Chickweed

Stellaria media
Carnation family (Caryophyllaceae)


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Stellaria media, chickweed, is an annual and perennial flowering plant in the family Caryophyllaceae . It is native to Eurasia and naturalized throughout the world. This species is used as a cooling herbal remedy, and grown as a vegetable crop and ground cover for both human and poultry consumption. It is sometimes called common chickweed to distinguish it from other plants called chickweed. Other common names include chickenwort, craches, maruns, and winterweed. The plant germinates in autumn or late winter, then forms large mats of foliage.

Description

This species is an annual in colder climates, becoming evergreen and perennial in warmer zones, with weak slender stems, up through 40 cm long. Plants are sparsely hairy, with hairs in a line along the stem. The leaves are oval and opposite, the lower ones with stalks. Flowers are white and small with 5 very deeply lobed petals. Some plants have no petals. The stamens are usually 3 and the styles 3. The flowers quickly form capsules. Plants have flowers and capsules at the same time.

Distribution and identification

Stellaria media is widespread in Asia, Europe, North America, and other parts of the world. There are several closely related plants referred to as chickweed, but which lack the culinary properties of plants in the genus Stellaria. Plants in the genus Cerastium are very similar in appearance to Stellaria and are in the same family (Caryophyllaceae). Stellaria has fine hairs on only one side of its stem in a single band and on the sepals. Other members of the family Caryophyllaceae which resemble Stellaria have hairs uniformly covering their entire stems and usually have 3 styles, 3-5, occasionally 8 stamens, variously stated as 8 stamens by Keble Martin and (1-)3(-8) by Clapham, Tutin and Warburg.

Habitat

Stellaria media is common in lawns, meadows, waste places and open areas.

Ecology

The larvae of the European moth yellow shell (Camptogramma bilineata), of North American moths pale-banded dart (Agnorisma badinodis) or dusky cutworm (Agrotis venerabilis) or North American butterfly dainty sulphur (Nathalis iole) all feed on chickweed. It is susceptible to downy mildew caused by the oomycete species Peronospora alsinearum.

Growth

In both Europe and North America this plant is common in gardens, fields, and disturbed grounds where it grows as a ground cover.

Uses

As food

Stellaria media is edible and nutritious, and is used as a leaf vegetable, often raw in salads. It is one of the ingredients of the symbolic dish consumed in the Japanese spring-time festival, Nanakusa-no-sekku.

It is also eaten by chickens and wild birds.

Toxicity

Stellaria media contains plant chemicals known as saponins, which can be toxic to some species when consumed in large quantities. Chickweed has been known to cause saponin poisoning in cattle. However, as the animal must consume several kilos of chickweed in order to reach a toxic level, such deaths are extremely rare.

S. media should also not be confused with the mildly toxic Euphorbia.

In folk medicine

The plant has medicinal properties and is used in folk medicine. It has been used as a remedy to treat itchy skin conditions and pulmonary diseases. 17th century herbalist John Gerard recommended it as a remedy for mange. Modern herbalists prescribe it for iron-deficiency anemia (for its high iron content), as well as for skin diseases, bronchitis, rheumatic pains, arthritis and period pain. Not all of these uses are supported by scientific evidence. The plant was used by the Ainu for treating bruises and aching bones. Stems were steeped in hot water before being applied externally to affected areas.

Chemistry

The anthraquinones emodin, parietin (physcion) and questin, the flavonoid kaempferol-3,7-O-α-L-dirhamnoside, the phytosterols β-sitosterol and daucosterol, and the fatty alcohol 1-hexacosanol can be found in S. media. Other flavonoid constituents are apigenin 6-C-beta-D-galactopyranosyl-8-C-alpha-L-arabinopyranoside, apigenin 6-C-alpha-L-arabinopyranosyl-8-C-beta-D-galactopyranoside, apigenin 6-C-beta-D-galactopyranosyl-8-C-beta-L-arabinopyranoside, apigenin 6-C-beta-D-glucopyranosyl-8-C-beta-D-galactopyranoside, apigenin 6, 8-di-C-alpha-L-arabinopyranoside. The plant also contains triterpenoid saponins of the hydroxylated oleanolic acid type. Proanthocyanidins are present in the testa of seeds.

Etymology

Stellaria is derived from the word 'stellar' meaning 'star', which is a reference to the shape of its flowers. Media is derived from Latin and means 'between', 'intermediate', or 'mid-sized'.

See also

  • Nanakusa-no-sekku

References

Further reading

  • Everitt, J.H.; Lonard, R.L.; Little, C.R. (2007). Weeds in South Texas and Northern Mexico. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press. ISBN 0-89672-614-2
  • Tilford, Gregory L. (1997). Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West. Mountain Press Publishing Company. ISBN 0-87842-359-1.

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