Stellaria media

The greenhouse is full of seedlings and pots of plants from our propagation efforts. Rows of sprouted green growth filling the benches and all inching their way upward. Trays of just sown seeds laying slightly beneath the surface of our homemade potting soil. Heat mats and watering systems and seed packets litter the back bench along with a lifetime collection of terra cotta pots and vessels. All of this growth and promise and good intention we’ve sown is accompanied by a little plant that’s trailing along the ground, all by itself, making its way and quenching its thirst from the drippings above. It’s Stellaria media (chickweed)…the wonder plant! I always have to be on the lookout for this little lovely plant. It self sows all along the floor of the greenhouse and if I am not watchful, often Rick will pile pots or row covering on top of it and will hinder it’s delightful and intentional march forward. He is not quite as attentive to the more ‘seedy weedy’ friends that pop up and that I find useful. I’m still training this master horticulturist on the benefits of my weed collection and its encouragement.
I have just harvested a bit of Stellaria and made an infusion to sip throughout the day. Stellaria is an amazing little plant chock full of nutrition. It’s high in chlorophyll and omega 6, as well as calcium, manganese, zinc, iron, potassium, and magnesium. It’s also very high in vitamin C, A (from carotene) and B. It is well known for its ability to cool, draw, and dissolve. It contains a soapy substance called saponins. Saponins are emulsifiers and help to increase the permeability of cellular membranes. Saponins also work at dissolving and breaking down unwanted matter. Because of this, Stellaria has been known to have an ability to combat bacteria, dissolve cysts and benign tumors, and to break down thickened mucus in the respiratory and digestive system. An infusion or tea of chickweed when you have a respiratory infection with a lot of congestion can be just the thing.
Chickweed has often been used to treat eye infections due to its antibacterial constituents and is also soothing because of its cooling properties. I have used a poultice on skin irritations like bug bites or itchy rashes (poison ivy) with great results. Remember, Stellaria cools, draws, and dissolves. All properties that can coax out a stinger or draw out an infection while soothing the spot of irritation.
I’ll keep harvesting this little plant, leaving small clumps to flower and reseed. As the greenhouse temperature increases, chickweed will start to wither away. It prefers the coolness of spring. No worries, I’ll find little patches in the gardens as the ground continues to thaw and warm and my second round of harvesting will happen outdoors. I always feed handfuls of chickweed to the laying hens (what a treat!!) and to the Angora rabbit. Everyone deserves the super powerful spring tonic of Stellaria media! Look for it in your own gardens, make a tea or add it to a salve, eat the little petals in your next salad and know that this little plant is full of good and nutritious energy!

Senecio aureus

erikspictures265Senecio aureaus, ( renamed Packera aurea) is a plant we love and grow here at the nursery. Two common names for Senecio are Golden Ragwort and Liferoot, the latter referring to its long history in medicinal use. An indigenous perennial, Senecio is in the Asteraceae family and is hardy from zones 3-9. It prefers moist soil and a shady location. Here in Maine, earlier in warmer climates, it blooms in late May to early June and holds its blooms for an extended period. We find it to be a great native flower for attracting butterflies and pollinators. The deep golden yellow daisy-like flowers grow atop sparsely leafed stems that are 1-2 feet tall. At the base of these stems, lie the shiny heart-shaped evergreen leaves. This basal foliage can remain an attractive ground cover year round. It naturalizes through self-seeding and by underground roots creeping horizontally and forming a large colony. We are always surprised at how quickly this plant spreads, a great choice if you have a large area you’d like to cover. We have also used this plant in small applications, in other words, you can include it in a mixed perennial bed.
As a medicinal plant, Senecio has had an important role in Native American medicine. It has been used to treat colds, hemorrhages, and as a diuretic. Senecio is a plant that has most often been used in herbal or homeopathic preparations that can help to regulate menses and to aid in any gynecological issues….it promotes menstrual flow, helps to strengthen reproductive organs, is used to treat urinary infections, acts as a natural birth control, as well as helping to relieve pain during childbirth. Though it has longed been used in the application of natural remedies, a bit of caution should be used. I myself do not tincture this plant. It is still used in professionally prepared homeopathic remedies. Like many plants, Senecio contains a naturally occurring alkaloid called Pyrrolizidine. Pyrrolizidine has been shown to produce toxicity to the liver ( hepatotoxicity), especially in grazing mammals. Because of this, most mammals or animals avoid it. This particular alkaloid in plants is used as a defense mechanism against herbivores that may feed on it. Some insects, however, are fairly resistant to its effect and actually choose plants containing these alkaloids. By chewing on leaves that contain pyrrolizidine they ingest the chemical into their own system, thus helping to ward off their own predators. Gardners should not be alarmed by the fact that Senecio contains these alkaloids, they naturally occur in the chemical composition of many plants (like comfrey and borage) and are really no threat to the home gardener. I am fascinated by the ability indigenous people had for understanding the methods used to extract these alkaloids and resins and to incorporate them into their remedies. Pretty amazing knowledge! When coming to the nursery this spring, be sure to check out Senecio aureaus, it may be just the plant you’re looking for.