Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Also known as Sticky Willy, Goosegrass, Catchweed, Sweethearts, Sticky Grass, Sticky Jack, Everlasting Friendship, hedge-rife and that sticky bugger 😉
This sprawling, long slender beauty sticks to surfaces using the tiny hooked hairs that cover the plant’s leaves, stems and seeds and are the feature that allow it to creep across the ground or hitch a lift on other creatures.
Later in June small white flowers bloom at the end of slender stalks which mature into little round seeds that appear in pairs like two insect eyes watching from the forest. Cleavers are a beautiful medicine and go well in the kitchen if you know how to use it.
I love the first appearing of this plant in February and then the mid march days when Cleavers start to cover whole woodland banks and hedgerows in their bristly green lance shaped whorls.
I’m sure everyone knows this wonderful plant for its ability to cling on to clothes like a small child wanting to be carried rather than walk, or maybe its from being a child yourself and throwing great green handfuls of this wonderful plant at friends and see it stick to jumpers, hair and tights. For me it is the memory of my granny heading down to her little shed on the edge of the forest in the early morning light where she would milk her goat and show me how to filter out the hairs from the milk with handfuls of Cleavers, a little trick she had learnt from another wise old woman and apparently it is still being used this way in some parts of Greece and Sweden.
So bright green Cleavers, my grannies hands and pink sunrise are always linked for me and it’s not a bad thing. It was later in my life that I attended a rites of passage ceremony in the Spring for a beautiful girl, Cleavers was one of the traditional drinks and was seen as a blessing from Spring that helped a person to step into new beginnings without being weighed down by the old. Many pieces of material had been used to hang on trees and create garments for the girl and had been died red with the roots of Cleavers and Green Alkanet both of which produce a reddish colour.
Cleavers as a medicine
Cleavers are known to work in a clearing and purifying way on the lymphatic system helping to clean and drain the body of toxins. The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of waste and toxins and moves a fluid containing powerful infection fighting white blood cells throughout the body. And it is this quality that make them a perfect spring tonic. Cleavers will aid in helping shed all that winter build up of waste and stagnation that you may not have been able to shift, along with bloating and an excess build up of fluid and skin eruptions. It can also be applied topically for skin irritations. Cleavers works well with Calendula for both lymphatic and skin medicine. I find using Cleavers internally in the form of infusions, teas, smoothies, food and fresh plant tincture the best. Externally as a fresh plant tea and oil.
Cleavers as food
Food is our main medicine or our poison depending on what is being eaten and drunk, which is why I think it is so important to get these wild plants into our bodies as they contain the most wonderful alive vitamins and minerals and the energy that is in the land at that particular time. Cleavers I find are best used fresh and before they have flowered. During the Spring months I love to put them into my smoothies or my Nettle infusions. I will often make them into a pesto or chuck them into soups which I blend up. I also like to put Cleavers into a cold infusion as the taste is very different to a hot one, its worth experimenting and seeing how it feels in the body and which flavour you prefer. Cleavers also go into my spring cleansing vinegar and oil which will have other seasonal wild plants in too. I like to add the vinegar or oil to dressings or just take a tablespoon of it each day and the oil goes well in smoothies or as the base oil for pestos. This Spring I shall be using Cleavers, Nettles, Plantain, Dandelion, primrose and other spring edibles for my vinegar and oils. Being a close relative to coffee the seeds are often used and experimented with as a coffee substitute, Im personally rather addicted to Dandelion root as my coffee substitute but I do find Cleavers nice too. Its dark, rich and not as bitter as coffee with a mildly carob undertone. The seeds are dried and ground down before being used as a coffee drink so if you feel you have the time and energy you could give it a go. I find Cleavers a hard thing to eat straight from the plant due to the barbs and many a time I have had a cleaver leaf stuck in my throat and needed large swigs of water to dislodge it, but perhaps I don’t chew well enough! Its worth tasting the tiny little leaves though and they can be used in a salad if you make the pieces small enough.
So give it a try and and get your body moving and shifting in time for spring, step out without the weight of winter and old baggage upon you. I know when I have Cleavers on a regular basis my skin just looks amazing and my body feels lighter and more alive.