Chickweed is a common weed that has a variety of health benefits.
The herb was traditionally used to help heal skin irritations and wounds. It has also been used to help with stiff and painful joints.
This article will look at the health benefits of chickweed, its safety, and its history.
Table of Contents
- What is Chickweed?
- Health Benefits of Chickweed:
- Chickweed Safety:
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
What is Chickweed?
Chickweed is a hardy plant that is known for its ability to readily self-seed.
The scientific name for chickweed is Stellaria media. It can be found growing throughout the northern hemisphere and has traditional roots in European, African, Asian, and North American medicinal systems.
Traditional accounts suggest chickweed for ulcers and hoarse coughs. It has also been used as a food source. Similar to dandelion leaves, chickweed makes a great addition to salads.
Modern research indicates that chickweed benefits weight management and wound healing. It has also been shown to have antimicrobial effects.
Chickweed’s active constituents, including terpenoids, saponins, flavonoids, fatty acids, and vitamin C, are potentially responsible for some of these health-supporting properties.
Health Benefits of Chickweed:
A combination of clinical research, traditional knowledge, and contemporary herbalists have observed a variety of chickweed benefits. Below are the primary health benefits of chickweed and its main constituents.
1. May Help With Weight Loss
Chickweed shows promising health benefits for managing obesity and encouraging weight loss.
Maintaining a healthy weight is fundamental for optimal health and longevity. Excess body weight and obesity significantly increase the risk of numerous diseases and clinical disorders, including heart diseases, type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and others.
An animal study observing mice with a high-fat diet discovered that chickweedjuice suppressed weight gain. It also reduced triglyceride (fat) and LDL cholesterol levels, providing an anti-obesity effect.
Another animal study found that a chickweed extract reduced cholesterol levels and the size of fat cells in obese mice. Researchers attributed these effects to the extract’s ability to regulate fat metabolism.
Researchers also discovered that chickweed had an anti-obesity effect on mice through the suppression of appetite and increased heat in the body. The researchers attribute these effects to the saponin and flavonoid content in chickweed.
In the herbal text, A Modern Herbal, revered herbalist Maude Grieve writes that chickweed water is “an old wives remedy for obesity.”
Summary:Animal studies indicate that chickweed may work to manage weight and may help to support weight loss. Human trials are needed to confirm these findings.
2. May Have Antimicrobial Benefits
Traditional evidence and lab research suggest that chickweed has antimicrobial properties.
Infection occurs when viruses, bacteria, fungi, or other microbes infiltrate the body and attack it. Antimicrobial herbs may help fight off invading microbes by supporting the immune response or by directly inhibiting the invaders.
A lab-based study discovered that chickweed has an anti-viral effect on a hepatitis-B virus (HBV). Researchers noted that the extract achieved this effect by reducing HBV DNA levels.
In a lab-based study, Stellaria media extracts inhibited the growth of numerous bacteria strains, including E.coli, S.typhi, K. pneumonia, Staph. Aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Bacillus subtilis. The researchers noted that chickweed was most effective against Salmonella and E.coli. This anti-bacterial activity is typically considered to be due to chickweed’s alkaloid and phenolic content.
Another lab-based trial found that specialized proteins present in chickweed provide resistance against various crop pathogens. These results demonstrate that chickweed may be a non-toxic, non-chemical, and all-natural solution for preventing various crop diseases in the agricultural industry.
Globally-renowned herbalist Rosalee de la Forêt writes that chickweed may benefit individuals with minor eye infections, like pink eye or styes, suggesting that it contains antimicrobial properties.
Summary:Lab-based research has found that chickweed possesses antimicrobial activity.
3. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Historical accounts and new research suggest that chickweed is beneficial for reducing inflammation.
Inflammation is part of the body’s immune system when exposed to trauma, infection, toxins, and physical overuse. While short-term inflammation is essential for recovery, chronic inflammation is the body’s signal that something is wrong. Natural herbs can help to balance inflammation within the body.
A review of chickweed notes that this plant may help to reduce inflammation externally and internally. Chickweed’s active constituents, polyphenols and saponins, are thought to be responsible for this effect.
A lab-based study observing mice with paw edemas discovered that chickweed extract reduced inflammation in and around the affected area. Researchers found that the extract also reduced pain perception.
Another lab-based study found that chickweed reduces inflammation. It has also demonstrated antioxidant effects, which could reduce free radical levels and prevent stress-induced damage.
In The Essential Guide to Herbal Therapy, herbal medicine expert professor Kerry Bone writes that chickweed reduces gastrointestinal inflammation due to its cooling nature.
In The King’s American Dispensatory, Dr. Felter and Dr. Lloyd mention that a chickweed poultice reduces eye inflammation.
Summary:Lab-based studies have found that chickweed may work to reduce inflammation, however human clinical research is required to confirm this finding.
4. Antioxidant Properties
Research shows that chickweed may have antioxidant effects.
Antioxidant molecules eradicate damaging free radicals and prevent them from causing harm. Antioxidants have demonstrated the ability to reduce stress, support healthy aging, and benefit overall health.
A combination lab-based study involving chickweed and two other herbs found that chickweed has antioxidant properties.
Another lab-based study observing chickweed extract found that the extract decreased the production of damaging free radicals within skin cells. This activity suggests that chickweed extract has antioxidant, skin-protecting properties.
Summary:Lab-based research indicates that chickweed has antioxidant properties.
5. May Soothe Skin Conditions
Traditional and contemporary accounts suggest that chickweed benefits healthy skin.
Skin conditions often include eczema, psoriasis, and dry and reddened areas. An overactive pro-inflammatory response often causes these skin issues.
A review mentions that chickweed helps to reduce skin itching and irritation. Researchers attribute this effect to chickweed’s emollient properties, meaning it soothes and moistens the area.
Renowned AHG herbalist, David Hoffman, writes that chickweed is “commonly used as an external remedy for…itching and irritation…and may be used with benefit to treat eczema and psoriasis.”
Additionally, herbalist Maude Grieve suggests using chickweed to cool skin conditions, and Dr. Felter and Dr. Lloyd write that chickweed is a soothing herb for skin diseases.
Summary:Traditional usage indicates that Chickweed benefits skin health.
6. Other Benefits
Other purported chickweed health benefits include:
- May Support Wound Healing: Dr. Felter and Lloyd mention that chickweed may help to speed up the wound healing process. Maude Grieve also writes about chickweed’s affinity for healing sores and skin wounds.
- May Reduce Anxiety: A lab-based study observing mice discovered that chickweed significantly reduced anxiety comparable to diazepam, an anti-anxiety pharmaceutical drug.
- May Provide Pain Relief: Drs. Felter and Lloyd suggest chickweed as a “remedy for rheumatic [joint] pains”.
Summary:Chickweed has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
Safety Class: 1
Interaction Class: A
In general, chickweed is well tolerated and safe to take for most individuals.
Although chickweed is not classified as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA, it is freely available as a “dietary supplement” under the US Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act.
Topical allergic reactions have been reported, although they are rare. A skin test is recommended before applying chickweed to one’s skin.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
It is not recommended to use chickweed during pregnancy and lactation due to limited safety data.
Although no conclusive studies have established chickweed’s safety during these times, some contemporary herbal accounts consider food doses of chickweed to be safe.
Higher doses may result in an upset stomach.
Standard dosing for chickweed is as follows:
Infusion (tea): Add 1 cup of hot water to 2 teaspoons of dried herb. Infuse for 5 minutes. Drink 1 cup, 3x per/day.
Tincture (1:5): 6-30 mL/day.
Capsule/Supplement: 1-3 g/day.
Liquid Extract (1:1): 3-15 mL/day.
Succus (Green Drink): Blend a handful of fresh chickweed and pineapple juice together and strain.
Poultice: Crush up fresh chickweed with a small amount of water and apply to skin irritations or small wounds.
Bath: Create a fresh-plant infusion and allow to steep for 20 to 30 minutes. Strain and add to bathwater to relieve itching.
Cuisine: Chop fresh chickweed leaves and add to pesto, soups, salads, or egg-based recipes.
Although various extracts are effective, fresh chickweed and water extracts exhibit the best results, according to herbalist David Hoffmann.
Chickweed is not on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list and is not impacted by human activities.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Chickweed’s scientific name is Stellaria media. It has many common names due to its widespread global presence; however, it is universally called chickweed.
The scientific name Stellaria comes from the Latin word for “star,” and “media” stems from the Latin term for “mid-sized.” These names refer to the shape and size of chickweed flowers, whose white petals resemble a star.
Farmers gave the plant the common name “chickweed” after noticing its popularity among young chickens.
Chickweed is in the Caryophyllaceae (i.e. carnation) family and is technically an annual plant; however, it easily self-seeds, so it’s often called a perennial.
Chickweed has lush, oval leaves with a weak stem and loves to grow in shady, moist, nitrogen-rich soil. The plant germinates in the autumn, and the white star-like flowers bloom from May-October.
There are around 120 Stellaria species and some contain similar medicinal properties, like the therapeutic Chinese chickweed species Stellaria dichotoma.
Common names of chickweed include: Star Chickweed, Stitchwort, Star Weed, Starwort, Tongue Grass, Adder’s Mouth, Stellaire (French), Augentrosgräs (German), yin chai hu (traditional Chinese medicine).
Other plants in the Stellaria species include:
- Stellaria dichotoma (Chinese chickweed)
- Stellaria neglecta
- Stellaria tomentella
- Stellaria sessiliflora
- Stellaria diversiflora
- Stellaria aquatica
- Stellaria alsine
History & Traditional Use:
Chickweed has a rich history in colder areas, such as Siberia, Northern Europe, and North America, and its presence dates back to the Ice Age. Archaeologists discovered remains of chickweed seeds and parts of the plant at Bronze Age human settlement locations.
The earliest recording of chickweed comes from physician and botanist Dioscorides, who wrote about its cooling and soothing medicinal properties. History suggests that the Druids of Europe passed on the therapeutic and edible knowledge of chickweed before this plant was documented during the Roman reign (27 BC – AD 476).
The 17th-century herbalist Nicholas Culpepper wrote that chickweed “is a fine soft pleasing herb” with cooling, anti-inflammatory properties. Early explorers ate chickweed for its vitamin C content, preventing scurvy in the winter.
Chickweed was naturalized in North America after explorers and emigrants brought it over from Europe. From the 17th to the 20th century, farmers in North America recorded chickweed as a “farm weed” favored by livestock.
Present records praise chickweed for its medicinal and culinary values.
Chickweed is a time-tested, versatile plant that has been thriving around the globe for millennia.
Although few human clinical trials exist, contemporary and traditional accounts attribute many different health benefits to chickweed.
Consult a healthcare practitioner if you are considering chickweed for medicinal or culinary use. It is important to conduct a skin patch test to check for allergies prior to using chickweed topically.
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