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Chickweed (Stellaria media) Identification

Chickweed / Spring / Summer / Autumn / Winter / Edible

How to Identify Chickweed

Common names

Common Chickweed, Chickweed


Botanical name

Stellaria media


Meaning of botanical name

Stellaria means star-like, while media means in-the-middle or in between


Known hazards

Contains saponins, which can be poisonous in very large quantities. You would need to consume several kilos before being affected


Could be confused with

Speedwell or Scarlet Pimpernel, which are both poisonous, before flowering. However, neither has the single spine of hair down the stem that chickweed has – see image below.




Food plant of

Chaffinches and other small birds


Range and distribution

Common in Europe, Asia and North America


Habitat

Agricultural pasture, gardens, waste ground, flower containers, and pavement cracks


Physical characteristics

Forms mats of long (6-9 inches) trailing stems that don’t really gain any kind of height.

The roots are quite loosely attached to the soil, so the plant can be easily dislodged with little force.


Leaves

Pairs of leaves are distributed around an inch (2cm) apart along the length of the stem. The leaves are more clustered around the flower heads at the end of the stems.


Stems

Between each pair of leaves a fine spine of hair runs along the stem. This spine of hair starts in an alternate point on the section of stem up to the next pair of leaves.


Flowers

The flowers are white and look like stars. They have five petals but deep divisions give the appearance of 10 petals

AnRo0002, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons


Folklore, tall tales, and not so folklore

The Ainu – indigenous people of Japan and Russia – believed the steeped stems placed on limbs would relieve sore bones


Edible use

Eaten raw in salads, or flash steamed.


Herbal

Chickweed has a high iron content so is prescribed by herbalists for people with iron deficiency. It is also used in herbal medicine for skin disorders, respiratory disorders, period pain, and arthritic pain. Please visit your doctor before embarking on any form of treatment

Click here for our guide on making herbal remedies at home


Miscellaneous

Chickweed is widely considered to be a common garden weed and often removed and composted rather than harvested as a salad green.

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