Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed (Fliodh in Irish) is a tiny creeping plant found growing, from spring onwards for most of the year in damp soil. It is recognisable by its small leaves and tiny star-shaped white flowers, indeed Stelleria literally means 'little star'. Each flower consists of five petals, deeply divided which gives the appearance of ten petals. The stems run flat along the ground while the upper part is erect. The leaves are pale green and oval shaped. It is frequently seen growing at the edge of pavements and in the shade under trees even in towns such as Dun Laoghaire. Chickweed, is a favourite food of chickens, caged and wild birds and is eaten by many farm animals. In rural areas outside Dublin it is known as Chickenweed.

During the 1850s, it was sold on the streets by vendors in Dublin. Fresh Chickweed can be eaten as a vegetable, tasting like spinach or used as an infusion. It has a high content of vitamins B and C, calcium and other minerals. Chickweed is one of the very few herbs that grow throughout most of the year. It thrives in damp weather, growing quickly and is best to use fresh.

The main uses of Chickweed are to cool the blood in poor skin conditions. Today in County Westmeath an elderly man makes up a remedy using Chickweed as a poultice to draw out carbuncles. He himself had been cured in this way and now neighbours come to him for the Chickweed remedy. The plant also helps reduce and dissolve fat, mucous and plaque in the system. In olden days it was used for heart and lung conditions.

A woman aged over 90 years living in Dún Laoghaire remembered her grandmother from Dundalk having the cure for consumptive coughs. The remedy was made up of Watercress which she collected from streams and fresh Chickweed. Many of her neighbours and friends were treated successfully with the mixture. Baggot Street Hospital was keen to acquire her 'cure', but she refused to reveal it!

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