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Wild Food Plants - Cleavers (Gallium Aparine)
Cleavers or Goosegrass?
Cleavers is so common that it hardly needs a description, it is unfortunate that this herb is usually regarded as a weed by most gardeners.
Cleavers has long rambling stems often stretching six feet or more in length and running along hedgerows (hence the common name "Robin-run-the-hedge"). It's square stems support circles of lance-shaped leaves in clusters of six to eight arranged spoke-like at intervals around the stem.
The herb has tiny white star-like flowers which grow from the leaf axils on stems in whorls of six to eight blooms. It's seeds are tiny spheres which cling to anything they touch.
The whole plant is covered in Velcro-like hairs. Cleavers will happily attach itself to any clothing it comes in contact with, and like Velcro it can be removed and replaced in different positions (this is a game we used to play as kids). Often, after walking through a bed of cleavers, you will find masses of seeds clinging to your socks and trousers.
Cleavers as well as being one of our more common edible wild food plants, is also regarded as being medicinal. It can be eaten raw, although the Velcro-like hairy hooks are not a texture that many people like. I find the raw flavour very pleasant - not unlike fresh pea-pods.
Speaking of the Velcro-like properties of Cleavers, did you know that Cleavers was used in the days of old (and apparently still is in Sweden) to strain milk? The milk would be poured through a thick matt of Cleavers and the velcro hooky-thingies would remove any foreign bodies whilst imparting health giving properties - Result!
Some more uses of Cleavers
When used as wild food plants, the usual way to eat Cleavers is as a cooked vegetable or pot-herb. (The cooking process melts away the hairs). The entire plant is rich in vitamin C and using it as a vegetable is said to have a slimming effect on the body.
Cleavers is related to the Coffee Plant and it's seeds are said to produce an excellent coffee substitute. They simply need to be dried and lightly roasted before brewing
It also makes a refreshing and healthful Tea. It is easily made by adding 3-4 teaspoons of the dried plant (not the roots) to a mug of boilling water and letting it steep for about ten or fifteen minutes. Apparently (though I've never tried this) the tea can also be used as an anti-perspirant!
But Cleavers is not just one of our best edible wild plants - Oh no siree - It can do lots of other things too.
It's roots produce a rich red dye which American Indians used to dye bones red. This is why you need to exclude the roots from the tea (Unless you particularly want red teeth)
American Indian Ladies also used the herb as a hair tonic - Rinsing the hair with an infusion of Cleavers was said to make the hair grow strong and long.
Another of their favourite uses was as a Love potion! Bathing in an infusion of Cleavers was said to make you successful in Lurve - Hot stuff!
Edible wild food plants often have medicinal uses too, and Cleavers is no exception. Cleavers Tea used as a de-toxifier is said to be good for cleansing and purifying the blood. It is diuretic (makes you pee a lot), and helps to clear urinary stones and infections such as cystitis.
Because of it's diuretic properties, it was often given (traditionally) to people suffering with congestive heart failure.
Applied to the skin, it is said to be helpful for those who suffer with skin ailments such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, as well as freckles and sunburn!
Herbalists also use the herb to lower both blood pressure and body temperature.
Something for everyone.
So the next time you see a string of goosegrass straggling across your garden, don't give it a hard time. Think instead of all the benefits that these little wild food plants can give you - Everything from coffee to Love potions.
Some of my Other Hubs
- Wild Food Plants - Cleavers (Gallium Aparine)
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