Chickweed or Stellaria media is known by other names such as Winterweed, Maruns, Tongue grass and Chickenwort.
Native to Europe but found in every part of the world, chickweed is a plant pest that is difficult to control. However, while gardeners and farmers may detest it, it is beloved by chefs and natural medicine practitioners.
Chickweed is edible, nutritious and delicious. It is a leaf vegetable often included raw in salads.
As a herb, chickweed is easily recognized by its succulent stems, its paired leaves and flowers shaped like white stars. Many ancient cultures make poultices from chickweed. These poultices are then applied to cuts, bruises and burns.
Beyond folk medicine, modern herbal medicine uses chickweed as an ingredient to make salve and ointments for treating many skin conditions including acne, eczema and psoriasis. The herb is also for treating arthritis, bronchitis and pain caused by rheumatism.
Other medicinal uses of the herb include as diuretic, laxative, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory agents. Chickweed is also used to detoxify the body because of its cleansing action on the kidney and its tonic effect on the liver. It is also used as a cough suppressant, to decongest the sinus and as an emollient for the skin.
All of the plant part above ground can be used in the preparation of chickweed herbal extract.
Chickweed extract contains essential minerals and vitamins such as amino acids, iron, zinc, sodium, calcium, manganese, vitamins A, C, D and the B vitamins. Other important phytochemicals in the herb include mucilage, saponins, coumarins, flavonoids and apigenin.
Herbal preparations of chickweed are available in different forms. The herb is sold as tincture, ointment, salve and oil infusions. It is also available as powder for tea and as capsules.
Chickweed is very safe in the amount in which it is found in foods. However, herbal extracts of the plant come in doses, and although chickweed is well-tolerated and safe, it may cause diarrhea and vomiting when taken in high doses.
The Antibacterial Property of Chickweed
One of the dedicated studies done on chickweed was published in the International Journal of Phytomedicine in 2010. It investigated the antibacterial effects of the phytochemicals present in whole plant extracts of chickweed.
A preliminary investigation suggested that both the chloroform and aqueous extracts of chickweed showed broad-spectrum activities against bacteria. In this study, four concentrations (62.5, 125, 250 and 500 mg/ml) of these extracts were used.
These concentrations of chickweed extracts were tested against a batch of gram negative and gram positive bacteria including common microbes such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Bacillus subtilis.
The results of this study showed that both the aqueous and chloroform extracts of chickweed were effective against the bacteria. However, the aqueous extract was more effective and the organisms, S. typhi and E. coli, were most susceptible to the antibacterial effects of chickweed extracts.
Chickweed in the Treatment of Skin Conditions
The oldest uses for chickweed are the topical uses. Besides being commonly used to treat skin conditions, chickweed is also used to treat cuts and minor burns.
It soothes the skin and can relieve itching and burning sensations.
Although there is very little scientific evidence for the effectiveness of chickweed in the treatment of skin conditions like acne and eczema, it is mostly because very few studies have been done in that area. However, years of positive results from folklore medicine strongly indicate that chickweed may help improve these skin conditions.
It is believed that the active phytochemicals in chickweed act by removing toxins from the skin, and also be stimulating microcirculation in the skin. Given the antioxidant and antibacterial properties of chickweed, this theory is most likely true.
The Antioxidant and Anti-Cancer Properties of Chickweed
There are only a precious few studies done on chickweed but one of these appeared in the March 2009 edition of the journal, Plant Foods for Human Nutrition.
The study investigated the antioxidant and anti-cancer benefits of the young sprouts of some salad plants eaten in Korea. Among the 11 salad plants chosen was chickweed.
The methanolic extracts of these plants which contain their active ingredients were tested. The species of chickweed used was Stellaria aquatica which is related to Stellaria media.
The study found that chickweed contains phenolic antioxidants but more importantly, it showed the highest anti-cancer activities of the 11 salad plants tested. The researchers concluded that these salad plants, chickweed included, can be taken for their antioxidant and anti-cancer properties to supplement regular drugs.
Chickweed in the Treatment of Hemorrhoids
Chickweed is also used in the treatment of hemorrhoids and other rectal disorders. It is usually used for these indications as a bath on the affected area. In this way, chickweed reduces inflammation, soothes the engorged blood vessels and promote tissue repair.
Hemorrhoids is mostly caused by the sugars and stimulants we consume.
Sugary foods including pastries, soft drinks, candies and products including white flour can induce hemorrhoids. In the same way, alcohol, tobacco and caffeine can also cause hemorrhoids.
Sugars and stimulants increase the acidity of stool and promote the leaching of calcium. These two effects directly lead to the degradation of the rectum wall as fecal matter passes through the colon and rectum.
In addition, the walls of the blood vessels are weakened and the nerves surrounding the rectal tissue become irritated. All of these result in raw, inflamed mucosal surface of the rectum that becomes painful and may even bleed.
The local soothing effect of a chickweed bath on the rectum can reduce the pain and inflammation while improving blood circulation in the vessels surrounding the inflamed area.
To use chickweed to relieve hemorrhoids, first prepare a warm solution of chickweed tincture, decoction or infusion. Use the preferred solution as a sitz bath and immerse the buttock in it so that the rectum is bathe in the herbal solution.
Repeat this 2 â€“ 3 times daily. You should also apply chickweed ointment to the affected area to speed on the recovery and repair of the tissues and blood vessels of the rectum.
There are other ways to get rid of hemorrhoids. Some of these solutions are similar to chickweed.
For example, there are other herbs that can help eliminate hemorrhoids. Some of these herbs are aloe vera, cayenne, garlic and witch hazel. They are available as oral formulations and as suppositories for direct insertion into the anus.
[box type=”note”]Other effective hemorrhoid remedies include ice packs, soothing oils, homeopathic remedies, nutrient supplements and medicated wipes soaked in astringent and anti-inflammatory herbs.[/box]