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Known interactions

No interactions found.

Introduction into Winterweed

Scientific Name: Chickweed

Other Names: Mouse-ear, Satinflower, Starweed, Starwort, Stellaria media, White Bird's Eye, Winterweed

Who is this for?

Although chickweed was formerly taken orally to treat several types of conditions, no evidence currently supports its oral effectiveness in any condition. It may, however, provide a soothing effect when applied to skin irritations because it may have a mild astringent effect. An astringent shrinks and tightens the top layers of skin or mucous membranes, thereby reducing secretions, relieving irritation, and improving tissue firmness. Chickweed may be made into an ointment or a poultice (a soft cloth soaked in a solution and then applied topically) to relieve bruising and to treat cuts and scrapes. A solution made from fresh or dried chickweed leaves may help to relieve itching when it is added to bathwater.

When should I be careful taking it?

Historically, small amounts of chickweed have been used for food with no apparent bad results. It contains varying amounts of chemicals known as nitrates, however, which may be associated with causing birth defects or miscarriages when consumed in large amounts by pregnant women. Even though the amounts of chickweed that are used as food or dietary supplements are not likely to contain enough nitrates to present a danger, the oral use of chickweed is not recommended during pregnancy.

High nitrate levels are dangerous for children under the age of 6 months. Although a nitrate overdose in an infant from a mother using chickweed is very unlikely, breast-feeding women should also avoid using it.

What side effects should I watch for?

In the past, isolated case reports of muscle paralysis have been attributed to eating or taking very large amounts of chickweed. No study evidence proves this effect, no recent instances have been documented, and the chickweed involved may have been contaminated with pesticides or mixed with other plants.

Chickweed is known, however, to contain chemicals called nitrates. Cattle and other large animals that have eaten quantities of chickweed far in excess of what a human could practically consume have had symptoms of nitrate poisoning. Although no human cases of nitrate poisoning have ever been associated with taking or eating chickweed, very rare cases of nitrate poisoning have been reported in humans – particularly in infants who are less than 6 months old. Because the first sign of nitrate poisoning is a bluish coloration of the fingers and lips, nitrate poisoning in infants may be known as “Blue Baby Syndrome”. It is a serious condition that could cause death, brain damage, or other severe consequences if it is not treated immediately.

What interactions should I watch for?

No interactions between chickweed and prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs, other herbal products, or foods have been reported. However, because few reliable studies of chickweed have been conducted in humans, its possible interactions are not understood completely.

Some interactions between herbal products and medications can be more severe than others. The best way for you to avoid harmful interactions is to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what medications you are currently taking, including any over-the-counter products, vitamins, and herbals.

Should I take it?

One of the first plants to appear in the spring, chickweed is a very common weed that invades lawns throughout North America, Europe, and most other mild climate zones. A chickweed plant consists of stringy stems that can make new roots if the ends touch the ground. Eventually, low clumps of interconnected plants can extend over large areas, choking out grass and other vegetation. The low-lying stems directly produce small, oval leaves covered with fine hairs. Large quantities of small, white, five-petaled flowers bloom from early spring until the first hard frost. Although chickweed is an annual plant (it dies at the end of its growing season), each plant makes a profusion of seeds that resist cold weather and grow aggressively as soon as the weather becomes warm enough in the spring.

In the past, chickweed was used as a vegetable – either cooked or raw. The leaves and, sometimes, the stems and flowers of chickweed have also been used in medicine. For oral use, these “above ground" or “aerial” parts of chickweed typically are dried and made into tea or packaged commercially as capsules, extracts, or tinctures. Extracts are concentrated liquid preparations usually made by soaking chopped or mashed plant parts in a liquid such as alcohol, and then straining out the solid parts. Tinctures are less concentrated than extracts, but they are prepared in similar ways. None of these oral dosage forms are proven to have medical value. Either fresh or dried chickweed may be used topically.

Dosage and Administration

Dosage recommendations for chickweed vary considerably according to the type of product used. Keeping in mind that no medical benefits have been proved for any oral chickweed preparation, the directions on the package should be followed if chickweed is used for medical purposes.

For use as a topical solution, any amount of fresh chickweed leaves and stems may be washed to remove possible pollutants and then placed into a heatproof, non-metallic container. Cover the chickweed completely with boiling water, let it stand until the liquid has cooled, and strain out the solid particles. The resulting solution may be added to bathwater or it may be used undiluted as a soak for irritated feet or hands.

Summary

No scientific study results support the oral use of chickweed for any medical condition. It may relieve skin conditions when applied topically, however.

Risks

Because chickweed contains uncertain amounts of nitrates, which may be responsible for miscarriage or birth defects, chickweed should not be taken by pregnant women. Due to a very small risk of nitrate poisoning, chickweed is also not advised for breast-feeding women or small children.

Side Effects

Although no side effects have been associated with taking chickweed, the nitrates it contains may result in nitrate poisoning – especially among infants younger than 6 months of age.

Interactions

No interactions have been identified between chickweed and drugs, other herbal products, or foods.

References

Anon: Chickweed. In: DerMarderosian A, Beutler JA, eds. Facts and Comparisons: The Review of Natural Products. St. Louis, MO, Facts and Comparisons. February 1992.

Grieve M. Chickweed. In: A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publishers, 1971. Available at: http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/mgmh.html Posted 1995. Accessed September 17, 2003.

Hoffmann DL. Chickweed. Herbal Materia Medica. No date given. Available at: http://www.healthy.net/asp/templates/article.asp?PageType=article&ID=1651. Accessed September 17, 2003.

Jellin JM, Gregory P, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al, eds. Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 3rd Edition. Stockton CA: Therapeutic Research Facility, 2000.

Jovanovic M, Poljacki M, Mimica-Dukic N, Boza P, Vujanovic Lj, Duran V, Stojanovic S. Sesquiterpene lactone mix patch testing supplemented with dandelion extract in patients with allergic contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis and non-allergic chronic inflammatory skin diseases. Contact Dermatitis. 2004;51(3):101-110.

Mancl KM. Nitrate in Drinking Water. Bulletin 744-87. Ohio State University Extension Service. Available at: http://ohioline.osu.edu/b744/b744_2.html. Accessed September 17, 2003.

Ontario Weeds: Mouse-eared chickweed. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Last Updated March 10, 2003. Available at: http://www.gov.on.ca/OMAFRA/english/crops/facts/ontweeds/mouseeared_chickweed.htm. Accessed September 15, 2003.

Polomski B, McCarty B. Broadleaf weeds. Clemson University Extension Service. No date given. Available at: http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/HGIC2301.htm. Accessed September 15, 2003.


(Note: The above information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional. It is not meant to indicate that the use of the product is safe, appropriate, or effective for you.)

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