Wildcraft Wednesday: Cold-hardy Chickweed for Weathered Hands
Put on your boots! It might be snowy out, but there are still plenty of treasures to be found hidden in the snow. Among them is the lovely white-flowered stellaria plant, or "chickweed". Chickweed is unique in that it begins its growth cycle in the Autumn, unlike most other plants, which begin their growth cycle in the Spring. In Autumn, you can harvest the sprouts for food, and even under the snow in Winter, you can find it growing green full (and you can munch on it right away!). It's really quite delicious when cold; succulent and nutty! And it isn't hard to find: It grows on long, delicate-looking, lightly fuzzy stems in dense clumps close to the ground. Its leaves are opposite-growing and distinctively tear-drop shaped. Typically, chickweed will flower in the Spring, and then it withers and goes to seed in Summer, so you'll want to harvest it before the weather gets too warm.
Chickweed is a versatile medicinal plant, whose signature is its "cooling" properties. This herb is widely touted for its effectiveness as an anti-inflammatory and anti-rheumatic, making it an excellent choice for treating arthritis which could be acting up during the cold. These properties also make it an effective remedy in treating pink eye and drawing out infections from cuts or scrapes, or in the treatment of sore throats. It is also used to improve circulation, and to improve metabolic function. In fact, these two properties seem to work in conjunction with one another: when used to dissolve fat in the body, chickweed can improve circulation as a byproduct of this as it dissolves fatty deposits in the arteries. Improved circulation improves cellular function and, by extension, higher energy levels, facilitating healthy exercise.
But the most common use of chickweed is in treatment of skin conditions. Acne, dryness, eczema, psoriasis, and even diaper rash... If there is skin in need of care, the delicate chickweed plant can be a surprisingly powerful aid.
It's quite easy to make a poultice- or healing paste -out of chickweed! Just take a handful of the leaves, grind it up with a mortar and pestle, or mush it up in a food processor. If you want a poultice that treats infections, try mixing it in with local honey. To soothe dry skin or aid in healing burns, or for a cooling effect on sunburn, a mixture with coconut oil will do the trick. Then apply to your skin. You can make this on the spot as needed.
You can also make a healing salve from chickweed! This is also very easy, but preparations need to begin well in advance of use. You can use this recipe to get started!
1 cup fresh chickweed
liquid coconut oil
1 regular mouth mason jar
2 tbsp beeswax
1/2 tbsp of vitamin E oil -or- 8 drops of your choice of essential oil (calming, woodsy Cedarwood and relaxing, piney-sweet Frankincense are great, versatile choices that are safe even for sensitive baby bums!)
small tins or jars for storage of finished product
Put your chickweed into your mason jar and cover with oil, stirring well until no more bubbles can be seen trapped under the plants leaves. Close the jar tightly and shake it up daily for 2-3 weeks. Remove the plant matter with a strainer, gathering your oil into a pot, and squeeze any remaining oil and juices from the plants. You should find yourself with about a cup of herbal chickweed oil.
Next, add your beeswax to the pot and your vitamin E and/or essential oils. Melt your beeswax on low heat and mix slowly until your mixture becomes one consistency. You can make your salve thicker by adding more beeswax if necessary, or thin it a little by adding more coconut oil.
When you're done, you can store it in your medicine cabinet or anywhere out of the light, and it should remain shelf stable for about a year.
Or, you can try it out right away and feel how babysoft your hands can be!