Name: Galium aparine
You will recall this from your childhood when coming home from school. We all plucked them up and threw them at your school friends back. We knew them as “sticky backs”. Also known as Cleavers, they creep along the ground and over the tops of other plants, attaching themselves with the small hooked hairs which grow out of the stems and leaves. The stems can reach up to three feet or longer, and are angular or square shaped.The leaves are simple, narrowly oblanceolate to linear, and borne in whorls of six to eight.
Cleavers have tiny, star-shaped, white to greenish flowers, which emerge from early spring to summer. The flowers are clustered in groups of two or three, and are borne out of the leaf axils. The globular fruits are burrs which grow 1-3 seeds clustered together; they are covered with hooked hairs which cling to animal fur, aiding in seed dispersal.
Galium aparine is edible. The leaves and stems of the plant can be cooked as a leaf vegetable if gathered before the fruits appear. However, the numerous small hooks which cover the plant and give it its clinging nature can make it less palatable if eaten raw. Geese thoroughly enjoy eating G. aparine, hence one of its other common names, “goosegrass”. Cleavers are in the same family as coffee. The fruits of cleavers have often been dried and roasted, and then used as a coffee substitute which contains less caffeine.
- 3 handfuls goosegrass (cleavers) leaves and young tips
- 2 handfuls mixed wild greens (eg ground elder, ribwort plantain, dandelion, garlic mustard, comfrey, deadnettle (any of henbit deadnettle, white deadnettle and red deadnettle [or a mix] will work) clover, oxeye daisisy greens)
- wild greens for seasoning (eg ground ivy, wild garlic, lady’s smock, pepper dulse, Large Bittercress) herbs for seasoning (eg thyme, lovage, marjoram, lemon balm, mint, dill, parsley, chives, yarrow)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 4 tbsp oil for frying
- 2 tbsp wheat flour
- 1.2l vegetable stock
- freshly-ground black pepper
- crème fraîche
Wash all the wild greens and herbs then chop coarsely. Heat the oil in a pan, add the onion and garlic and fry for about 4 minutes, or until tender but not coloured. Scatter the flour over the top and stir to combine and form a smooth roux. Whisk in the vegetable stock until the soup base is smooth. Add the wild greens and herbs then bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly before pouring into a blender. Liquidize until smooth then return to the pan. Season with pepper, to taste and allow to heat through. Ladle into warmed soup bowls, garnish with a tablespoon of crème fraîche and serve.
Preparations and Dosages
This is the best way; Pick a carrier bag full of good, fresh Clivers, crush slightly and put into a large pan. Cover with cold water and allow to soak overnight. Then strain off and drink over the next 2 or 3 days. This is an excellent spring clean and prevents headaches during fasting. Take 3 cups a day for chronic skin problems. Combines well with Stinging Nettles.
A tincture or vinegar extract made of the fresh plant is second best. Take 10 – 20ml daily with a little water.
Dried Clivers, prepared as tea, is not so good although it is useful in tea mixes for cystitis.
Used as a compress (crushed fresh herb) for swollen lymphatic nodes (known as glands), lymphoedema, cysts, abscesses and ulcers and to heal wounds. The cold infusion is also used a a wash for acne and teenage spots.