Chickweed actually refers to dozens of different species of plants. Most often when people refer to chickweed, they are referring to one species, Stellaria media. This species of chickweed, which is native to Europe, but also grows as a weed throughout the US, is also called star weed, tongue grass, satin flower, and mouse ear. It has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy for a number of conditions.
Folk medicine claims that chickweed is helpful as an expectorant, reduces asthma symptoms, and also “cleanses the blood.” Most often, chickweed was used in topical form to treat rashes, eczema, and insect bites. These latter uses appear to be of some benefit. Chickweed does tend to calm rashes and irritation due to insect bites. Its use in eczema is less proven. In most cases, there are few remedies, traditional or otherwise to treat eczema.
Chickweed can be obtained at local health food or natural foods stores. Many herbalists also sell it. It can be taken orally in a variety of preparations, such as capsules, tea or tinctures. It does contain nitrates, which many consider unhealthful. In fact, most herbalists recommend that one not ingest any type of chickweed preparation if one is pregnant or nursing, since this could potentially harm an unborn or nursing child.
There is little scientific evidence to verify that chickweed is beneficial in oral form. Further, there are safer herbal preparations, particularly for use as expectorants if needed. Some people do find benefit from chickweed applied to insect bites, particularly. It may help to reduce swelling, but should not substitute for treatment if one is allergic to the bite of certain insects, like bees.
Care should be used when applying chickweed to children’s bites, especially if they are likely to put the bitten area, like portions of their hands, into their mouths. Chickweed in oral form is not recommended for children.
Some people also use young chickweed leaves in salads. Again, one should be concerned regarding the nitrate levels in the leaves. Some people can experience nitrate poisoning. Upon consuming chickweed, if one feels dizzy, weak, or if one faints or has a headache, one should see a doctor immediately.