Studying herbal medicine at university you are encouraged to take a very clinical and scientific approach to the subject. But anyone who goes through the system and starts practicing, soon discovers that there is a lot more to the relationship between plants and humans than can be readily explained scientifically. Many herbalists report examples of the right plant presenting itself just when it is needed. And I had a lovely instance of that recently.
A good friend had developed a skin condition. Underlying psoriasis plus what looked, to his doctor and me, like something viral and/or stress related. I wanted to give him some internal herbs to bolster his immune system, deal with any viral element and help with some liver issues. But I also knew that as long as the rash was intensely itchy and inflamed, he would get no relief. So I wanted to make a cream to reduce itchiness, inflammation and extreme dryness.
My go to herb to form the base of such a cream is Chickweed (Stellaria media). It's a herb I love and which grows profusely in London. It tends to prefer areas where there is little competition - under trees, in cultivated areas and along streets. And it is intensely juicy with an incomparable ability to reduce itchiness and bring moisture to a dry skin condition. In London in grows best in early spring and late autumn, drying out and disappearing in the summer and colder winter months. I spent a morning searching the well-stocked herbal stores around Santa Cruz trying to buy some infused oil, assuming there would be no chance of finding any growing at the end of the long, dry Santa Cruz summer. By the afternoon, I had given up: nowhere had any and I was trying to think of alternatives as I went to pick my son up from school.
Arriving at the school, my son was having fun playing with his friends so I left him in the playground and wandered into the herb and veg garden, which they call the Life Lab. Many of the plants and flowers which were blooming when he started school in late August had been cleared for winter planting, including the pumpkin patch which had been stripped for the Fall Festival a week before. As I strolled around, thinking about nothing in particular a tiny plant, alone in the middle of one of the pumpkin beds, caught my eye. I went closer and there, growing all on its own, was a small but perfectly formed chickweed plant. Not where it should be, and despite a subsequent proper hunt, the only one of its species in the vicinity. I thanked it, picked it and carried it home, the next morning reverently warming it in almond oil to form the basis of my cream.
Once infused I had a beautiful, deep green oil which I melted beeswax into, added some Berberis aquifollium tincture and combined with an infusion of chamomile and liquorice. I stirred in some lavender essential oil at the last moment and then poured it into clean pots before sending it on its way to the person it was intended for. Initial reports for it's efficacy have been very positive.
Chickweed is such an unassuming little plant, but one which never fails to delight me. To the extent that my son knew it's name at a very young age and could enjoy joining in with my husband's affectionate exasperation as I pounced on every plant during trips to Hampstead Heath and in the streets around our home in London. Its Latin name, Stellaria, means 'star' in Latin, which makes sense when you see its tiny sparkling white star-like flowers open on a sunny day. It closes them tight at night and when it is cloudy. When I take people on herb walks, we usually come across it and I always enjoy encouraging everyone to squish and squelch a few leaves in their fingers, releasing a flood of bright green juice, far exceeding what would expect from a few tiny leaves.
The name Chickweed comes from its popularity as chicken food. It's highly nutritious and was one of the wild plants which kept people fed during the early spring months when food preserved from the previous harvest was running low and new crops had yet to produce.
I had a lovely picture which I have just realised is not on my computer here, so if you'd like to pick some, have a google and you'll see how it looks. In the meantime, here is a picture of the lovely green infused chickweed oil. Gorgeous!