Wish Upon a Weed. It’s a Wild Wild World.

I often wonder how wild plants choose where to live. Is it the locations temperature and soil conditions that lure them? Or are there other factors involved? This pondering takes me back to a time in my life where the word “happy” no longer existed in my vocabulary. It was a dark time of the soul for me. After a 10 year battle with cancer, my father lost the fight. My mother was bedridden with COPD and many things were falling apart in my World. My job, relationship and just about everything in between. With a heavy heart I retreated to the safest place I knew, my garden. Although quite overgrown with weeds due to lack of attention, I was at home in my garden and decided it would help lift my spirits. Much to my surprise, a plant of unknown species and origin made its way into my yard, specifically into my garden space and was making an attempt it seemed, to take over the whole garden! Although it had a pretty bright blue flower, it was not invited to this garden party and I was having none of it. Sage was the queen of my garden and would not be dethroned by this invasive intruder.

I rolled up my sleeves and went right to work. By this time I was a seasoned warrior on the battlefield and pretty much waged war on that plant. Determined, I pulled every one of them out and patted myself on the back for a job well done. Enter the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies. It was right about this time I enrolled in herb school with the thought that maybe, just maybe there are alternative methods to restore and maintain health than the unsuccessful conventional methods my mother and father had been subjected to. Many of the first plants we learned about were considered weeds by most people. However, a plant is a plant to an herbalist and interestingly enough, many have medicinal value. Like the so called weed that I recently eradicated from my garden. As I perused the books on sale at school, one in particular caught my eye. The book Flower Power by Anne McIntyre practically jumped off the shelf at me. I opened the book and there was the bright blue flower. It was in that moment that I was formally introduced to borage.

The following words nearly sat me down and literally spoke to my heart. “As a flower essence borage is the remedy for courage and optimism. Like the cordial herb, it is excellent as a heart remedy to relieve the heavy hearted, and brighten the disheartened.” You could have knocked me over with a feather at that moment. I often say it was with blood, sweat and tears that I learned the lessons of the herbs. This was one of those. As tears welled up in my eyes I asked myself what have I done? With no thought at all as to why it came to my garden, I had eradicated the very plant that had come just for me. Then and there I promised to myself and the plants that it would never happen again. Herbalism has shown me the lesson of mindfulness and understanding how my actions affect others including my environment. Teacher Paul Bergner gave further credence to the notion that plants grow where they are needed with his advice, “If you want to know what herbs you need, go out into your backyard and look around.” That is of course if you don’t have a perfectly groomed yard. This makes sense on many levels. Mullein, highly regarded as a good “lung” herb is one of the first plants to come back after a fire. Not only to heal the lungs, but because it grows in close families, the roots hold damaged ground together helping to prevent further damage.

More recently, as the long winter days faded and the light began to return, I started cleaning and preparing the greenhouse for this year’s planting. As I pulled the plastic off a hoop tent that had been protecting collard greens, I noticed another plant growing, rather profusely I might add. Although I had noticed the tiny ground cover before I had not paid it much attention. I picked some and gave it to my chickens as they have been deprived of green treats all winter. A couple days later I noticed it had bloomed tiny white flowers. Excited that I could finally identify it, I ran for my magnifier and confirmed its identity as chickweed! Stellaria media.

No wonder the chickens liked it so much. It’s rumored that this is how chickweed got its name. I had to ask myself, how did it get here? I had been looking for it all over Teller and Park counties with only minimal success. I spotted a small amount of mouse ear chickweed growing on a property in Hidden Forest last year but no chickweed in my vicinity. Jealous that my friends were collecting bushels of it down in Manitou in Springtime, it gave rise to the questions did I wish this plant into my greenhouse or was it around all along and I just didn’t notice it? Stranger things have happened. Perhaps it was mixed in with my purslane seeds that I planted the previous year. It does bear a resemblance to purslane, except I didn’t plant the purslane in that particular bed.

Although a mystery, it’s like they say, never look a gift horse in the mouth! Being nutrient dense, chickweed is a welcome addition to my garden. Rich with Vitamin A and C, the vitamins necessary for healthy skin, it’s also packed with minerals that help us build healthy skin tissue. The plant is considered a skin tonic because it has cleansing saponins. Saponins are a phytochemical found in certain plants that create a foam-like substance when mixed with water. Saponins are also thought to bind to cholesterol and other pathogens preventing them from being absorbed by the body, carrying them through the digestive system instead. Nature’s cleanser so to speak.

Many health conditions can be alleviated by simply adding nutrients to the diet for example; heart disease, risk of stroke, circulatory disorders and high cholesterol just to name a few. Chickweed is high in magnesium, calcium and iron. As well as choline, folic acid and zinc. For its nutrient content alone, this plant is a loaded treasure chest. The feedback I’m getting from people that have visited and nibbled on the chickweed is nothing short of amazing. When we consume wild foods it’s like a key that fits perfectly into a lock and our bodies really recognize the nutrients provided by Nature like no other. Again, I go back in time when my friends and I made wild food pesto. I woke up the next day with a feeling of euphoria that I had never experienced before.

A salad made from chickweed and dandelion greens would be a nutritional power salad and both of these plants grow quite profusely once they get started. A chickweed vinegar infusion combined with olive oil, can be used as a salad dressing helping to unlock the minerals from the salad greens making them more readily available.

For more nutritional information on chickweed see: http://www.kingdomplantae.net/chickweed.php. The nutrient content is too extensive to list in this article but well worth looking into.

Chill out!

This isn’t a hot chick we’re talking about, chickweed is a refrigerant making it an excellent remedy for hot inflammatory conditions inside or out. Great for people who experience hot flashes or who work in the hot sun. Gardeners take note! A bandana dipped in water with a few drops of chickweed tincture can bring instant and lasting relief from the heat when placed on the forehead or around the neck as well as taken internally.

Chickweed can be pureed with water in the blender to serve as a poultice for burns, boils, eczema, chapped skin, diaper rash, psoriasis or any other hot inflammatory skin condition. The fresh juice can also be applied to the eyes to relieve soreness, redness and itchiness or the other end to relieve hemorrhoids! Pureed chickweed would be an excellent nutritional boost in green smoothies and soothing for the person who suffers from heartburn. Although not recommended for the person who tends to be easily chilled or cold all the time, it would be a welcome relief to a feverish person when applied at the pulse points.

Move it!

As a lymphatic it helps to move cellular debris through our lymph system. A fresh plant vinegar would serve to double down on the lymphatic action as vinegar is also considered a lymphatic. Chickweed helps clean out and clean up cystic conditions. It can be taken as a tea for asthma, bronchitis or general chest congestion due to its expectorant action.

Or Lose it!

Chickweed is known to help unlock and release toxic fat buildup such as belly fat caused by the stress hormone cortisol. It is dissolving and resolving in the case of cellulite. As a hunger suppressor paired with its ability to move things out, the tea, juice and salad have long been used in folk medicine as a treatment in weight loss or obesity. I suspect this is due to the nutrient density of chickweed, when the body is fulfilled with nutrients, cravings naturally dissipate. With today’s rate of obesity and the weight loss industry making money hand over foot with their products, I may expect to see people flocking (pun intended) to my greenhouse for this free and nutritious weight loss aid.

To summarize chickweeds many actions: It is a skin tonic, refrigerant, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, lymphatic, expectorant, lowers cholesterol, mild laxative, diuretic and appetite suppressor.

Facts

*Although it has diuretic action, chickweed won’t deplete the body of minerals like pharmaceutical diuretics.

*Chickweed is best eaten fresh, tinctured in a water/alcohol combination, or made fresh into a vinegar infusion.

*Chickweed is an annual and often germinates in the fall but can germinate year-round and hangs on through the winter, flowering and setting seed in the early spring but only blooming mid-day. It is best collected in the spring and fall but if you find it in January, and you just might at lower elevations, go ahead and harvest.

***Although considered a fairly safe food, some resources caution diarrhea may result if taken too frequently.

To make a chickweed vinegar infusion, simply cut enough chickweed to fill a pint mason jar ¾ of the way full. Not too tightly packed. Cover the herb with organic apple cider vinegar and shake daily for 3-4 weeks. Strain and enjoy.

Plant your own chickweed! Approx 100 seeds





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