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Chickweed

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DECEMBER 2011: CHICKWEED (Stellaria Media)

Chickweed Description and Habitat:: An annual or biennial, Chickweed is found throughout the world. A native of all temperate and north Arctic regions it has naturalised itself wherever people have settled, becoming one of the commonest weeds. With a much branched stem which often reaches a considerable length trailing on the ground, the stem has a line of hairs that runs up it on one side only until it reaches a pair of leaves and then continues on the opposite side. The pale green, smooth leaves are egg-shaped, about 1/2 inch long and 1/4 inch broad, with a short point, and are placed on the stem in pairs. The small white, star-like flowers, which are situated singly in the axils of the upper leaves, open about nine o'clock in the morning and are said to remain open just twelve hours in bright weather. If it is raining, they turn their faces downward. Blooming for much of the year, the seeds are contained in a small capsule fitted with teeth which close up in wet weather.

Common Names: Starweed. Star Wort, Scare Wort, Tongue grass, Star Chickweed, Chick Wittles, Cluck weed, Hen’s guts, Hen Bite, Passerina, Satin flower, Winter Weed. Adder’s Mouth.

The name “Stellaria” is from the Latin “stella” meaning ‘Star; and referring to its star shaped flowers, while “Media” means “middle” to differentiate chickweed from it’s smaller and larger relatives.

The Chickweed is an instance of what is termed the 'Sleep of Plants'. Every night the leaves move towards each other, so that their upper surfaces fold over the tender buds of the new shoots. The uppermost pair of leaves at the end of the stem have longer stalks than the others, so that they can close and protect the growing tip of the shoot.

The young leaves when boiled are very similar in taste to spring spinach and are often used uncooked with young Dandelion leaves to make a salad.

The custom of giving Chickweed to birds is a very old one, for Gerard tells us: 'Little birds in cadges (especially Linnets) are refreshed with the lesser Chickweed when they loath their meat whereupon it was called of some "Passerina.".

Both wild and caged birds eat the seeds as well as the young tops and leaves. Pigs like Chickweed, and also rabbits; cows and horses will eat it; sheep are indifferent to it, but goats refuse to touch it.

Part Used Medicinally: The whole herb is used either dried or fresh and is usually collected between May and July.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Chickweed has been used to cure convulsions and as an aid to digestion, stomach ulcers, and all forms of internal inflammation. It has also been used to reduce mucus build-up in the lungs and to treat asthma, gastro-intestinal disorders, coughs, itching, colds, bronchitis, pleurisy, hoarseness, inflammation, rheumatism, gout, scurvy, skin diseases, tumors, cancer, and blood disorders. It has also been applied externally as a remedy for inflamed skin, insect stings, boils, scalds, burns, inflamed sore eyes, blood poisoning, erysipelas, itching, piles, swollen testes, ulcerated mouth and all kinds of wounds, bruises, and sores.

It has also been used as a vitamin C supplement and is rich in minerals, especially calcium, magnesium and potassium as well as vitamins B6, B12 and D. This herb is said to help carry toxins from the body and dissolve plaque in blood vessels, healing and soothing anything it comes into contact with. It has also been said to curb obesity.

Gerard tells us that:

'the leaves of Chickweed boyled in water very soft, adding thereto some hog's grease, the powder of Fenugreeke and Linseed, and a few roots of Marsh Mallows, and stamped to the forme of Cataplasme or pultesse, taketh away the swelling of the legs or any other part . . . in a word it comforteth, digesteth, defendeth and suppurateth very notably.' He says that 'the leaves boyled in vinegar and salt are good against mangines of the hands and legs, if they be bathed therewith.'

Culpepper calls it 'a fine, soft, pleasing herb, under the dominion of the Moon,' and goes on to tell us that:

‘The herb bruised, or the juice applied, with cloths or sponges dipped therein to the region of the liver, and as they dry to have fresh applied, doth wonderfully temper the heat of the liver and is effectual for all impostumes and swellings whatsoever; for all redness in the face, wheals, pushes, itch or scabs, the juice being either simply used, or boiled in hog's grease; the juice or distilled water is of good use for all heat and redness in the eyes ... as also into the ears.... It helpeth the sinews when they are shrunk by cramps or otherwise, and extends and makes them pliable again, by using the following methods, viz.: Boil a handful of Chickweed and a handful of dried red-rose leaves, but not distilled, in a quart of muscadine, until a fourth part be consumed; then put to them a pint of oil of trotters, or sheep's feet, let them boil a good while, still stirring them well, which being strained, anoint the grieved part therewith warm against the fire, rubbing it well with your hand, and bind also some of the herb, if you choose, to the place, and with God's blessing it will help in three times dressing.'

Folklore: I have only found one mythological reference to chickweed - The Ainu people are an indigenous tribe located in a part of Japan. The Ainu people have a legend that says, "The Ainu lived in this place a hundred thousand years before the Children of the Sun came." Traditional Ainu dress was a robe spun from the bark of the elm tree and decorated with geometric designs, with long sleeves, folded round the body and tied with a girdle of the same material. The men never shaved and had full beards and mustaches, and men and women alike cut their hair level with the shoulders, trimmed semicircularly behind. The Ainu lived in reed-thatched huts, without partitions and with a fireplace in the center, and never ate raw fish or flesh, always either boiling or roasting it, using wild herbs for flavor. Intermarriage and cultural assimilation have made the traditional Ainu almost extinct.

The cosmology of the Ainu people consists of six heavens and six hells where gods, demons, and animals lived. Demons lived in the lower heavens. Amongst the stars and the clouds lived the lesser gods. In highest heaven lived Kamui, the creator God, and his servants. His realm was surrounded by a mighty metal wall and the only entrance was through a great iron gate. Kamui made this world as a vast round ocean resting on the backbone of an enormous trout. This fish sucks in the ocean and spits it out again to make the tides; when it moves it causes earthquakes.

One day Kamui looked down on the watery world and decided to make something of it. He sent down a water wagtail to do the work. By fluttering over the waters with its wings and by trampling the sand with its feet and beating it with its tail, the wagtail created patches of dry land. In this way islands were raised to float upon the ocean. When the animals who lived up in the heavens saw how beautiful the world was, they begged Kamui to let them go and live on it, and he did. But Kamui also made many other creatures especially for the world. The first people, the Ainu, had bodies of earth, hair of chickweed, and spines made from sticks of willow. Kamui sent Aioina, the divine man, down from heaven to teach the Ainu how to hunt and to cook.

 

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 December 2011 19:51  

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