Category: Medicines - plant based
Introduction and description
Stellaria media, chickweed, is an annual plant native to Europe, but naturalized in many parts of North America.
Other common names include chickenwort, craches, maruns [marans are actually a variety of chicken] and winterweed [because it carries on growing in Winter].
It is a prolific spreader of seed and my husband seems to spend almost his entire life [apart from the occasional trip out in his Austin 7] hoeing chickweed from our vegetable garden.
We came across a recipe once from Francis Bissell, a much admired Sunday Times cookery writer, who was determined to make the most of our UK weeds and she produced a recipe, which I shall give you in due course, for eating chickweed - for indeed it is supposed to be edible - supposed to be.
I think it makes a better medicine.
Chickens love it and in the days when we had hens they were fed vast quantities of chickweed and produced eggs of a quite superlative quality. Hence its name one supposes. Wikipedia waxes lyrical about chickweed:
It is used as a cooling herbal remedy, and grown as a vegetable crop and ground cover for both human consumption and poultry.
The ground cover bit is spot on, you cannot see the vegetables for Chickweed after a good summer soaking.
Along with the medicinal uses in Dr Duke's analysis of Chickweed, he also has a rather intriguing section in the Ethnobotanical uses part of his site, which has the following:
- Stellaria media (CARYOPHYLLACEAE)
- Cancer Hartwell; Debility Steinmetz; Demulcent Steinmetz; Diuretic Steinmetz; Eczema Woi.Syria; Erysipelas Woi.Syria; Expectorant FontQuer, Steinmetz; Eye Krochmal, Woi.Syria; Fever Al-Rawi; Fracture Woi.Syria; Inflammation Woi.Syria; Mucus Woi.Syria; Piles Krochmal, Woi.Syria; Poison Woi.Syria; Refrigerant Steinmetz; Skin Al-Rawi, Woi.Syria; Sore Woi.Syria; Spasm Al-Rawi; Swelling Woi.Syria; Urogenital Al-Rawi
Tucked in amongst this list of uses for the skin, the chest, the eyes, the bones and for piles, we have the word poison. So we need to look into this, because the 1001 recipes for chickweed salad on the Internet may be a little unwise. Your piles may be cured, but if you are lying in a wooden box oblivious to this fact because you are with the angels, it is not terribly helpful medicine.
As a very very infrequent vegetable dish, medicinally chickweed has advantages. There are helpful minerals [like iron, calcium, magnesium, sodium, zinc, sulphur, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, chromium and cobalt] and vitamins in chickweed, such as Vitamin C, riboflavin, Thiamin and Niacin. The sulphur helps the skin complaints. It is thus truly excellent food for chickens.
But there is also a chemical called Genistein and you do not want to too much Genistein on a regular basis.
Genistein is Cytotoxic >50 ug/ml (185 uM) IC89=10 ug/m. In effect, like all poisons, it is the amount consumed that is key. Genistein is also an Abortifacient. An abortifacient is "that which will cause a miscarriage" from Latin: abortus "miscarriage" and faciens "making". Genistein is also Antiestrogenic and Antifertility. It is Uterotrophic EC50=0.1-25 uM/l ED50=0.5 mg/kg - causing an effect on the uterus. Genistein is also a Topoisomerase-II-Poison.
Medicinally this is one of the more interesting chemicals because it, along with another chemical called Rutin, have distinct anti-parasitic, anti-bacterial and anti-viral activity. Rutin, for example, is Antimalarial IC50=>100 ug/ml, Antitrypanosomic 100 mg/kg and is also Radioprotective.
But chickweed is not a food. It is a genuine medicine. Many of the old herbal uses for chickweed were external, not internal.
It is held in great repute among herbalists, used mostly in the form of an ointment. The fresh leaves have been employed as a poultice for inflammation and indolent ulcers with most beneficial results. A poultice of Chickweed enclosed in muslin is a sure remedy for a carbuncle or an external abscess. The water in which the Chickweed is boiled should also be used to bathe the affected part...... The plant chopped and boiled in lard makes a fine green cooling ointment, good for piles and sores, and cutaneous diseases.
and cutaneous diseases.....
There are numerous recipes on the Internet for a straightforward Chickweed salad, with nothing but a simple dressing.
Most of the recipes are from American sites and I did wonder whether we were talking about the same plant.
And below the promised recipe from the only English cook to have been brave enough to have used Chickweed.
Even Francis said the chickweed can be replaced by spinach or rocket!
Francis Bissell’s Greens and Wild Rice crumble [serves 6 to 8]
150 g wild rice
1kg of garden greens – nettle tips, dandelion leaves, chickweed, sorrel, turnip tops
3 or 4 shallots peeled and chopped
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped herbs – thyme, marjoram and rosemary
200g hard cheese grated
4 free range eggs
150ml single cream
Freshly ground black pepper
75g fresh breadcrumbs or gluten free muesli mix
75g mixed nuts chopped eg walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds
Put wild rice in saucepan with about 4 times its volume of water, bring to boil and simmer until tender. Drain if necessary.
Wash, blanch and dry the leaves. Place them in a large saucepan, cover and cook over high heat until greens have collapsed. Drain.
Sweat the shallots in the oil in a large pan. Then mix in the rice and the greens, the herbs and most of the grated cheese.
Beat the eggs and cream and mix in with the vegetables.
Season to taste.
Spoon into an oiled ovenproof dish.
Mix cheese breadcrumbs/muesli and chopped nuts. Sprinkle over vegetables in dish.
Dot with butter. Bake in preheated oven 180C/350F for about 45 mins.
Perhaps I am being a little harsh. After all it is a medicinally useful plant.
So here's another recipe from an American site which disguises the taste with curry powder and a lot of garlic.
Sorry I jest.
I'm afraid I haven't tested this recipe, but the contributor of this recipe has seemingly tried it out on her friends "Our friends were pleasantly surprised when I told them I just served them patties made out of weeds!" I wonder what they thought it was made of if they were pleasantly surprised by the idea of being served weeds. One dare not imagine.
100g gram (chickpea) flour
1 tbsp medium curry powder – or to taste
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt (or more)
About 120ml water
50g Chickweed, washed, dried and roughly chopped
10 Garlic bulbs – or 1 small onion
Vegetable oil for shallow-frying
Mix the flour, curry powder, baking powder and salt together in a bowl, then slowly stir in enough water to form a paste the consistency of mustard.
Mix in the Chickweed and Garlic (or onion) and stir until they are well coated in the paste.
When hot, spoon in heaped dessertspoonfuls of the pakora mixture to form little cakes, spacing them well apart.
Serve the pakoras with a dollop of yoghurt mixed with mint, garlic and salt and pepper.
- A novel antifungal peptide from leaves of the weed Stellaria media L 018262
- Anti-hepatitis B virus activity of chickweed [Stellaria media (L.) Vill.] extracts in HepG2.2.15 cells 018263
- Dr Duke's list of aluminium chelating plants 017803
- Dr Duke's list of Chemicals and their Biological Activities in: Stellaria media (L.) VILLARS (Caryophyllaceae) -- Chickweed, Common Chickweed 019238
- Dr Duke's list of plants containing Genistein 018250
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing SELENIUM 020550
- Dr Duke's list of Plants containing SULFUR 021408
- Dr Duke's list of plants having chemicals with vasodilatory activity 017836
- Dr Duke's list of Plants with Metal chelating ability from FERULIC ACID - PART 1 018253
- Mrs Grieve on Chickweed 018261