Synonyms: Other names: common chickweed, stitchwort Nomenclature: media = intermediate Nativity / Invasiveness: introduced plant, weed
General: annual, or in mild moist climates often surviving the winter, low and spreading, the stems weak, creeping and rooting at nodes, up to 50 cm long, short-hairy with hairs in a broad longitudinal line, the hairs divided into small partitions.
Leaves: opposite, from stalkless above to distinctly stalked below, the blade ovate to ovate-elliptic, usually somewhat hairy on edge, 10-25 mm long, the stalk sometimes nearly as long, short-hairy.
Flowers: from leaf axils or sometimes 3-7 in small terminal clusters with leafy bracts at base. Flower stalks slender, short-hairy, up to 3 cm long. Sepals about 5 mm long, oblong-lanceolate, sharply pointed to somewhat blunt-tipped, hairy and more or less glandular. Petals shorter than the sepals, 2-lobed nearly to the base.
Fruits: capsules, ovoid, 1-2 mm longer than the sepals, the seeds about 0.6 mm long, uniformly finely wrinkled-warty.
Lawns, moist, disturbed areas, in all parts of MT. Very widely distributed as a weed in N. America, tending to persist and spread during the winter. Native to Eurasia.
Young leaves of common starwort are edible, raw or cooked as a potherb. They may be available all year round if the winter is not too severe. Very nutritious, they can be added to salads while the cooked leaves can scarcely be distinguished from spring spinach. The leaves contain saponins so some caution is advised. Although toxic, these substances are very poorly absorbed by the body and so tend to pass through without causing harm. They are also broken down by thorough cooking. Saponins are found in many plants, including several that are often used for food, such as certain beans. It is advisable not to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. The seeds can be ground into a powder and used in making bread or to thicken soups. It would be very cumbersome to harvest any quantity of these seeds since they are produced in small quantities throughout most of the year and are very small. The seed contains 17.8% protein and 5.9% fat. Composition of leaves (dry weight) in milligrams per 100g weight of food: Vitamin A: 30, Thiamin: 0.02, Riboflavin: 0.14, Niacin: 0.51, Vitamin C: 375.
Chickweed has a very long history of herbal use, being particularly beneficial in the external treatment of any kind of itching skin condition. It has been known to soothe severe itchiness even where all other remedies have failed. In excess doses chickweed can cause diarrhea and vomiting. It should not be used medicinally by pregnant women. The whole plant has agents that are laxative, that cause tissue to contract, relieve and remove gas from the digestive system, are locally soothing and softening, induce urination, induce the removal (coughing up) of mucous secretions from the lungs, relieve fever and thirst and lower body temperature, and are used for healing wounds, fresh cuts, etc., usually used as a poultice. Taken internally it is useful in the treatment of chest complaints and in small quantities it also aids digestion. It can be applied as a poultice and will relieve any kind of reseal and is effective wherever there are fragile superficial veins. An infusion of the fresh or dried herb can be added to the bath water and its emollient property will help to reduce inflammation - in rheumatic joints for example - and encourage tissue repair. Chickweed is best harvested between May and July, it can be used fresh or be dried and stored for later use. A decoction of the whole plant is taken internally as a post-partum blood purifier, to assist the flow of menstrual fluid, and to promote secretion of milk and as a circulatory tonic. It is also believed to relieve constipation and be beneficial in the treatment of kidney complaints. The decoction is also used externally to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers. The expressed juice of the plant has been used as an eyewash.