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Monday, March 16, 2015

Chickweed, If you Can't beat it, Eat it

 Call it a weed if you must, but chickweed is actually a very nourishing food and sought out by foragers every spring. It can be added raw to salads, steamed as a hot side dish or made into an infusion and drunk as a tea. The glandular and lymphatic systems can benefit greatly from the "life energy" of this wild plant.

 Chickweed is high in chlorophyll, minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorus and potassium, and vitamins C, A, and B vitamins. Old-time herbal books recommended adding chickweed to the diets of the young, the old, the weak and those recovering from surgery.

Chickweed is one of those creeper plants hardly noticed unless you're looking for it or a gardener cursing its prolific ability to self-sow. It may seem to invade as it forms a low growing mat over the ground, but being it prefers cool, shadier spots, its presence in a sunny garden often just seems to disappear as the summer heat builds. For those who just want it out of there, they may get very frustrated and find it to be one of the hardest weeds to just pull out. Having weak stems, the upper section comes easily out of the ground, but left behind are the tiny roots and stems which cling to the soil. And even if pulled from the ground, plants left lay there will still ripen and spill its seeds.

Chickweed gets its common name because chickens love it. In fact, a good way to keep its production worthy for eating is to keep it cut so it doesn't get old and stringy. Give the extras to the chickens and you'll be rewarded with happy clucking. Older chickweed is mostly stalk and isn't nearly as tender as the young, leafy parts. Gathering this plant is simple, without dirt to wash off, if a small bunch at a time is carefully held off the ground with one hand while the other hand snips it with a scissors, like giving it a haircut. Eaten raw, the taste is juicy and without a strong taste. It isn't bitter at all like are many of the spring greens. 

Chickweed is Stellaria media which in latin means little star. The little white flowers appear to be made up of five petals but look closer and you'll see each petal has a cleft to become ten little slivers. It's a little fun to get poetic and compare the little star to the cool evening sky. Considered a cooling herb, conditions associated with heat such as fevers, infections and inflammation, can be eased with the use of chickweed. The plant contains what are called steroidal saponins, a soap-like waxy substance which emulsify and increase the permeability of all membranes. Saponins increase the absorption of nutrients from the digestive tract, its expectorant qualities moisten and greatly aid with lung conditions, and overall, help strengthen weak bodily functions.

Chickweed is an old wives' remedy for losing weight. Being a mild, mineral rich diuretic, weight loss can be attributed to temporary water loss. But it is more than that. Chickweed is a metabolic balancer and its effects on the thyroid may help with weight the healthy way. As a mild diuretic, excess moisture is removed from the cells without stressing the kidneys.

Externally, using the fresh plant as a poultice is hard to beat for drawing out infections while reducing inflammation and swelling. Bio-available vitamin complexes like A and C, and minerals are accessible directly to skin cells, while the plant itself actually dissolves and absorbs bacteria.
Eyes bothered by allergies, sties, fatigue as well as conditions like pinkeye can be soothed immensely from a cooling poultice made from fresh chickweed.
A poultice can be made by either applying the fresh herb directly over the affected area or cooking slightly first and wrapping in a cotton towel. Poultices used for unbroken skin or clean wounds can be used a few times, but if using on infections, throw away and get fresh plant material for each application. The time to leave on varies. If resting with the eyes covered then leave on till its time to get up but if covering a wound, it can be left on for a few hours. You'll find the poultice actually warms up as it draws out infection.

Herbal Salve
For convenience with minor wounds, bug bits and rash, an herbal salve may be preferred. Ideal and safe for children and pets as there is little likelihood it will burn upon application and nothing is added that would be toxic if your pet licked it off.
This balm is also beneficial for the care of our elderly loved ones who may suffer with skin irritation as a result of trapped moisture or chaffing.
Salves are made by first preparing an herbal oil. Fresh or dried plant material is infused with a carrier oil such as olive oil, and left in a warm place for several weeks. The herbal oil is then strained and used as is or added to beeswax to thicken it into a salve.

To make a chickweed infusion for tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1/4 cup of chickweed. Cover and let steep, off the heat, for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain out the herb and drink the tea hot.

Fresh chickweed can be added to the diet in salads, added to soups or as a side dish that will taste somewhat like spinach. Use the leaves, stems and flowers. 

Cooking shrinks chickweed by 3/4, concentrating the nutrients and compensating for whatever vitamins cooking destroys.

12 cups chickweed, rinsed, drained and chopped
1 - 2 tbsp olive oil
1 - 2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

 Steam the chickweed over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until just wilted (avoid overcooking), covered, in a heavy saucepan, without any more water than what clings to the leaves after rinsing and draining. Add the rest of the ingredients and serve hot. Serve as is or over a grain such as rice, quinoa or barley.

The source for the this post is from the book, "Healing Wise", by the respected herbalist Susan Weed.

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