Herbs for Birds - Chickweed
By Marie Miley-Russell
Published in the DRAGON News March 2008
As its name, “chick weed” implies, this plant has been given to birds for nearly as long as birds have been kept in captivity. In fact, John Gerard wrote of chickweed in his classic 1597 English text on medicinal plants Herbal or General History of Plants that “little birds in cadges (especially Linnets) are refreshed with the lesser Chickweed, and also rabbits; cows and horses will eat it; sheep are indifferent to it, but goats refuse to touch it”. I have been told by experienced breeders that fanciers used to tear up fresh chickweed plants and provide them- dirt, roots, and all- to their birds to condition them for breeding. It is a well known tonic for caged birds and poultry.
Although the name has been applied to a number of different plants, Stelleraria media is the common garden weed with which most are familiar. It can be found nearly everywhere on the planet. Chickweed is a low growing persistent annual plant that forms dense mats and readily self-seeds. It has been called the “most common weed on the planet” so one is almost certain to find it growing somewhere nearby.
The plant’s leaves are excellent sources of vitamins A (in the form of beta carotene), B, C, and D and are also a rich source of minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, magnesium, copper, and iron. It is also very high in alpha linolenic acid, an Omega-3 fatty acid that is important to cardiovascular health. Other plant sources of alpha linolenic acid commonly fed to canaries include flaxseed, rapeseed, soybeans, wheat germ, purslane, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and broccoli. Of these, chickweed and flaxseed are the best sources of this vital fatty acid.
Chickweed should be harvested in early spring and late fall. There is an old saying that “chickweed tastes best when the trees have no leaves”. Chickweed can be used before, during and after flowering. Chickweed prefers cooler weather and sunny to partially shady areas. If in doubt when harvesting chickweed, snap a stem to see if it is dry- if milky sap runs out, toss it. Also, as with ALL wild-harvested food, be careful to harvest only in areas that have not been treated with herbicides or pesticides and avoid harvesting plants from roadsides, which may be contaminated by runoff and other pollutants.
Fresh chickweed does not freeze well so it must be used fresh or dried. Good quality dried herbs should retain a deep green color. If the leaves lose their color, the herbs should be discarded. Dried chickweed may be placed in a plastic freezer bag and stored in the freezer for 6 months or so.
Herbalists value chickweed for its ability to cool inflammation. It is reported to stop bleeding in the stomach and bowels, so it could be beneficial for birds with gastrointestinal problems. Chickweed also reportedly has diuretic properties and may help eliminate toxins from the system.
The most practical form of chickweed to use during the winter months when most breeders are beginning to condition birds for breeding is the dried form. This can be purchased at a reasonable cost through bulk herb suppliers. I supply it as a part of the herb mixture provided to my birds year-round. It is relished by the birds and is the one picked out first before the rest are eaten. In the spring, entire fresh plants are provided to the birds in the flight and they disappear in short order.
Disclaimer: This site contains information
about a number of nutritional supplements I have found useful in my bird
room. I am not a medical professional, a veterinarian, or an herbalist and
therefore I am not qualified to diagnose illness or recommend treatment
for your pets. The information contained on this website is presented for
educational purposes only.
No warranty or guarantee of a cure is expressed or
implied with any information on this site, nor do I make any representations
regarding the use or the results obtained with the information. In no event
shall I be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever which may arise from the use
of information on this site. Use this information at your own discretion.
Herbs may be harmful when taken in excessive amounts, in conjunction with other herbs or medications, or when taken for the wrong condition. The fact that herbs are natural does not mean that they are all safe. You are advised to use caution when offering any herbal supplement to your pet. If your bird is ill, an avian veterinarian should be consulted.