Chickweed - Stellaria media

Main features

  • Long trailing stems reaching 0.5m

  • Pairs of leaves widely spaced along the stem

  • Single line of hairs along the stem

  • Common garden weed - likes disturbed earth

  • Found all year round 

  • Small white star-like flowers

  • Five-petalled flowers split so gives appearance of 10 petals

  • Possible confusion with Speedwell or Scarlet Pimpernel - neither has a single line of hairs along stem

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Chickweed - Stellaria media

Edible plant - novice

Other common names: Common Chickweed, Starweed

 

Scientific name meaning: Stellaria is dervived from the word "Stellar", meaning star or star-like, and a reference to the shape of Chickweed's flowers. Media is a Latin term meaning "in between" or "in the middle"

Habitat - where will I find it? Chickweed is a very common plant and classed by many as a garden weed. It likes to grow on disturbed soil, so can be found in garden borders, plant pots, agricultural land, and under trees where animals forage. It can be found all year round and likes the soil to be moist 

Description - what does it look like? Chickweed forms long trailing stems of up to 0.5metres. They are initially upright, but lay on the ground as they get longer. It is fast growing and shallow rooting and easily pulled up with little effort.

Pairs of leaves are widely spaced along the stem, becoming more clustered around the flower heads at the end of the stems.

Between each pair of leaves a fine single line of hair runs along the stem. This spine-like row of hair does not run along the same line down the entire stem. Instead, each line of hair folows its own path between two leaf pairs. 

The flowers are white and have five petals but deep splits down the middle of each petal give the false appearance of 10 petals

Possible lookalikes Both Spurges and Scarlet Pimpernel, which are toxic, can grow in the same habitat and in a similar manner to Chickweed. However, neither has the single spine of hair down the stem that Chickweed has. Once flowered, Scarlet Pimpernel has red flowers or blue flowers. The flowers of Spurge are green-yellow

Use as a food Chickweed can be eaten as a salad leaf, where its flavour is somewhat spinach-like and can be mildly salty. It can also be used as a cooked green (please see hazards below)

Use in herbal medicine Chickweed has been used as a herbal medicine to treat many conditions such as skin irritations, roselola infantum, chest complaints, inflammation, menstrual pain, arthritic pain, constipation, ulcers, wounds, circulatory disorders, and kidney problems. 
If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Hazards The plant contains saponins, which are toxic. However, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body so a large quantity needs to ingested before problems arise. Saponins are found in lots of plants consumed regulsrly by humans.

Saponins can be very toxic to other animals though.

Pregnant and breast-feeding woman are advised against consuming excessively large or regular quantities of saponin-containing foods.

Importance to other species As it flowers all year round, Chickweed is important for pollinators. It also provides food for small birds. And, of courses, chickens love it - its where the common name comes from!

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!