Centuries ago, humans discovered common chickweed growing profusely throughout Europe and North America, up to the Arctic Circle. While many gardeners consider this fast-growing annual to be a weed, others see it as a delicious and nutritious plant with a long list of medicinal benefits. The plant also attracts wildlife, especially songbirds, which eat its leaves and flowers. Chickweed’s scientific name is Stellaria media, which translates to “little star in the mist,” a fanciful description of its tiny white flowers.
Chances are, you’ve seen this plant in your yard, garden, or in the wild. It’s self-seeding, low-growing, and produces a mat of lush green foliage. To grow it deliberately, treat chickweed like any other herb. Plant the tiny seeds outdoors directly in the ground or containers in the late spring or early summer, or grow year-round in pots indoors. Chickweed prefers rich, moist soil, but it will grow in poor soil, too. Remove weeds, rocks, and other debris from the planting area, then work some compost into the soil. This will greatly improve chickweed's growth.
Chickweed prefers soils rich in nitrogen. It will grow in a variety of light, medium, and heavy soil types, including sandy, loamy, or clay. This plant dislikes acidic soil conditions and prefers neutral pH levels. The seedlings, which usually appear in the fall, may not emerge from soil depths that exceed one inch and will not sprout with soil depths of more than two inches.
Chickweed will grow in sunny spots as well as partial shade, but it needs a wide-open area with plenty of room to spread outward. Many people plant it in places that won’t support anything else. Because it behaves like ground cover, some choose to grow it under bushes or taller plants, but chickweed seeds do need sunlight to find their way out of the soil. The plant is hardy in zones 2 through 11, able to tolerate a wide range of climates and temperatures as low as -15 degrees. Gardeners from Greenland to the southernmost areas of California and Florida, and all points in-between, successfully grow this plant.
Because it likes moist soil, don’t allow the area around the chickweed to dry out completely. Don’t let it sit in excessive moisture, either, as this plant doesn’t like wet feet. Watering will vary according to the soil type, the climate where you live, how much sunlight the plant receives each day, and the season. Many gardeners say the chickweed is one of nature’s barometers. When rain is on the way, the leaves fold up.
Chickweed serves as a host for specific garden pests like thrips and lygus bugs, which can infect other plants nearby. Thrips are slender, winged insects that puncture the plant, then suck up its contents. They also transmit viruses like tomato spotted wilt virus. Lygus bugs are green or brown with yellow markings that cause major damage to fruit and cotton crops.
Chickweed is not susceptible to damage from any specific diseases, but it is a reservoir host for tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWF) and cucumber mosaic virus (CMV). As a host, chickweed receives no negative effects from these viruses, but it is often the source of infection for other plants. Both TSWF and CMV lead to heavy losses of vegetable and ornamental plants.
Once you plant seeds, there is little extra care necessary for chickweed. Even if you don’t plant it intentionally, there’s a good chance it will appear in your yard at some point. Chickweed often appears in areas that have been highly tilled, especially where fertility is low. It is generally a sign that there is a lack of calcium or phosphorus or too much potassium or sodium in the soil. Look for a fertilizer that balances these minerals. Other than that, it requires little extra care. To harvest, snip off several inches of stem, flowers, and leaves.
Before it dies in the winter, chickweed drops a lot of seeds, usually by the early fall. Because many people consider Stellaria media to be a weed, you probably won’t find seedlings in a local nursery. If you don’t have access to a plant to collect seeds from, purchase them from an online seed retailer. Propagate chickweed plants by rooting the nodes, the bumpy protrusions on the stem. A four to six-inch-long cutting works best.
Many say that chickweed soothes skin irritations and is a natural remedy for cuts, minor burns, and abscesses. Proponents say it relieves digestive issues and reduces inflammation. Chickweed is high in beta-carotene, magnesium, calcium, selenium, and other nutrients. It’s a tasty addition to salads, breads, and soups, and makes a delicious tea. In recent years, it has become a highly sought-after food ingredient by restaurant chefs. Chickweed plants attract bees and other beneficial pollinators.
Stellaria media is a member of the carnation family, Caryophyllaceae. Several plants that people mistake for common chickweed are edible, but some aren't: