With the warmer weather, chickweed (Stellaria media) is starting to grow away in the garden. Its botanical name stellaria means ‘little stars, a description of its tiny white flowers.

It is a common weed, but a useful one. Not only do my chickens love it (it is not called ‘chick’ weed for nothing, it has many healing abilities. You can add the fresh leaves to salad, and it is highly nutritious, rich in calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorus, potassium, A, B and C vitamins.

Chickweed is useful for cooling inflammations, whether these are internal or external.  Use a poultice of chickweed (mash up the fresh herb and apply to the skin under a clean cotton cloth) to sooth minor burns, skin irritations and rashes.  Every spring I make the chickweed salve (recipe below). Chickweed is used by herbalists for skin diseases for its anti-inflammatory and anti-viral activity. You can also apply this to treat rheumatic pains and ulcers. Make a tea with 2 tablespoons of fresh herb to half a pint of boiling water, steep for 10 minutes, strain and drink for colds and flu. Chickweed is a gentle laxative, so don’t over consume.

Chickweed Salve

Handful of chickweed (Stellaria media) aerial parts

Olive oil


Few drops calendula (Calendula officinalis) essential oil (optional)

Pack the plant material into a clear glass jar and top up with oil so that they are fully covered. Put a lid on the jar and put on a sunny windowsill for two weeks, shaking daily. Strain the oil into a double boiler and heat gently until warm – do not boil. Add some grated beeswax (the more you add, the harder the set) and when the wax has melted, pour into small jars, add a few drops of calendula oil, stir, put on the lids and label. This salve will keep indefinitely, and does not need to be refrigerated. As well as the benefits of chickweed, the added calendula oil in this recipe reduces inflammation, eliminates bacteria, and helps the skin heal.



This is the ancient wisdom of the grandmothers, the wise women, once passed down from mother to daughter and crone to apprentice, and then improved by a lifetime of study and the daily observation of the patterns of nature.

In bygone ages most of us lived much closer to nature than we do now. Once every woman had to be something of an herbalist and healer, responsible for her household’s health, since professional medical help was either unavailable or too expensive (and possibly dangerous to boot). Every home kept some drying herbs and flowers to make herbal infusions, powders, oils and poultices, brewed wine and ale, preserved fruit, made jams and jellies, pickles and chutneys, and many also made inks, dyes, soaps and household cleaners. A girl would be initiated into the secrets of these family formulas by her mother, along with her knowledge of folklore, stories, healing potions, minor surgery, gardening, brewing and wine making, spinning, weaving, dyeing, childcare, home management, animal husbandry, bee-keeping, fortune telling and cookery know-how.

And then there were those in the community who knew that little bit more, the village wise woman or cunning man. When joined my first coven Julia, our high priestess, told us stories of the herb wives of the past, who cared for the bodies and spirits of those around them, telling their fortunes, treating their bodily ailments with herbs, dowsing their lost property, and physicking their farm animals. She held them up to us as examples of powerful, magical women in an age when women otherwise had little influence. They were the midwives who brought new life into the world, she said, and who laid out the dead at the end of life. Though such stories have often been wildly romanticised, folklore records and accounts do show that virtually every village seems to have had a wise woman or a cunning man of some sort. These village shamans had different names in different places, including handywomen, blessers, witches, conjurors, herb wives, wild herb men, snake doctors, fairy doctors and currens. These practitioners didn’t use athames and magic swords but everyday objects – stones, keys, shears, sieves, pitchforks, brooms, divining rods, wax, bottles, paper and anything that came readily to hand from the kitchen or farm.

This is the ancient wisdom of the grandmothers, the wise women, once passed down from mother to daughter and crone to apprentice, and then improved by a lifetime of study and the daily observation of the patterns of nature. Such expertise formed the pattern of women’s lives for thousands of years and that women developed highly skilful methods in all these areas, even though no contemporary historian wrote about them or accorded women due status for their invaluable work. Women’s knowledge has been derided and ignored for most of our history, and this is just as true today in western culture, in which knowledge is ‘owned’ by experts (mainly men) and can only be passed on through state-approved academic institutions, and where those seeking to follow traditional or alternative paths – such as herbalism – are dismissed as uneducated, naïve or even dangerous.

But this is our knowledge, our heritage – as women and as witches, both male and female. Discovering it and practicing my Craft has been a marvellous adventure for me, and it never ceases to fill me with wonder and awe at the power of Mother Nature. It makes me aware of the magic that flows throughout the world in every uncurling oak leaf in spring, every blushing rose petal, every humming summer bee, every rutting stag, and every misty shore. This is the reward of the path of the hearth witch.