Posted by: Glow-worm PJ20 MAY 2011
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a flowering plant found in most parts of the world and usually thought of as a weed. Its common name refers to the fact that it is fed to poultry, and it provides an important food source for moorland game birds. It is a prolific, low growing annual weed, with white, star-shaped flowers, capable of producing up to six generations in a single year.
Chickweed was well known in folk medicine, the dried leaves being used as a tea to treat a host of conditions such as gout, rheumatism, constipation and respiratory disorders, including tuberculosis.
Chickweed contains significant levels of vitamins A, B and C, and was once used in the prevention of scurvy. It also makes a palatable addition to salads.
Chemical analysis reveals the presence of the glycosides rutin and saponin, as well as flavonoids. On the whole, these compounds’ properties support the plant’s traditional uses. Saponins possess anti-inflammatory activity, as do flavonoids, which are also anti-allergenic and antimicrobial. They also induce the production by the body of so-called phase-II enzymes, which increase the elimination of potentially harmful compounds from the cells, including carcinogens. Rutin has also been shown to have antitumour activity. Extracts of Stellaria media have been tested against hepatic tumours in vitro, but the results were inconclusive.
Chickweed also contains significant amounts of iron and calcium, and it was one of several plant species investigated as a possible source of plant calcium. Dairy products are the traditional source of calcium, but in populations that do not consume large quantities of milk, particularly in poorer countries, plant calcium may provide a cheaper, more readily available alternative. Recent research at Chung Ang University in South Korea examined osteoporosis risk in post-menopausal women. It suggested that vegetables may indeed be an important source of calcium and they may also provide vitamins and minerals that exert additional beneficial effects on the bone.