Today's little foraging spree brought some childhood memories to mind. I was on the hunt of everyone's favourite childhood herb. What child can ever fail to be amused by a herb known as "Sticky Willy"? What adult ever thought it appropriate to convey the name of such a herb to children? Most of us have memories of running around through parks and playgrounds throwing this plant at friends and family in the hope of getting it to stick to their clothing without them noticing, or as twist on the game, "tig". The rather bland tasting Galium Aperine (Cleavers) is a bit of a traditional wonder. It evokes childhood memories of me walking up Cavehill in Belfast with my grandfather who was rather taken with the idea of educating his grandchildren of Belfast's many weeds - be it horse-tail, cleavers (he would never have said the word "willy"!), nettle or primrose.
It is ubiquitous; typically found in hedgerows all around the country. This little wonder arrives in early spring. It grows up to 2m tall in the midst of the hedges and it is all edible but you probably want to go over it pretty well first to make sure you get the greenest and freshest parts of the plant. Things have a tendency to stick to cleavers and whilst a bit of dirt may well do your gut microbiome some good you don't want too much of a good thing to spoil your tinctures or smoothies. More about those in a minute.
It is more than just a childhood novelty herb though. Cleavers is an extremely useful herb to the herbalist. It has been used for generations to help people suffering from low grade chronic infection and as a specific for the lymphatic system. Cleavers is also a diuretic and this essentially means it is a great herb to help detoxify the body or rid the body of excess water (otherwise known as lymphatic drainage). For anyone keen on fasting or trying the 5:2 fasting currently in vogue you might particularly like cleavers. It has been used over the years as a means to allieviate that nasty headache you might get when going through detox. These same functions have an incredibly important use on skin conditons such as eczema and psoriasis by working from the inside out. Traditionally it is used as an anti-inflammatory herb to help allieviate mastitis and cystitis. More recently it has been used to support people suffering from cancer due to its anti-neoplastic properties.
Its best used when fresh. When making a tincture I tend to go for a 1:2 w:v ratio in a 25% alcohol. However cleavers can be used fresh in a tea, popularly used with nettle as a spring time detox. It can also be easily juiced into a smoothie of your choosing and is bland enough not to affect the taste. One thing to note about cleavers infusions however is that they don't last long and will quickly ferment. If you aren't going to drink it I highly suggest you freeze it and use the ice-cubes in the days to follow.
As for the other herbs in my basket today: We forgot to set out some chicken fillets from the freezer to defrost overnight so I decided to go out and gather some nettles. The result was a mish-mash of some left over pasta and chicken, some onion, garlic, olives, pepper and turkey bacon along with some nettles (instead of spinach) and herbs for a lovely little nettle stir-fry. The yellow petals going into the mix was that of gorse, adding a lovely hint of coconut to the dish. I'd offer you the recipe but its pasta - what could go wrong? Just feel free to experiment.