Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a delicious and nutrient-dense plant that, luckily for us, grows like a weed.
While chickweed is native to Europe, it has spread to many temperate parts of the world and is naturalized in North America. Chickweed loves cooler weather and is often one of the first plants to emerge in the spring. It disappears with the heat of the summer, and in some climates, returns in the cooler fall months.
There’s a long list of ways that chickweed can be used as an herbal remedy, but one of the best ways to use chickweed is to soothe and cool conditions that are hot and dry.
Do you have an itchy inflamed skin condition such as a rash? Try using a chickweed salve or poultice, as well as using it internally to bring cooling relief.
Do your lungs feel hot and irritated and you have a dry cough? Try a tincture or tea of chickweed to moisten and soothe the lungs.
Want a nourishing green food that takes seconds to harvest and tastes delicious? Try a chickweed salad or chickweed pesto.
Chickweed is a versatile plant!
In this article I’m going to explain how to identify chickweed and how to make a super strong chickweed salve that you can use for hot, itchy, and inflamed skin issues, such as rashes, clean wounds, and bug bites.
How to Identify Chickweed
Chickweed is a low growing herbaceous plant that, in the right conditions, forms a thick mat along the ground. It thrives in cool and moist conditions and grows readily in disturbed soil. When I lived in the Seattle area, I often found it growing on organic farms and the farmers were more than happy for me to weed harvest for them.
Chickweed’s small white flowers look like they have ten petals, but they technically only have five petals with a deep divide in each petal. Chickweed flowers are said to look like a star. The genus name, Stellaria, means star-like.
The leaves are oval shaped and grow opposite along the stem.
However, the best distinguishing trait of chickweed is something you may need a magnifying glass or botanical loupe to see. Take a very close look at the stem of chickweed and you’ll see a row of tiny hairs that grow along one side of the stem. With each leaf node, the row of hairs shifts to the next side of the stem.
Hopefully these botanical traits can help you to identify chickweed. Remember to always be 100% positive about a plant before you use it internally or externally. If you have any questions about the identity of a plant, find someone local who can positively ID your plant.
How to Harvest Chickweed
Chickweed is best used when it’s still young. Harvest it before it flowers, or just as it is coming into bloom. Chickweed that has gone to seed may be too tough or stringy to be enjoyable to eat.
Chickweed has easily disturbed roots, so the best way to harvest the plant is with scissors. Simply cut several inches from the top, leaving enough stems and leaves for the plant to continue growing. Chickweed will grow back with a flourish after each harvest!
Tips for Making the Best Chickweed Oil and Chickweed Salve
Chickweed is a very moist plant, which means it has a high water content when it’s fresh. Infusing herbs with a high water content into oil can add water to the oil, making your oil or salve more easily go rancid, or even moldy.
In order to have the best chickweed salve, we need to dry the plants a bit. However, here’s the tricky part, chickweed is best when fresh. The conundrum!
Here’s what I do with plants that are best used fresh when I need to reduce the high moisture content.
First, I harvest the plant and let it wilt overnight. The plant material will lose a lot of its moisture, but it won’t be totally dry.
Then I use the warm oil method for extracting the plant into the oil. This gently heated process will help to drive off any remaining moisture that might spoil the oil. The recipe below includes my step-by-step instructions.
Super Strong Chickweed Salve
This is a super strong salve made with a delicate plant that brings soothing relief to hot and dry tissues. Consider this chickweed salve for bug bites, hot rashes, clean wounds, diaper rash, or any itchy skin conditions.
The optional lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil is also wonderful for the same conditions, gives the salve a nice scent, and mildly helps to preserve the salve.
This recipe makes a soft salve. If you anticipate storing this in a warm location, add more beeswax to help it solidify more. Up to 2 ounces (56 grams) of beeswax can be used in total.
What you’ll need…
- 2 large handfuls of fresh chickweed
- 1 1/4 cups olive oil
- 1 ounce beeswax
- 30-50 drops lavender essential oil (optional)
Prep the day before: Chop the fresh chickweed finely and arrange it into a thin layer on a cutting board or cookie sheet. Allow to wilt for 12-24 hours.
The next day: Measure out 1 1/4 cups olive oil in a measuring cup. Add the wilted chickweed to the olive oil. You’ll get the best results if there is roughly an equal amount of chickweed to olive oil, meaning that when you combine the two, there isn’t a lot of extra oil compared to chickweed or vice versa.
Place the chickweed and olive oil in a blender or food processor. Blend for 15-20 seconds or until the chickweed and olive oil are well blended. (This further breaks up the cell walls, helping the extraction process. However, this step can be skipped.)
Place the chickweed and olive oil mixture in the top part of a double boiler, or place a bowl on top of a pan that has 2 inches of water in it (the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl).
Bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Stir the oil occasionally and continue until the oil is quite warm to the touch. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to sit for several hours.
Repeat this process (reheating and allowing to cool) several times within a 24- to 48-hour period to fully extract the plant material into the oil. Throughout this process, do not let the oil get so hot that it smokes or that the plant material begins to “fry” and get crispy – you only need to get the oil warm to extract the goodness in the plant material.
When the chickweed has infused well with the oil, the oil will have taken on green color.
After 24-48 hours, strain off the chickweed through a double layer of cheese cloth.
Measure out 1 cup of the infused oil. (Extra oil can be used as a body moisturizer. If you don’t have a cup of oil, add a little plain olive oil to make up the difference.)
Measure your beeswax by weight.
Using a double boiler or in a pan on very low heat, melt the beeswax. Tip: the smaller your beeswax, the easier it will melt.
Once the beeswax is liquid, add the chickweed oil. Stir well to combine, using as little heat as possible.
Add the optional lavender essential oil.
Immediately pour into tins or glass jars.
Let the salve cool until it hardens. Label and store in a cool place.
This salve will last for a year, if not longer.
Yield: About 8 ounces; this fills 4 (2-ounce) containers very full
Clean-up tip: Use a paper towel to wipe out the pan you used to make the salve while the pan is still warm. Wipe out as much as possible, then wash with hot soapy water.