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Common Chickweed

Scientific Name : Stellaria media
Other names: Chickwittles, Mischievous Jack, Starweed, Starwort, Winterweed
Family: Caryophyllaceae

This is an annual, but is also ephemeral as it can mature and produce seed in 5 to 6 weeks, so there can be several generations in a year; later germinated plants may overwinter. It forms a dense mat, smothering other plants; flopping stems root as they spread. Seed can remain dormant for many years, germinating when the ground is cultivated and this can be for up to 25 to 40 years. Some viable seed have been recovered from bird and animal droppings and ants are known to carry them away as well. However, if ground is cultivated for a few years and the plants are never allowed to mature, the amount of germination reduces to very little. It is probably the most common weed worldwide.

It is an alternative host to the Cucumber Mosaic Virus which also affects other cucurbits such as courgettes or marrows - the leaves go yellow and the plants die back.

When growing well the lush top-growth has a sweet, pea-like flavour and it can be added to salads, made into a soup or a soup garnish. It is a source of vitamins A, B and C, calcium and potassium so makes a tonic for poultry and caged birds - hence the common name.
Crushing a few leaves to release the sap and rubbing onto the skin, should relieve irritation. An infusion taken twice daily should ease a cough or applied externally as a wash for wounds, rashes and sores. The most commonly quoted medicinal use is as a poultice applied to reduce swelling.

It can be found in flower all year round, and is able to mature to seed at any time as well. The flowers are small, white and star-like with about ten petals and the pointed sepals behind them are longer.

Height - up to 30 cm, but usually prostrate.
Hoe or hand pull, the top-growth is brittle and the roots are tenacious. Trace the stems back to the growing point and loosen the roots - though being an annual these do not have to be completely removed, just the growing point. The growing point can remain if the plants are pulled away, so they may regrow. Dispose of uprooted plants if flowers and seedheads are present. Regular hoeing of the seedlings for a few seasons reduces the frequency of germination and it can virtually disappear unless deep cultivation brings up more seeds. A weed burner kills off the topgrowth and it should not recover, this can also destroy some of the seeds on the surface as well.

Weedkillers to use:-
A residual herbicide will supress germination in non-cultivated areas.
Paraquat and Diquat have contact action, killing the top growth, they should be applied before flowering.

image of Chickweed, Stellaria media

Nicholas Culpepper
(17th century astrologer-physician)
"The bruised herb or the juice applied with sponges to the region of the liver, doth temperate the heat of the liver, and is effectual for all imposthumes and swellings whatsoever, for all redness in the face, wheals, scabs and the itch. The juice, simply used or boiled with hog's grease and applied, helpeth cramps, convulsions and palsy.
The juice or distilled water is good for all heats and redness in the eyes if some is dropped into them and is good to ease pain from the heat and sharpness of blood in the piles. It is used also in hot and virulent ulcers and sores in the privy parts of men and women, or on the legs or elsewhere.
The leaves boiled with Marsh Mallow and made into a poultice with Fenugreek and Linseed, applied to swellings and imposthumes, ripen and break them, or assuage the swellings and ease the pains. It hepleth the sinews when they are shrunk by cramp or otherwise."

Imposthume - purulent swelling or abscess.

See also Common Mouse-ear, Bog Stitchwort and Greater Stitchwort which are closely related and have similar flowers.

Follow these links for further details on Weeds, Weed Removal and Weed Prevention.
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