Chickweed (Stellaria media), also known as chickenwort, winterweed, starweed, and satin flower, is a hardy annual.
Native to Europe, this pesky little weed has made its way around the world, often found in agricultural fields, home gardens, lawns, and other areas with partial-to-full sun.
Keep reading to learn all about chickweed, including how to identify it, its uses, and the health benefits associated with consuming it.
First described by ancient Greek physician Dioscorides, chickweed is believed to have originated in Europe. It has often been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat various ailments.
Since its discovery, the weed has spread worldwide, making it one of the most adaptable flowering plants in the world.
It has been used in medicinal home remedies throughout ancient history, thought to treat skin and digestive issues.
Chickweed has stringy-like stems that can grow up to a foot and a half tall and produces tiny white flowers throughout the growing season.
The succulent stems, with hairs along one side, grow to form a dense mat with blooms attached to the stems.
The bright green leaves are smooth, oval-shaped, and pointed, growing in pairs opposite each other. The leaves grow to about ¼ to 1 ¼ inches long.
The brilliant white star-shaped flowers closely resemble carnation flowers, which makes sense considering chickweed is part of the carnation family. These flowers have five petals that are so deeply divided that they appear doubled.
Seeds can be found in capsule-like pods at the end of the stalks.
Why Is It a Weed?
Chickweed has been identified around the world in many different climates, but it generally prefers cooler conditions.
This weed is one of the most adaptable flowering plants because it can adapt to nearly any growing conditions.
After germinating in an area, it takes around eighteen years to eradicate the dormant seeds completely. So once it shows up, you’re in it for the long haul, and you’ll have to be on the lookout for new growth each season.
This plant’s resilience is responsible for its invasiveness. It may steal nutrients from the soil in your home garden, attract pests to your plants, and outperform native plants.
A heavy infestation of chickweed can be impossible to get rid of, resulting in a significant loss of crops.
How It Spreads
Birds, including domesticated birds such as chickens, feed on chickweed and distribute the seeds later.
This weed is commonly found in grassland areas and waste areas. These seeds can germinate soon after being removed from the plant. Seeds begin sprouting around five weeks after germination.
The ideal germination temperature for chickweed is anywhere from 50 degrees to 70 degrees, usually from January through March.
Chickweed is an extremely persistent plant that is difficult to get rid of once it has entered an area. It is best to monitor the area closely so that you can remove chickweed as soon as it emerges from the soil to prevent it from spreading any further.
A single plant can produce 800 or more seeds. It quickly colonizes areas, preventing native plant growth and decreasing crop production in agricultural fields.
The deeper the seeds are in the soil, the less likely they are to begin germinating. If the seeds begin germinating, the sprout will most likely die off.
Getting Rid of Chickweed
In small gardens and other small areas, manual removal of chickweed is the more effective way to eliminate new growth and prevent future germination of seeds.
This method requires you to stay on top of any new growth because the weed is much easier to remove while it’s small. Once it matures, it’s more difficult to eradicate.
Hand-pulling the weed is an effective way to remove the sprouts, although it may be time-consuming.
Add a layer of mulch at least two inches thick to the site to prevent germination conditions for chickweed seeds. This will prevent light and moisture from reaching the seeds, inhibiting their ability to germinate.
For larger areas and agricultural fields, chemical control may be necessary to control the invasion of chickweed. There are two types of herbicides you can use for chickweed – pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicides.
Since chickweed is a winter annual, a pre-emergent herbicide must be applied toward the end of fall to prevent seeds from germinating. This type of herbicide is selective, and some are safe to use on food crops but research the specific chemical before applying it to any food crops.
These can be mixed into the soil or applied to the surface, so be sure to carefully read the instructions for use on any product you choose.
A post-emergent herbicide must be applied to small seedlings for optimal results. This type of herbicide is not selective, and it will kill or damage any plant it’s applied to, so it shouldn’t be used on any food crops.
Some of these herbicides are safe to use on lawns but read the instructions carefully to make sure the one you choose won’t harm the grass.
Uses for Chickweed
This plant has been used in folk medicine to treat skin issues, respiratory diseases, and pulmonary diseases. It has also been used to reduce inflammation and promote healthy weight loss.
The entire chickweed plant can be applied to the skin to soothe irritation, or you can make it into an ointment to treat burns, bug bites, and cuts.
It can also be infused into an essential oil which should be diluted using a carrier oil and added to your bath or rubbed directly into your skin. Essential oils should never be ingested.
This weed is one of the most widespread edible weeds you can find in your yard.
It can be eaten raw, chopped, and mixed into a salad as a leaf vegetable or used as a replacement for spinach in a pinch. It can also be used in soup, pasta, and more.
Wrapping Up Chickweed
Chickweed is a common annual weed found in home gardens and agricultural fields around the world. It is known as one of the most persistently invasive weed species.
If you feel like you need to learn more about these pesky garden tenants, check out our weeds page to learn all about different weed varieties, treatment options, and surprising information.
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Brittany Tedford is a fiction author who has been writing for over fifteen years, an aspiring English teacher, and a writer for Minneopa Orchards.
She lives in a small town in Mississippi, known for its southern hospitality and success in the agricultural industry.
With a bachelor’s and a master’s in Creative Writing and English, Brittany loves researching and writing about nearly any topic. She hoards random tips and bits of information to share with others!
Brittany can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org