Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a small, soft, sprawling herb that can be used as food and for its medicinal properties. Also known as starweed, the herb is native to Europe and naturalised throughout much of Australia and New Zealand. It grows in grassland, cultivated land, roadsides and gardens during cool weather and seems to prefer damp areas.
To my delight I have found chickweed in my garden and lawn for the first time and this is my sixth winter on our property. Perhaps I have only just discovered it because we've had little winter rain so mowing hasn't been on the 'To Do List' since autumn and I've been too busy teaching the course (and doing the usual things a herbalist does) to weed the garden.
There are other Stellaria species so, as with other herbs, it pays to correctly identify the plant. The most sure way to identify chickweed is by the hairs on the stem. Stellaria media has only one band of hairs which appears to spiral along the stem as you can see in the above photo while other species have stems covered in hairs.
Chickweed flowers are tiny and appear to have ten petals when in fact they have five that are split into two.
Prized by herbalists as a nutritive herb, chickweed taken internally is an excellent tonic containing vitamins B, C and D. It is rich in iron and contains copper, calcium, sodium, zinc, phosphorous and some manganese. Externally, the herb is used to treat itches, eczema, psoriasis, cuts, indolent ulcers, wounds, bruises, boils, abscesses, and carbuncles. It's BHP specific for pruritic skin problems and can be used as a compress, poultice, ointment or cream.
As a culinary herb it can be picked fresh and added to salads or steamed in place of spinach.
Are you fortunate enough to have chickweed growing in your garden?