The dense, low-lying chickweed is notorious for choking out grass in lawns across the United States. The tiny starburst-shaped white flowers it boasts in spring are responsible for some of its other names: Stellaria media and starweed. Chickweed is native to Europe, where its leaves (packed with vitamin C, flavonoids and carotenoids) have long been eaten as a salad green, used as poultry feed and dried to make tea.
Uses: In some European and North American folk medicine traditions, chickweed is used to treat bronchitis, colds and coughs and to relieve the pain and irritation associated with gout, rheumatism, psoriasis, eczema and insect bites and stings.
Dose: Chickweed is sold in capsules, liquid extracts and tinctures, ointments and creams. Doses vary, but topically, chickweed preparations can be applied three to four times a day.
Precautions: Chickweed contains small amounts of chemicals called nitrates, which in very large doses can cause birth defects in the developing fetus or brain damage or death in small children. Experts say the nitrate levels found in chickweed supplements are generally too low to cause harm. To be safe, though, keep chickweed products out of the reach of children.
Research: Some research shows that when applied topically, chickweed acts as an astringent -- that is, it tightens skin tissue, reducing inflammation and relieving irritation. In vitro tests show the plant also acts as an antioxidant. But to date there are no comprehensive clinical trials providing evidence of chickweed’s ability to relieve upper-respiratory conditions or joint pain when taken internally.
Dietary supplement makers are not required by the U.S. government to demonstrate that their products are safe or effective. Ask your healthcare provider for advice on selecting a brand.
-- Elena Conis