape of the species’ flowers. Chickweed has been a popular healing herb for centuries. In many countries, it was also used as a food for birds and domestic fowl.
Common Names: Chickweed
Description: Spreading annual forms mats 4 to 8-inches tall, 16 inches across; small, oval, opposite leaves; white, star-shaped flowers with five clefted petals
Flowering: Spring through fall
Parts Used: Leaves
Range/Habitat: Native to southern Europe, naturalized in temperate climates worldwide
Fresh chickweed leaves, harvested in early spring, taste like spinach and are a nutritious addition to salads, soups, or stews. Cook the delicate leaves for no more than 5 minutes.
Although chickweed has been used medicinally in the past, there has been very little research conducted on the herb. Chickweed leaves have been applied externally as a juice, ointment, or poultice to treat irritated skin, eczema, psoriasis, ulcers, and boils. The leaves contain steroid saponins, which may help soothe rashes and relieve itching.
Native Americans used a chickweed leaf decoction to treat sore eyes. In homeopathy, it is used in minute amounts to treat psoriasis and rheumatic pain. Chickweed has also been used as a digestive aid. The root of a related species is used in Chinese medicine to treat fevers.
Caution: Do not use chickweed if you are pregnant. Excessive amounts of the herb may cause vomiting and diarrhea.
How to grow it
Considered an invasive weed in some states, chickweed is not recommended for the garden. Look for wild plants growing in moist soil in sun or partial shade. For culinary use, harvest the leaves of untreated plants in early spring. For medicinal use, harvest the leaves as needed.