The Health Benefits of Chickweed
This flowering weed is thought to treat skin conditions
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman’s World, and Natural Health.
Lana Butner, ND, LAc, is a board-certified naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist in private practice in New York City .
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is an annual plant native to Europe that has become naturalized in North America, where it is mostly considered a weed. However, to herbalists and practitioners of alternative medicine, chickweed is a potent and long-standing folk remedy believed to offer significant health benefits.
The flowers, leaves, and stems of chickweed have long been used to make oral decoctions, extracts, and teas. Today, chickweed is more commonly used in topical ointment form to treat a variety of skin conditions. The consumption of chickweed, while common in some cultures, is typically avoided due to the risk of side effects.
Chickweed is recognized by its hairy stems, oval leaves, and small, daisy-like blossoms with five crenelated petals.
Also Known As
- Chicken wort
- Mouse ear
- Tongue grass
Chickweed’s use in folk medicine has been recorded as far back as the 16th century when it was often used to treat wounds. Over time, it was embraced as a “blood cleanser” or used to treat asthma, constipation, menstrual pain, peptic ulcers, rabies, respiratory illnesses, and scurvy, among other common and uncommon conditions.
Today, chickweed is rarely taken by mouth due to potential toxicities. That hasn’t stopped certain cultures from using it as food, including in Japan where it is widely eaten during the springtime festival Nanakusa-no-sekku. Others believe that chickweed is an effective weight-loss remedy.
Despite concerns about toxicity, chickweed is not banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), although it is included in the FDA Poisonous Plant Database.
When applied topically, chickweed is believed to treat the following skin conditions:
- Contact dermatitis
- Diaper rash
- Insect bites
- Itchy skin
However, to date, there is little evidence that chickweed can treat any medical conditions; most of the current research has been focused on chickweed as a weed rather than a medicinal herb.
With that being said, chickweed has significant concentrations of bioactive compounds, including flavonoids, phenolic acid, saponins, coumarins, and terpenoids. Alternative practitioners have long contended that these compounds are potent enough to render health benefits.
The one area in which chickweed has been studied is in the treatment of obesity. Two studies—one published in the journal Ayu in 2011 and the other in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2012—reported that obese mice fed an extract of Stellaria media for four weeks experienced weight loss despite being fed a high-fat diet.
Saponin, a plant-based compound that creates a soap-like foam when mixed with water, is believed to be responsible for this effect. Some believe that it has emollient properties and can effectively “trap” circulating fat, including cholesterol.
As promising as the findings seem, saponin is also one of the ingredients that pose possible health concerns. In addition, results of research done in animals cannot be assumed to apply to humans.
Possible Side Effects
When used topically, chickweed is generally considered safe and well tolerated. However, some people exposed to chickweed have been known to develop a mild rash. People allergic to plants of the daisy family may be at higher risk.
Allergic reactions to chickweed ointments are rarely serious and can usually be treated with an oral antihistamine, an over-the-counter 0.5% hydrocortisone cream, or nothing at all.
It is unknown if chickweed can cause drug interactions.
The greater concern arises with the oral consumption of chickweed. Saponins and nitrate salts, both found in chickweed, pose a risk of toxicity if eaten in excess. Although saponins pose a lesser risk in humans, the combination of the two has been known to cause poisoning even in larger mammals such as cows.
Symptoms of toxicity may include:
- Stomach pain
- Rapid pulse
- Cyanosis (bluish skin, nails, or lips)
In rare cases, muscle paralysis, convulsions, and coma may occur. Death is rare.
It is important to note that the extremely large amounts of chickweed are needed for the herb to be toxic. With that said, the actual amount can vary based on the size, age, and pregnancy status the individual.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infants under 4 months are at the highest risk of harm from nitrate exposure as are pregnant women at or near the 30th week of pregnancy.
To this end, it is best to play it safe and avoid consuming chickweed in any form. This includes nursing mothers who may pass compounds in chickweed to their babies through breast milk.
Selection, Preparation, and Storage
Outside of Japan, chickweed is generally not consumed as food. In the United States, it can be readily purchased as an ointment, salve, oral supplement, or liquid extract, as well as a variety of powders, teas, and dried herbs.
There are no guidelines for the appropriate use of chickweed. Chickweed ointments are often sold as anti-itch creams and can be applied to the skin several times daily.
Herbalists often recommend that fresh chickweed be blanched in 50% water and 50% white vinegar until soft and applied to wounds as a poultice. However, avoid applying the poultices to open wounds as they will not only sting (due to the vinegar) but may pass contaminants through breaks in the skin.
This is especially true given that chickweed is regarded by most as a weed and, as such, is likely to have been exposed to pesticides, lawn fertilizers, or other harmful chemicals.
If you do decide to take chickweed supplements, tea, or another other oral product, do not exceed the dose listed on the product label. More importantly, let your doctor know so that your condition can be monitored should an unforeseen side effect develop.
When to Call 911
If you experience dizziness, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, stomach pain, or bluish lips or nails after taking chickweed, call Poison Control at 888-222-1222 or go to your nearest emergency room.
How do you make chickweed salve?
Chickweed salve, sometimes used to treat burns or draw out splinters, can be made with either fresh chickweed or chickweed oil and beeswax. Though recipes vary, many herbalists recommend the following:
- Blend two handfuls of freshly chopped chickweed with 1-1/4 cups of olive oil.
- Place the mixture in the top of a double boiler, bringing the water to a healthy simmer.
- Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Transfer the oil to a bowl and allow it to steep for 24 to 48 hours.
- Strain the oil through a double-layer of cheesecloth.
- Stir the rendered oil into 1 ounce of melted beeswax.
- Once cooled, the salve is ready to use.
Alternately, you can add 5 ounces of store-bought chickweed oil to 1 ounce of melted beeswax. Both are said to work equally well and can be stored in a covered jar for up to six months in the refrigerator.
Chickweed (Stellaria media), considered a weed in North America, can be used topically to treat skin conditions. But it may be harmful if consumed.
The name “chickweed” most notably describes Common Chickweed (Stellaria media), although there are several other chickweeds, all in the genus Stellaria.
Common Chickweed is a cool weather plant native to Europe that has widely naturalized in the United States and throughout the world.
It’s often found in lawns and other areas of sun to partial shade in moist soil.
In a temperate climate like our southern Appalachians, chickweed normally appears during the cooler temperatures of fall and dies back in the late spring or early summer heat, but it’s typically considered an early spring plant.
It thrives between 53° and 68°F.
The stringy but succulent stems of chickweed can grow up to a foot and a half or so and produce tiny white flowers throughout the growing season.
Its pointed oval-shaped leaves grow in pairs opposite each other, fairly far apart on the stem. Leaves can be anywhere from 1/4 to 1 1/4 inch long.
Chickweed flowers are 1/8 to 1/4 inch in diameter and consist of five double-lobed white petals supported by a whorl of five green sepals. The flowers somewhat resemble carnation flowers–chickweed is actually a member of the carnation family, Caryophyllaceae.
It has a few lookalikes but a few distinguishing factors are:
- Chickweed does not have milky sap. Try pulling the stem apart. If there’s no milky sap, you’re more likely to have chickweed.
- It has a line of “hair” along the stem, which alternates between the joints.
- The inner stem of chickweed is elastic, so if you gently pull the stem apart, the outer sheath will separate while the inner part will stretch.
Chickweed is a not only a super plant in terms of its nutritional acclaim, but it’s also delicious. The flavor is often compared with corn silk. It’s pleasant and mild.
Chickweed is excellent raw–use it like sprouts; eat it in sandwiches, wraps, etc. And of course it’s a great base for salad.
It’s also great cooked and makes a good substitute for spinach. Given chickweed’s purported nutritive value, it’s actually strange to me to call it a “substitute” for anything.
It would be more appropriate to call spinach a substitute for chickweed.
Common Chickweed, Stellaria Media
How beneficial is chickweed nutritionally? It’s hard to say. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been any official research conducted.
Several sources say it’s high in vitamins C, B, and A, as well as a host of minerals and other healthful constituents.
I contacted a few of those sources looking for more info but I haven’t located any credible evidence or study.
We do know that chickweed was used traditionally as a restorative tonic for patients recuperating from serious illness. It’s presumably the plant’s nutrient content that provides healing support.
Chickweed actually has several traditional uses both internally and externally:
- Anti-inflammatory and pain reliever
It’s a traditional remedy for rheumatism, arthritis, menstrual cramps and other issues associated with inflammation.
- Digestive and intestinal support
Chickweed’s high fiber content and its reputation for improving the absorption of nutrients makes it an old stand-by tonic for gut health.
- Skin treatment
Chickweed is cooling and drying so it has a long history of use in treating skin afflictions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, rashes, minor burns, boils, cuts, and insect bites. It’s also good as a compress for soothing hemorrhoids and varicose veins.
- Kidney support
As a mild diuretic, chickweed tea is traditionally administered to flush and clean the kidneys.
A compress, tincture, or fresh juice of chickweed is used to draw out splinters.
Habitat and Harvest:
Chickweed is a common yard weed–it’s considered a pest by some so be sure not to gather it in areas that have been sprayed with pesticide.
To harvest, simply cut the stems with scissors–cut either the tops or the base depending on how much you need and how much is available.
For larger, leggy plants, you may want to use only the leaves. Be sure to remove any yellow or brown leaves.
Preparation and Storage:
Chickweed doesn’t do well refrigerated which probably explains the fact that it never made it as a commercial crop, even though it was a popular edible garden plant in the 1800s.
It’s best eaten fresh so plan to use it within a day or so of cutting. Eat the stems, leaves, flowers, and seed pods.
Since chickweed is so prolific, it’s really easy to get enough for a meal or 10 in a short time.
It’s excellent eaten raw; put it in a salad or prepare as you would spinach: steamed or sauteed.
See Steve Brill’s tips for preparing chickweed:
I’ve been harvesting Indian (aka Miners’) lettuce and carefully removing the intergrowing chickweed. I’m about to harvest today’s lettuce and, thanks to this information, will be able to sit down sooner to a yet more delicious meal. I’m happy to have found this site.
I’m glad the article helped! Happy foraging!
As a child, we harvested chickweed for our canaries and parakeets! I had no idea of the historical background on this plant.
Thanks so much! I’ll be using some of this in a recipe for herb-filled Armenian flatbread.
I saw chickweed as an ingredient in my tea. I had no idea it provided such nutritional value, especially fiber! Thank you for this information 🙂
I found a study on the nutritional stats of chickweed, as well as a few other urban “weeds”. If you reference table 7 in this document, you will find it. I do recommend reading the whole thing though 🙂 It looks as though chickweed is quite the nutritional powerhouse!
In reply to I found a study on the by Justus Jessen
That’s an awesome find, Justus. thanks so much for sharing! I’m going to read through it and update the article.
Wow! I had no idea. What a wonderful plant. So happy we don’t destroy any weeds except the stickers which are a real pain. Thank you for the great info.
I never would have known about chickweed if my hens hadn’t gone crazy over it today as I was weeding my flower bed- gobbling it up as I pulled it up. I think they knew a good thing when they saw It! Thanks, Steve for explaining the health benefits.
WOW are we covered up with Chickweed in our garden. We use wood chip mulch and it seems to love it. We are located in NE TN in the mountains and it grows huge like everything else around here. Our Opium Lettuce grows to 18-20 foot tall and is great for pain relief. Normally it grows to 6′ at best elsewhere. I dry the leaves and smoke it in a pipe or add it to salads. I love to tell folks that we live in a wild salad bowl here. Thanks for a great article as we have just discovered what we have here and we need all the help we can get.
Wow, 20 feet tall?! That’s awesome! I’ve read about opium lettuce being a great pain reliever but never actually tried it for that purpose. Sounds like great place to live for foraging! It’s amazing how much stuff is out there right in front of us waiting to be discovered. Glad the article helped and thanks for the comment!
I was always pulling Chickweed up and throwing it away because an old farmer once told me it was a weed that kept getting in her flower garden and it will overrun everything. This year however, I didn’t and my new puppy keeps eatting it. I thought I better find out if it could hurt him. Seems he’s smarter than me. I will be harvesting this from now on instead of throwing it away! Thanks for a great article!
Chickweed is a wild "weed" that is both edible and nutritious and has medicinal qualities. Learn where to find it, how to harvest, and how to prepare.