Chickweed. Softly spoken, yet with an equanimity as clear and bright as the vast blue autumn sky. She is able to distill clamour into calm, and stores her power, waiting patiently for the right time to act. When she does respond, she does so quietly and clearly even in the face of aggression. True to the Maiden archetype, she lives from the heart, un-jaded by the pain and inequity of the world, and feels empowered in her unique strengths and gifts.
With soft cooling hands she soothes the fire of inflammation and anger. She dissolves long-held cysts, and long-held grudges. She is not afraid to create boundaries to maintain her wellbeing, and bestows the knowing that you can be as gracious when you say no as when you give your agreement. She reminds one to never be cruel, or snap or condemn simply because it would be easier to do so. She restores grace, levity, and peace.
On a deeper level, I have found that Chickweed has a vast ability to soothe not only physical maladies where inflammation and dryness is involved, but emotional and interpersonal ones. Wherever long-held hot anger is involved, a once vivacious spirit has been desiccated by the whipping winds of unfair judgement, or one has simply lost their way amidst an emotional storm, Chickweed softens hearts and dissolves grudges.
No sooner had I harvested my first basket of Chickweed that an ongoing family feud came to loggerheads, and I needed her soothing, gentle but firm spirit more than ever. More about that in a bit.
Soother of Fires
- "Soothing" actions:
- Demulcent (moisturising and soothing)
- Refrigerant (cooling)
- Vulnerary (healing)
- Antipyretic (reduces heat, specifically fever)
- Antiulcer (peptic)
- Analgesic (reduces pain)
- "Moving" actions:
- Alterative (moves and clears stagnant blood and lymph)
- Anti-rheumatic (literally enables you to move previously stiff and sore joints)
- Laxative (loosens bowels)
- Expectorant (loosens and promotes removal of phlegm from the lungs)
- Diuretic (increases urine production and expulsion from the body).
In Ayurveda, Chickweed pacifies Pitta and builds Kapha, and may decrease or help modulate Vata. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this plant dispels Wind-Heat, nourishes Yin, and transforms phlegm. In Western physiomedicalist herbalism (a 19th century synergy of Native American herbalism and European household medicine), Chickweed is ruled by the Water element, and the moon, and has a moistening, cooling effect on the body's tissues.
Following this, it makes sense that externally Chickweed is used for hot and dry conditions, such as skin rashes, dermatitis (eczema), psoriasis, conjunctivitis, styes, nappy rash, insect bites, burns, and other inflammatory and chronic skin conditions. She tames the roaring lion, soothes the fire, of hot and aggressive conditions. She can be used externally as a poultice, or made into an ointment or salve.
I am currently making small batches of wild-harvested and handcrafted Chickweed salve; these are currently for sale in our Apothecary at very reasonable price.
Chickweed is also lovely eaten as part of a mixed edible weed salad. She has a taste much like alfalfa, and a cool, juicy crunchiness to match.
Not only for external use, Chickweed extends her moistening properties to the mucous membranes. She can be used to soothe the sharp pain and heat of urinary tract or bladder infections, the fire of peptic ulcers, or the dry inflamed mucous membranes of lungs wherever there is a "hot" cough - you know, the kind that feels dry, irritating and brings tears to your eyes.
Many of these conditions strike me as characteristically autumn maladies; when the weather cools and the rains dry up, we forgo drinking enough water and may become more susceptible to UTIs. Our skin dries up and previous dormant inflammatory skin conditions flare up again.
It's when cool and dry autumn winds might whip through a window that has been accidentally left open, descend onto our beds and sink into our unsuspecting lungs! I have already experienced this twice this autumn, and woken with phlegm rattling around in my lungs and a dry constriction of the airways.
Like so many other plant allies, Chickweed makes her appearance at exactly the time of year when we need her most.
Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), the English great-grandfather of herbal medicine, suggested placing Chickweed poultices over the liver, for it “doth wonderfully temper the heat of the liver and is effectual for all impostumes [abscess] and swellings whatsoever; for all redness in the face, wheals, pushes, itch or scabs.” In TCM, the liver is the seat of anger and Culpepper's advice is a nod to it's more subtle use as a medicine for frustration, rage, bottled up resentment, and those times you get "red in the face" with anger.
Chickweed helps whenever you are staring into a sharp-toothed, firey, perhaps aggressive condition or situation. To dive deep into the cool, dark waters of your inner knowing, and when ready, to ascend and close the lions mouth.
The Maiden's Wort
Chickweed is tender, with stems that break easily when you harvest her. I carefully trim her top shoots with scissors rather than tear or pick the stems by hand, as when harvesting this way it's all too easy to pull the entire plant out of the ground, roots and all. I'd much rather leave this little plant in the soil to proliferate and offer her delicate little maiden-white flowers once again.
This plant is also very succulent and juicy; I need to wilt the harvested stems for a day or so before infusing them into oil as the high water content of the fresh herb would spoil the finished product. This juiciness is somewhat due to her high saponin content, making her infused oil a wonderful remedy for dryness of any kind, including the tissue paper-like, raw, wind-whipped skin characteristic of autumn, and vaginal dryness.
Chickweed is quiet and not one to show off, growing close to the ground when the weather turns mild in fairly rich and moist soil. She shies away from the scorching heat of summer and the frosts of winter. She has quite specific growing preferences. She knows what she wants and is uncompromising in her wishes. I like her.
Don't let Chickweed's delicate, quiet and maiden-like attributes fool you - she is independent and creates clear boundaries with those who cross her path. Like the virgin priestesses of ancient times, she needs no male to validate her, no other to fill her with purpose; through her tiny white flowers she self-pollinates, closing her petals (honouring her personal boundaries without obligation) to do so.
The Maiden archetype has wrongly been called selfish and shamed for fulfilling her own needs and desires, yet it is exactly this filling of one's own cup that allows one the capacity to truly nurture oneself and others without frustration, overwhelm, or resentment.
Like the Maiden, Chickweed is delicate, lush, and quietly spoken, yet independent. She takes care of her vital needs before tending to anyone else's without fear of being labelled as "selfish". In doing so, she displays courage, balance, wisdom, and inner peace, and the patience not to react cruelly to those who would attack or harm her.
When Maidenwort is combined with Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) and Cronewort (Artemisia vulgaris - more commonly known as mugwort, another magical plant I wrote about here), there is potential for powerful healing. Susun Weed claims that this combination (or Triple Goddess Elixir as she calls it):
"(Triple Goddess Elixir) ... is curative for any problem that a woman encounters. It can dissolve cysts in the ovaries and breasts, regulate menses, ease menopausal symptoms, strengthen the nerves and the heart, and increase serenity as well."
Chickweed and Tarot Correspondences
Chickweed is a little bit picky; she is very specific about what she needs in order to thrive. She will not grow anywhere that circumstances aren't quite right, and is uncompromising in her demand for those conditions. She is labelled a weed but in my experience, Chickweed is nowhere near as prolific as many other invasive species growing where I live. When harvesting Chickweed for food and to make my salves, I need to wait for a certain time of year and visit specific spots where the qualities of the soil are just right. In the words of The Practical Herbalist:
"Chickweed only grows where the soil is pH balanced, cultivated, cool and damp but not soaked. She teaches us to look beyond the surface, into the soil in which we want to grow our relationship for the qualities that will best support us. If the qualities we need for healthy growth are not there, chickweed advises us to move on. Chickweed magic is the magic of discrimination and balance."
Like the maiden in the Strength card, Chickweed asks us to maintain healthy boundaries in a courageous, yet peaceful way. She also hints at balancing oneself by conquering one's animalistic nature. Instead of reacting in fury or fear, she remains calmly assertive in the face of aggression.
This ability to act (not react) thoughtfully and bravely doesn't just come out of a vacuum; we first need to listen to a deeper wisdom, our intuition. This is where the Maiden's wort reminds me of a second maiden of the tarot: The High Priestess.
The High Priestess reminds one to listen to one's inner voice. Going within first to answer our own questions gives us the self-knowledge, fortitude, and confidence to take action later. When we reconnect with our quiet inner knowing, we begin to watch things unfold without the need to interject. To simply observe, to embrace inaction. In this state of suspended animation, we stop adding fuel to the fire.
Sometimes we desperately need to sit back, chill out, and dive into silence, if only for a little while, and The High Priestess guides us to take that inward journey. Whether it's by meditating, spending quiet time in nature, or starting a daily journalling practice (as I recently did), we sometimes need to go within and mine some wisdom if we are going to take thoughtful, effective action in the topside world.
By tapping into our inner wisdom, we find the capacity to close the lion's jaws with the quiet power and equanimity seen in the Strength card.
Both Chickweed and The High Priestess advocate for balance and equanimity. Like Chickweed, who loves to grow in semi-shade in a velvety green carpet partly concealed amongst other weeds, The High Priestess is quiet; her diaphanous gown masks her, making her somewhat half hidden and mysterious. In the Rider-Waite tarot, The High Priestess sits halfway between light and dark; known and unknown; yang and yin. Like the soil she loves to grow in, she asks us to seek healthy balance rather than vouch for an extremist "all or nothing", or a similarly damaging lackadaisical, apathetic, and inevitably self-disrespecting "whatever, anything goes" attitude.
Like Chickweed, The High Priestess corresponds astrologically with the Moon. She is connected to fertility (hence all those ovarian-looking pomegranates in the traditional Rider-Waite tarot version of this card), specifically potential energy. These maidens ask us to store our power, to sequester our vital force for things that really matter to us, to not squander our energy on people and situations where it will be wasted.
All of these properties of Chickweed make her a wonderful, powerful and gracious plant ally. I recently needed her soothing hand, cool head, and ability to save my energy, in an interpersonal difficulty I've been experiencing as the black sheep of the family.
Taming the Lion: In the Fire of a Family Feud
And when it comes to my husband's family, that black sheep is me.
This last month I've found myself at the pinnacle of an ongoing family feud where I am the target of misdirected disdain and long-held resentment. I do not fit in with my in-laws; I speak quietly, yet clearly and directly; they speak in harshly whispered tones well out of range of the person in question... until boiling point is reached and this passive-aggression turns into explosive rage.
I am a liberal feminist; they hold fast to the idea that abortion is at the top of the list of heinous crimes (and being a working mother comes a close second).
We clearly have very different values. For years I have strained against their unspoken but extremely evident expectations that I be the kind of wife who serves my husband and children without question, and sacrifice my personal dreams in the process. I'm a Creative Rainbow Mama; my husband comes from a long line of Earth Mamas. I stand for basic human regard for marginalised folks; these guys truly love Donald Trump and all he represents. I think you get the picture.
This ongoing strain reached a tipping point recently when, whilst in the thick of COVID-19 restrictions, I expressed concern over my in-laws taking my four year-old son out on an extended shopping trip for non-essentials to a department store. My husband and I have been careful to try to follow guidelines; they think it's all a hoax.
I directly stated my concerns and needs (for this not to happen again), and whilst my husband received an apology, my concerns were met with explosive retaliation and an outpouring of vitriol. This incident, preceded by years of consistently unfair judgment and covert gossip, left me furious - and on a deeper level, exhausted. The situation was rapidly draining my energy, happiness, and faith that the situation would ever improve.
Plant Spirit Communication with Chickweed
Over the last weeks I have been respectfully harvesting Chickweed, I've felt drawn to ask for guidance from her spirit.** Although not nearly as chatty as Mugwort, Maidenwort's message (once I did the initial work of journeying inwards, she's picky like that) has been softly spoken but clear:
Softness is strength. Tenderness is courage. Remaining unhardened by harshness, is grace.
Within every responsibility lies the opportunity to be graceful, to extend patience, and endow others with dignity.
Yet this does not have to come at the cost of my wellbeing; I need not stand back passively and let myself be torn to shreds in the lion's jaws. Drawing upon inner wisdom, maintaining clear boundaries and resisting the urge to snap or condemn is the Chickweed way, and though quite challenging to my ego, I followed her guidance.
I have since created some very clear boundaries with my in-laws and my husband that respect my sanity, as well as keep me out of the firing line as much as possible. I now feel personally liberated and healthily detached from this family dynamic, free from the obligation I've long felt to prove myself worthy of their approval, but also free of the need to blame and judge. I have put down the tightly-held expectations I had of them to behave in the way I believed they ought to.
For the most part, I can now accept being misunderstood, judged, disdained, even hated - without letting it eat me alive the way I once did.
Like The High Priestess, I know there is no absolute right or wrong in this situation, and acting as if there is would be folly and a waste of energy. But equanimity does not equate to passivity; like the maiden in the Strength card, I can gently but firmly close the jaws of the lion. I can draw healthy boundaries to protect myself from harm.
This acceptance and equanimity has come not from a hardening of my heart, but more from a dissolving of the hardness I had already built up against it all. There is a palpable relief of pressure in my heart space and from my shoulders. A deep feeling that I am good, I am well, and I am loved, even in the face of intense disapproval.
There is now an understanding that contrary to my "try to please everyone" conditioning, it's ok not to be friends with everyone (and that trying to do so is an incredible drain of life force). That relationships have shelf lives. And that in lieu of warm and fuzzy family dynamics, there are enough other people in my life who deeply cherish and respect me to remind me that I am, indeed, accepted and loved.
This incident has also opened the lines of communication between Andreas and I; he has finally understood the hurt I've long been feeling about this dynamic, and has begun taking a stand to protect me from future attacks from his family.
All in all, not a bad outcome! And without a shadow of a doubt, I have Chickweed - or Maidenwort - to thank.
Thank you, Maidenwort, for your insights into inner wisdom, quiet strength, for lending me your soothing grace, and for helping me to move on from this once-scalding issue. I am deeply grateful.
- Asia Suler (I highly recommend her online courses. Asia is currently offering her FREE online course Opening Earth Intuition, which you can access here. This is a prelude to her signature course, Intuitive Plant Medicine - and yes this is an affiliate link. If you buy the course, my family benefits by you purchasing through this link - thank you for looking out for us!)
- Sally Kingsford-Smith
- Lis Conlon
- as well as other resources I list at the end of this article.