Chickweed, Stellaria media

Chickweed, Stellaria media

Chickweed is a dainty, shy, yet incredibly persistent plant, called chickweed in part because it is eaten by—you guessed it—chickens.

Chickweed is an annual that can grow several generations in a year, and is found all over the world. Though it has a surprising number of chemical constituents for such a small, innocuous-seeming plant, it is also a marvelous and nutritious salad plant.

 As with so many of our most ubiquitous plants, the name is shared by several common species. The plant I am talking about here is Stellaria media. There are several other plants in this genus that share the name chickweed, and several other genuses as well, but today I am talking about Ms S. media. You may be surprised to find that I don’t capitalize her second name, but in botanical nomenclature, the species name is always lower case.

It took me a long time to get to know chickweed, though I had been seeing her around for years. Pictures in books and on weed-killer charts in the hardware store just didn’t seem to relate to what I finally found was a very low-growing, teeny-flowered plant. And by low-growing, I mean only rising a few inches above the ground. And her taste was nothing to write home about, just kind of green.

But, despite her somewhat shy nature, I did start to pay attention and found her everywhere! What really amazes me about chickweed is her ability to grow year-round, even in the seeming dead of winter. I have gone outside in January and looked at a clear spot on the ground, and there is chickweed growing happily, surrounded by snow! It just amazes me. The time when chickweed is nowhere to be found is in the heat of summer. She is a complete no-show in mid-summer, and doesn’t start popping up again until the cooler temperatures return sometime in September.

So what can we do with chickweed, besides admiring her starry flowers and her unwavering determination to grow anywhere she can get a root in? (Boy, do perfect-lawn-lovers hate her!) Chickweed is nutritious to eat, and a great medicine plant both internally and externally.

Chickweed has a great array of minerals, vitamins, proteins, and more. You get such a good boost of nutrition by eating even a handful of the plant. You also get the benefits of her medicinal properties this way.

But chickweed can also be used as medicine by making tinctures, vinegars, and infused oils. She has cooling properties, helping with fevers, infections, and wounds. She also helps with weight loss. How cool is that!

This excerpt by Susun Weed on chickweed gives an idea of how wonderful the physical and energetic medicine of this plant is:

            [Steroidal] saponins [contained in chickweed] are soap-like; they emulsify and increase the permeability of all membranes. By creating permeability chickweed encourages shifting boundaries on all levels, from cellular to cosmic. Chickweed saponins increase the absorption of nutrients, especially minerals, from the digestive mucosa [digestive tract]. Her saponins gently dissolve thickened throat and lung membranes, emulsify and thus neutralize toxins, and weaken bacterial cell walls, making them vulnerable to disruption of their activities. (Weed 119)

 It is these saponins that in part give chickweed her ability to help with weight loss.

Take a bit of time while chickweed is still enjoying the relative cool of late spring to meet her and get acquainted. She is a true friend for anyone who takes the time to know her.

To learn more from human sources, I suggest these (though of course there are many others):

Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise by Susun S. Weed; Ash Tree Publishing; 1989

 A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve, Dover Publishing

Plant Allies: Garden Sage

Many people find that they are strongly attracted to certain plants. These plants feel like friends to them and often these are the plants they’ll turn to (or can turn to) when they have a need to be filled. These are plant allies.

One of my favorite plant allies is garden sage (Salvia officinalis). It is strong and hardy, and nothing seems to faze it.
SageIts leaves are grey-green which I find soothing and deeply satisfying. Some of the leaves look leathery and are textured like the surface of your tongue. The leaves and leaf-stem are faintly velvety when new.

Sage has a pungent scent when fresh, and also when the dry leaves are burned for purifying rituals.

I’ve observed how it grows–even branches that seem to be dead will put out leaves and continue to live.

If a stem is left touching the ground it will eventually take root. Cut off the end of a leafy twig or branch, and it will soon grow more.

A sage twig came off of one of the plants I was transplanting, and I stuck it in some soil.
A few weeks later, its green leaves telling me it was still alive, I dug it up with its fledgling roots to put in the garden.

With leaves from one of my sage plants I made a wreath: wired bunches of fresh sage onto a grapevine base and left it lying flat so that the leaves wouldn’t all droop towards the floor. The leaves dried into wonderful forms, twisting and turning and becoming a deeper shade of sage greeny-grey. It is exquisite, and stands alone as an art object.

One of the reasons that I like sage so much is that it is used for purification and protection. I feel, when I have sage in the house, that simply by its presence there it is providing spiritual protection.

My sage wreath especially seems to be blessing my house by being in it.

Sage is also an ingredient in the dream pillows I make that are intended for lucid dreaming and trance-work. And it is one of my spirit allies.

February 2004


Beauty is in the Eyes (and Heart) of the Beholder

I’ve been doing a lot of gardening this summer, and a lot of standing around and admiring plants.

I get such pleasure from seeing plants and their flowers. So many of the plants I see are my friends that I am always greeting any number of them by name: “Hello, Clover. I’m so glad to see you! I’m so glad you’re in my garden! Hello, Lavender. You look gorgeous today with your purple buds, and you smell so delicious!”

One of the most wonderful things plants can do for us (and it doesn’t cost a cent!) is to offer the healing of their presence. Their beauty, forms, colors, scents, their feel, all can give us delight and sooth our spirits not only at a surface, physical level, but also at a deeper, heart level.

When I was in my late teens and living alone, I was very depressed (though I didn’t realize it at the time). Many times of the year were bad, but one of the worst was the end of the winter, because of the darkness and the cold, rather bleak landscape. I discovered that walking down my street and watching the crocuses and then the daffodils and tulips bloom soothed a hurt inside and would lift my spirits at least a little.

I walked everywhere, and over several years got to know many little nooks and crannies, as well as large swaths of lawn, where the spring flowers bloomed.
I made a point of looking for them, and would be cheered by them. It became my spring habit to look for the first blooming plants wherever I lived.

Each street around my home, in whatever city I was living, would have its little areas that I would map out and check on to see what was blooming when, and to linger over my favorite spots.

Why did simply seeing flowers bloom cheer me so? Why did they help to lift the pain in my heart? I’ve never quite been able to figure that out.

I have thought of the colors and the effects they have on the human brain and psyche.
There are theories of what colors represent and I’m sure studies have been made of how people’s brains react to different colors. I know that at different times I crave certain colors in my life, and they can make me intensely happy.

Another really important aspect of flowers is their spirit.

I believe, as do many indigenous and spiritually connected people, that plants have spirits of their own. They are beings with awareness and connectedness to a universal all.
The spirit of a plant can touch our own and have a profound effect.

Plants, at a basic level, are energy. Each plant has its own unique energy, as do we. That energy can touch us and interact with our energies to change our moods and our perceptions.

I believe much healing happens when we are simply around plants, whether we have a geranium on a windowsill, a few potted plants on the patio, or a whole garden. The spirit and energies of plants, as well as their colors and scents, can affect us deeply, even without our conscious awareness.

So take a walk around your neighborhood or around a public garden, come home with a few flowers to put in a vase and cheer up yourself and your home.