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Common Chickweed - Weed of the Week

Did You Know?

A few facts:

  • Can be used as a salad green or an herb
  • Has several medicinal purposes
  • Grows most actively in the late winter

How to get rid of Common Chickweed:

  • Remove easily by hand-weeding or hoeing
  • Treat with herbicides

Information by Rakesh Chandran, Ph.D., WVU Extension Weed Science Specialist

A Hated Weed, Yet Delicious Wild Vegetable

Common chickweed (Stellaria media) is typically considered to be a winter annual that is prevalent in most temperate regions, but it sometimes grows as a biennial or short-lived perennial and has adapted to other regions of the world. The seeds usually germinate in fall, followed by smaller extents of germination in spring and summer, and can remain viable in the soil up to 30 years. Common chickweed usually prefers moist and fertile soils with near neutral pH values, but it can grow under a wide range of environmental conditions. It is a member of the Caryophyllaceae (pink) family.

Common Chickweed Identification

A single plant of common chickweed can produce up to 30,000 seeds that are stored in capsules. Chickweed likely got its name because it was a preferred feed for chickens and other birds.

Common chickweed usually has a low growing habit and tends to spread making them appear like mats or patches. That mat-like growth habit helps keep soil covered especially during winter months to reduce erosion. It has a slender stem and leaves that are both smooth and shiny, unlike those of mouse-ear chickweed (Cerastium fontanum), a related species, which are characterized by fine hairs on both surfaces. Both chickweed species produce tiny star-shaped white flowers with five petals. The petals of common chickweed are deeply lobed, giving them the appearance of 10 petals, while those of mouse-ear chickweed have shallower lobes.

As a weed, common chickweed can outcompete or interfere with lawns and gardens and could be a serious pest in certain small grains, such as wheat and barley. In pastures or hayfields, it can form mats, shading out the desirable species from establishing early. It also can serve as a host plant for certain insect pests, such as the Western tarnished plant bug, and for diseases, such as Tomato spotted wilt virus.

Common Chickweed Uses

Although common chickweed is considered a pest in lawns and gardens, it is an edible plant. Its tender leaves can be readily used as a salad green or boiled as a potherb. It can be used as a famine food, especially during late winter months when it actively grows. However, if grazed in large quantities, it can cause problems related to nitrate toxicity to livestock.

Common chickweed is used as a medicinal herb due to its cooling and anti-inflammatory properties, and salves made from the stem or leaves are used to treat common skin ailments. Tinctures made from the plant were used to treat bladder, kidney and urinary tract ailments. Many other ailments are said to be cured by common chickweed due to the secondary metabolites, such as flavonoids, saponins, vitamin C and linolenic acids, present in it. Some herbalists even considered “chickweed water as an old wives’ remedy for obesity!”

Controls for Common Chickweed

Common chickweed can be easily hand-weeded or hoed during the early stages of growth by taking advantage of their shallow root system before they become dense mats. In cool-season lawns, effective pre-emergent herbicides include isoxaben (Gallery), pendimethalin (Pendulum) or oxadiazon (Ronstar). 

In established landscape plantings and ornamentals, apart from the above herbicides, those that contain indaziflam (Marengo), prodiamine (Barricade) or metolachlor (Pennant Magnum) are effective before it germinates. After germination, it is susceptible to selective herbicides, such as dicamba, triclopyr and mecoprop, during early stages in lawns. In landscapes or other plantings, careful directed application of glyphosate, glufosinate (Finale), diquat (Reward) or pelargonic acid (Scythe) is effective.

Author: Rakesh Chandran, WVU Extension Weed Science Specialist
Last Reviewed: June 2020

Recommendations for the use of agricultural chemicals are included as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services does not imply endorsement by West Virginia University Extension nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use agricultural chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label. Be sure to obtain current information about usage regulations and examine a current product label before applying any chemical. For assistance, contact your county Cooperative Extension agent.