Fleetneedles' Forage: Cleavers

As part of our Save Our Skills year, we are looking at foraging. These post were originally published on our Facebook Page, we'd like to thank Claire Fleetneedle for allowing us to publish them here.

Foraging for cleavers and their uses #saveourskills #foraging

Cleavers (Galium Aparine)

Cleavers, also known as Stickybobs, Goose grass and Sticky willy, is a wonderful medicinal wild herb. The plant pops up in early spring and by summer can have stems stretching 6 feet or more. It has square stems supporting circles of spoke-like leaves and small white flowers when in full bloom. The entire plant is covered by hooked hairs which give it a sticky quality. Its seeds are tiny balls which you inevitably find stuck to your socks and trousers on a walk through a patch.

Contains vitamin C plus calcium, sodium, silica, glycoside and tannins

Not to be taken internally by diabetics, or people on lithium based medication.
Due to its strong detoxifying effects the herb should be taken on a 2 weeks on 2 weeks off basis.

Diuretic, mild astringent, lymphatic detoxifier, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, immune booster and stimulates weight loss (as part of a sensible diet).

Everyday Uses
The leaves, flowers, seeds and stalk are all edible and, in the spring, cleavers can be washed, chopped and added to salad. It tastes very similar to fresh pea casings and, although not delicious, it is still worth adding to food for its high vitamin content and many medicinal qualities. As summer approaches and the plant becomes older the silica content increases which makes it stringy and a bit rough to eat raw. Nevertheless, it can be eaten steamed or sautéed, or added to soups and stews at any point in its lifecycle.
The fresh stem, flowers and leaves can also be made into a tea which tastes like a stronger version of the raw plant and is an excellent spring blood cleanser (I use the tea to combat water retention). To make the tea put a sprig in a cup and half fill with boiling water. When it has cooled to a tepid temperature I drink it. I have also read that the dried version of the plant has a better flavour when made into a tea.

Cleavers is from the same family as the coffee bean, so its seeds can be roasted and ground to make a good caffeine free alternative to coffee. According to my research, the roots contain a red dye which can be used to dye cloth. Bundles of the plant were once used as a natural sieve in the production of cheese and in parts of Europe it was also used to stuff mattresses - which explains why in older books it’s referred to as Bedstraw. However, I haven’t experimented with any of these uses so can’t vouch for their reliability.

Medicinal Uses
Cleavers has long been considered a diuretic, cleansing gravel and impurities from the kidneys and gall bladder. For the same reason it is also considered a perfect herb for urinary tract and bladder infections. Its strong diuretic qualities mean it is advisable to drink plenty of water whilst using this herb, to avoid dehydration.

When the herb tea is cooled or the plant liquidised into a paste, it can be applied to an affected area to help treat the following skin problems:

·         Acne
·         Rashes
·         Sunburn
·         Eczema
·         Psoriasis
·         Bites
·         Dandruff
·         Burns

In this form the plant was particularly used in the treatment of burns during WWI and has a long history of being used as a poultice on ulcers, boils and tumours. It has also previously been used to treat skin cancer. It is considered invaluable as a lymphatic tonic - the lymph glands wash toxins from the blood. This cleansing action makes Cleavers useful in the treatment of arthritis and psoriasis. For treatment in these auto immune disorders the plant is sometimes turned into a juice and drunk. In this form, it has also been used to stimulate sweat during a fever, although I find elderflower is far more effective.

Finally, due to its cleansing, detoxifying and diuretic properties Cleavers has a reputation as a weight loss plant. It is also thought to lower blood pressure without side effects while the high vitamin c content makes for a wonderful immune booster.

These are some of my personal experiences using Cleavers combined with information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate, in the treatment of specific conditions it is best to consult with an herbalist or your GP. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the above please stop using the herb immediately. And always take care when identifying the plant.

Happy Hunting, Claire Fleetneedle

LIFE ON PIG ROW DISCLAIMER: We’d like to thank Claire for this wonderful piece, as she points out, this is her personal experience and common sense must prevail in homemade herbal remedies. Therefore, if you are out and about foraging and aren’t confident that what you are about to pick is edible or medicinal the best advice is to leave it where it is. In the event of an adverse reaction to any homemade herbal remedy or foraged edible food you are advised to seek out medical advice. While every care is taken in the production of these posts neither Claire Fleetneedle nor Life on Pig Row are responsible for adverse reactions. Please remember to check local by-laws before foraging and never forage on private land without permission. Please use common sense when foraging.


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