Chickweed

(Stellaria media) A lucky plant, at least to the people of the Fen country of England, where it used to be grown in pots, to bring good luck to the house. If the plant was gathered when the dew was still on it, it was thought to turn the plainest woman into a beauty (Porter. 1969). Apparently, chickweed in the language of flowers symbolized rendezvous (Leyel. 1937), quite why is not clear. There is a little weather lore associated with the plant - it expands its leaves when fine weather is to follow. But if it should shut up, then the weather will be foul. As a compromise, half-opening flowers are a sign that the wet will not last long.

Chickweed was used extensively in the medicinal field. It contains copper and iron, and so it is useful for anaemia, and kidney and skin disorders can be treated with it. The last-named was known to Gerard, too - "the leaves boiled in vinegar and salt are good against manginesse of the hands and legs, if they be bathed therewith". Chickweed was used to make poultices for boils in Irish folk medicine (Barbour), and the treatment was known in Newfoundland, too (Bergen. 1899). In Somerset, the poultice is used for abscesses and ulcers, too (Tongue. 1965), and it was a common Dorset remedy for gatherings and boils (Dacombe), and in Norfolk for quite severe cases of dermatitis or eczema (V G Hatfield. 1994). The practice in Hampshire was to mix groundsel with chick-weed in making this poultice (Hampshire FWI), but this kind of use was well-known in the Highlands of Scotland, too, for carbuncles and abscesses. The traditional way of preparing it there was to bruise the plant between a flat and round stone kept for the purpose (Beith). They can be used for warts, too, by rubbing the fresh juice on them. But it seems the warts had to be pared to their quick first, then they would fall off (Fernie). It can be applied to bee stings, too, to get the swelling down (Vickery. 1995). Half genuine and half charm is one cure from Ireland: the healer rolls up some chickweed into a small ball. This he rubs "upwards" on the rash (i.e., towards the heart), at the same time saying "In the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Buckley).

Chickweed can be used for rheumatism with some effect. Homeopathic doctors prescribe what is described as an essence of the fresh plant, to be taken to relieve rheumatic pains, and it can be used externally as a rub (Schauenberg & Paris), or, as in Sussex, it can be crushed and laid on as a poultice (Allen). In Scotland an ointment made from it is used to like effect, and that ointment is also used on children's chilblains and rashes (Vickery. 1995). Herbalists still prescribe it for carbuncles, abscesses, etc., (Warren-Davis). In Ulster, it was used for sprains, either boiled and made into a poultice, and applied very hot, or "roasted", and made into an ornament (Maloney).

Gypsies use a leaf infusion to cure coughs and colds (Vesey-Fitzgerald), and it is an old Irish remedy for whooping cough (O Suilleabhain), while in Skye the feet and ankles of a fever patient were at one time washed in warm water in which chickweed had been put, as a means of getting the patient to sleep (Martin). The plant is used by herbalists in the treatment of stomach ulcers, and as an aid to digestion (Conway). A lotion made of chickweed and rose leaves is used in Somerset for sore eyes (Tongue. 1965), or it could be used with unsalted lard as an ointment. There is a strange usage from Japan: an infusion of the leafy shoot with sugar is given internally to stop a nosebleed (Perry & Metzger). The name Chickweed has a fairly obvious derivation. Chickens like it - "chickens and birds love to pick the seed thereof" (Coles). It is, in fact, a rich iron tonic, long given to cage birds, too.

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