CHICKWEED

Caryophyllaceae
At one of Dr. Christopher’s lectures, a woman brought a bundle to the front, a little baby all wrapped up. She unwrapped the bundle, and as she did, eczema scalings flew up all around dusted Dr. Christopher’s dark suit. The baby was simply covered with eczema; he described it as horrible to see. The family had adopted the baby six months previous, and it was entirely covered with the scaling, evidently from birth. The family had employed their usual doctor, a pediatrician, and a skin specialist, but no one could do a thing for the little sufferer.

Dr. Christopher told the mother to fill a bassinet with warm Chickweed tea and to bathe the baby, pouring the tea over the head that could not be submerged. The mother was also to give Chickweed tea internally, in small amounts.

Within just a matter of days, the baby began to improve, and after a week or two, the eczema disappeared completely, though the child had suffered with it so many months.

Chickweed is classified as a demulcent herb, which soothes, softens, and reduces irritations of the mucous membranes. Demulcents coat, shield, lubricate and soothe inflamed or abraded mucous membrane surfaces–or other tissues–from irritation substances, and relieve the pain from inflammations. It is also classed as an expectorant, which acts upon the broncho-pulmonary membrane, altering the quality and increasing the quantity of its secretions and, most importantly, facilitating discharge of mucus matter, especially when the phlegm has coagulated and collected.

The demulcent/expectorant herbs are especially valuable in purifying and cleansing the system. Catarrh, or the common cold and its variations, is nature’s signal that the body needs cleansing. It is very often caused by a nutritional shortage of potassium chloride, the element that enables the fibrin to remain in solution in the blood. In the inflammatory ailments, the fibrin is released out from the blood into the surrounding tissue and causes blockage. No new fibrin can be formed without an adequate supply of potassium chloride, which the body badly needs because it is now thrown out of balance. If the potassium chloride is not available, the body will combine the potassium and chloride stolen from other combinations in the body, such as potassium phosphate (thus robbing the nerves) or calcium chloride (which robs the heart muscle) until the body becomes progressively more out of balance. Since we consume so much sodium chloride and so little potassium chloride, we add to the problem with our diet practices (SNH:306-7).

Chickweed, along with other botanicals, provides the necessary elements to put the body back into balance. Being so mild that it is commonly used as a culinary herb, it is another one that can “let your medicine be your food and let your food be your medicine.”

 

MORE THAN BIRD FOOD
Chickweed was given its name because birds and chickens relish the seeds and the young foliage. During the wintertime in milder climates, flocks of small birds avidly feed upon it. The ancient Latin name for it was Morsus gallinae, meaning a morsel or bite for hens. In German it is Vogelkraut, the bird plant; in French Mouron des Oiseaux, a bit or a morsel for the birds; in England it has such interesting nicknames as chick wittles, chicken’s meat, and cluckweed. In Spanish it is called pamplina de canariios and hierba pajarera, canary food and bird herb. Other common names refer to its flower: starweed, satin flower; and to its medicinal functions: stitchwort and scarwort.

As long ago as 1597, Gerard wrote in his Herbal, “Little birds in cages, especially Linnets, are refreshed with the lesser Chickweed, when the loath their meate.” Gerard also said that you should boil the leaves of Chickweed in water until they are very soft, adding some lard, fenugreek powder and ground linseed and a few marshmallow roots, mixing together well to make a pultesse (poultice) to be used to remove swelling of the legs or any other swelling. He said also that “the leaves boiled in vinegar and salt are good against mangines of the hands and legs, if they be bathed therewith” (Gri: 196).

Culpeper, in his Complete Herbal published in the 1600’s, mentioned that it is “a fine, soft, pleasing herb, under the dominion of the Moon,” mentioning various uses, such as a fomentation of the plant’s juice directly on the liver to reduce heat and swelling thereof; this same juice should be used, he said, for redness in the face, itch, scabs, etc. The juice itself or the plant made into an ointment would help cramps, convulsions, and palsy. The juice would help redness of the eyes and redness or swelling “in the privy parts of men and women.”

The herb, he continued, made into a poultice with red rose leaves and lard, will also reduce inflammations and swellings (Herbalist, Sept. 1977:36).

Chickweed is prized by Turkish gypsies, not only because it is a prime pot and salad herb, but because it is a potent medicine, containing many of the soothing and tonic powers of Slippery Elm (which is also an excellent food herb) (Lev:49). The American Indians used native Chickweed as well as naturalized species from Europe. Country people make poultices of it for stiff joints, rheumatism, and synovitis.

It is said that there is no part of the world where Chickweed cannot be found (Gri: 195). It is one of the commonest weeds, growing almost everywhere and often considered a garden pest, although its benefits surely outweigh its inconvenience in gardens. It grows in moist woods as well, and even by doorsteps in city streets (Sal: 165). Once you learn to identify Chickweed, you’ll see it often, wherever you go. The seeds are easily dispersed by the wind, so you can plant some in your yard and you’ll ever after have an ample supply.

Several plants have been named Chickweed, one of them a plant belonging to the Purslane family and four of them from the Cerastium family–the Mouse Ear Chickweeds–but even though there are variations within the Stellaria media species, most specialists consider that they are merely deviations from the one type (Gri: 195). Sir Joseph Hooker, who classified the herb, groups three types separately classified by others into the main Stellaria medica category. Once when he was traveling, he landed on a small uninhabited island nearly at the Antipodes. There he found growing wild–Chickweed! This herb he had found in no other location nearby. He traced the plant to a mound that marked the grave of a British sailor, covered with the plant. He concluded that this must have been the offspring of seed that had adhered to the spade or mattack with which the grave had been dug (Sir Joseph Hooker, 1817-1911).

Chickweed is an instance of what we call “Sleep in Plants,” for every night the leaves fold over the tender buds of the new shoots, the uppermost pair having longer leafstalks so that it can protect the tip of the shoots (Gri: 196). Dennis McCarthy says, “It’s almost as if Chickweed rests at night, awakening in the light of a bright morning” (Sal: 164). This trick of folding over the new shoots gives endurance to the young plants and allows them to live through frosts and even during the winter: in 1892 William Hamilton Gibson, in Sharp Eyes, wrote this charming description of finding Chickweed in winter:

“Even in midwinter, if you know its haunt in some sunny nook, you may dig away the snow, and pick its white, starry blossoms, larger and fuller now than those of summer. I recall a beautiful episode from one of my winter walks long ago…I was skirting the borders of a swamp where every hollow between mound and tussock was roofed with thin, glassy ice left high and dry by the receding of the water beneath…one portion of the crystal roof disclosed a lush growth of the chickweed beneath, its starry blossoms rivaling the surrounding snow in whiteness. A mimic conservatory–no, not a mimic, rather say the model, the “cold-frame” which nursed its winter blossoms eons before the modern infringement of the florist was conceived of…”

 

SKIN AND CHEST AND INFLAMMATION
As described in Dr. Christopher’s experience above, Chickweed is an excellent herb for skin afflictions. For abrasions, eruptions, itching, hives, inflamed surfaces generally, and even cancerous sores, you can bathe the surface of the skin with Chickweed tea or foment it with a cloth of natural fibers–never man-made, changing the application if it dries; you can cover it with plastic and leave it on all night as well. For immediate first aid for a wound or other skin problems, the very best application is the fresh herb, washed, crushed, and applied directly to the area, holding it in place with a bandage, or, according to some of the old-time herbalists, better covered with a large washed leaf of cabbage, lettuce, or beet and then covered with a cotton bandage. This application should be changed every three hours, or when it shows signs of drying out, applying a fresh poultice each time. When removed, it will be very hot and filled with the impurities which it has withdrawn. These “used” herbs should not be given to animals to eat, as they will absorb the toxins contained therein; discard them in an active compost pile or in the garbage.

In addition to these external applications, you can drink Chickweed tea, two or three cups dally, and eat it fresh in a salad or steamed as a cooked vegetable, to hasten the healing.

If it is not convenient to apply the tea as a wash or fomentation, or to apply the fresh herb, Chickweed ointment makes a good substitute. This ointment works almost instantly to help with skin troubles; when camping, we have applied it to an abrasion, as we did not see the fresh herb in the area. Almost immediately the pain, redness, and swelling disappeared, and the child ran off to play as though nothing happened.

For itching associated with rashes, hives, and eruptive diseases such as measles, the ointment or wash can provide welcome relief (Sal: 165). A poultice enclosed in muslin is a sure remedy for a carbuncle or an external abscess, bathing the affected part with the tea as well (Gri: 196). For Erysipelas, a streptococcus disease characterized by deep redness and painful swelling, bathe the affected surface every half hour with a decoction of fresh chickweed. Also apply Chickweed ointment to the affected area.

Chickweed also is effective for bolls and burns and is an excellent remedy for acne, used externally and internally as an added healing aid (Mal:86). One herbalist has seen the fresh leaves of bruised Chickweed applied to indolent, intractable ulcers on the leg, of many years standing, with decided and immediate beneficial results (Felk: 1835).

The ointment is good for piles and sores. It is also effective used against chilblains. Itching genitals and swollen testicles, so often associated with internal inflammations and disorders, will respond to a wash of the strong decoction and application of the ointment. For hemorrhoids, bathe the area with the decoction, infusion or diluted tincture, warm as possible, and apply Dr. Christopher’s healing ointment, described below.

It makes an excellent eye lotion (Lev:49) for sore or red or swollen eyes; it will also relieve throat and nose and ear discomfort. Dr. Christopher recommended that for skin diseases, the dose of Chickweed should be preceded by Burdock seed tea, which acts as a strong diaphoretic to open skin pores and glands from the inside, the Burdock seed being specifically active upon the skin.

Chickweed is also excellent for pulmonary complaints and lung problems, including coughs, colds, influenza, bronchitis, and the like. It will activate the liver in eliminating the toxins related to these diseases, taken fresh as a vegetable or salad, as a tea, and applied in hot fomentations on the chest area, replacing as soon as the fomentation cools. It is excellent to cleanse the system, including the stomach and bowels, a cupful of the decoction, warm, taken every three hours to alleviate constipation.

An uncommon use for Chickweed was discovered recently by Dr. L.C. Alfred Vogel. He said that it should be used for convulsions in children, especially indicated when the condition is worse in the morning and when the pains shift from one place to another. Since these characteristics are not particularly common, you will not find Chickweed listed for this use in most herbal works, but if you ever have such a need for it, you will be glad to know that it works so well and is yet so mild (The Nature Doctor, Bioforce-Verlac, Teuffen, Switzerland).

Another unusual use attributed to Chickweed is the transmission and flow of blood to the liver and hepatic veins, making them more pliable and better eliminative organs (Hut:88). For an inflamed or ruptured appendix, give a cold, small enema of the tea (or the decoction, for a more effective remedy). At the same time, drink the warm infusion and apply very hot fomentations of the decoction over the site of the appendix.

Chickweed can benefit the whole system, as it soothes and cleanses and paves the way for healing of toxicity-related problems, such as impotency, poor circulation, psoriasis, lung inflammation and so on. It is particularly noted for being an effective weight loss herb; some smilingly say that any good green herb, if used generously in the diet, is good for reducing (Lev: 165), but others say that it really does remove excess fat, because it is mildly diuretic and laxative. We also think that because it supplies necessary nutrients that the obese person might be lacking; the body then releases the fat which the body has tenaciously held, thinking that it is still hungry and in need of the missing nutrients. At any rate, both in legend and in current herbal practice, Chickweed is considered an excellent weight loss remedy.

 

CHICKWEED RAW AND STEAMED
Aside from its use in chicken feed, to which it can be regularly added with great benefit to the birds, especially to the young chickens who are developing toward egg-laying, Chickweed can be fed to caged birds, to pigs, to rabbits, cows and horses. Sheep don’t care much for it, and goats refuse to touch it (Gri: 196).

It is also a wonderful human’s food. You can add the freshly-picked plants to your salad, well-washed, as they contribute a mild, green, but not obtrusive flavor. You can steam the greens, being sure to gather enough as they greatly reduce in cooking, and serve them as a cooked vegetable, being sure to save the cooking liquid to drink or use in broths or soups, as it is full of the healing medicine of the herb. You can chop and add the greens to any soup without detriment to flavor–a sure way to include them in children’s diets without receiving too many complaints. The young leaves, cooked, resemble young spinach in texture and flavor.

To make Chickweed Salad Dressing, blend 1 large handful of Chickweed, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 cup of oil, juice of 1 lemon, kelp to taste, tamari to taste, and cayenne to taste in the blender (Sal: 165). This makes a delightful herbal salad dressing that will keep about a week in the refrigerator.

You can add Chickweed to your green drink (which consists of various herbs, such as fresh parsley, comfrey, dandelion, etc.) for a mild and nourishing addition. You can juice it in your juicer when you make carrot or other vegetable drinks. When you’re gardening, just pick a few stems of the “pest” and munch on them as you go along.

In addition to being healing for skin problems, a Chickweed bath can be a pleasant and refreshing treatment. Add a gallon or two of a strong decoction or infusion to your tub as it fills and soak in it.

 

CULTIVATION, COLLECTION, PREPARATIONS
Since Chickweed grows so prolifically, any orthodox gardener would be shocked at any attempt to grow it deliberately. You can introduce a few seeds into your garden space, and the herb will proliferate itself nicely, especially as it prefers rich garden soil.

Collect it any time you need it, from March through November or even throughout the entire year in mild climates. It is best collected in the warm part of the day when the flowers are open; the leaves, stems, and flowers are used. Dry it in the shade, as hot sunlight may shrivel the herb and render it useless. Crumble the dried herb and store in dry, cool place.

The most common use of Chickweed, aside from fresh as a vegetable and as tea, is Chickweed (Itch) ointment.

Chickweed is a major ingredient in Dr. Christopher’s famous Black Ointment, which has been used successfully to cure various complaints, including skin cancer.

Chickweed is also well-preserved in tincture form, using 90 proof alcohol as the menstruum.

This herb is so mild that it can be taken in large quantities without the least concern of harm.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Barlow, Max G. From the Shepherd’s Purse. (no publication info.)

Christopher, John R., School of Natural Healing. Provo, Utah, 1975

Coon, Nelson. The Dictionary of Useful Plant’s. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1974.

Felter, Harvey Wickes and John Uri Lloyd. King’s American Dispensary. 2 Vols. Portland: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1983.

Grieve, M., Mrs. A Modern Herbal. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1980.

The Herbalist. Provo: Bi-World Publishers.

Hutchens, Alma R. Indian Herbology of North America. Kumbakonam, S. India: Homeo House Press, 1970.

Kloss, Jethro. Back to Eden. Loma Linda, CA: The Jethro Kloss Family Back to Eden Book, (n.d.).

Levy, Juliette de Ba

rcli, Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1976.

The Nature Doctor, reference contained in body of article.

Salat, Barbara and David Copperfield, ed. Well-Being. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1979.

Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs. Santa Cruz: Unity Press, 1980.

Used by permission – taken from Dr. Christopher’s newsletter Volume 6 Number 5

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