Cleavers, Galium aparine
It's winter in the wonderland of Eastern Australia right? and as such a bunch of exotics that would otherwise die out in the hot summers are thriving, taking advantage of a wetter season and generally a temperature range more attuned to their growth habit. This week we'll talk about one of the most respected medicinal plants used in folk traditions: Cleavers! Also known as goosegrass, catchweed, stickyweed, robin-run-the-hedge, sticky willy, sticky willow, velcro weed, this is a plant of many names, which should say a lot about how human have found a local way to address its qualities. When I point at this little sprawling mass of sticky growth I often recall the time when I showed it to an herbalist friend, Agnieszka, who couldn't believe it that it grows on this side of the world. It does, but it only shows up in the colder months of the year. Agnieszka, who is a practicing herbalist but also a biologist, bringing together both traditional and scientific knowledge to her practice, was so happy for me to take her to a couple of bushes of it, as she needed it as a glandular tonic, in order to boost the immune system.
Origins: Cosmopolitan, naturalised to Australia
Uses: The tender young shoot tips can be eaten raw or cooked as a pot-herb. A rather bitter flavour that some people find unpalatable, they are best used young, before it goes to seed. They make a useful addition to vegetable soups. It is said that using this plant as a vegetable has a slimming effect on the body. The roasted seed is a coffee substitute. One of the best substitutes, it merely needs to be dried and lightly roasted and has much the flavour of coffee, the only issus here is that they are very small and fiddly to harvest. Probably best to harvest the scramble when is seeding and bash it on a cloth to collect the seeds. A decoction of the whole dried plant gives a drink equal to tea.
Medicinal: Cleaver has a long history of domestic medicinal use and is also used widely by modern herbalists. A valuable diuretic, it is often taken to treat skin problems such as seborrhoea, eczema and psoriasis, and as a general detoxifying agent in serious illnesses such as cancer. It is harvested as it comes into flower and can be used fresh or dried for later use.
Other uses: In Europe, the dried, matted foliage of the plant was once used to stuff mattresses. Several of the Galium genus were used for this purpose, due to the fact that the clinging hairs cause the branches to stick together, which enables the mattress filling to maintain a uniform thickness. It is said that the modern design of ever present velcro technology was derived from studying the hairs of the plant. The roots of cleavers can be used to make a permanent red dye.
Would you like to locate a patch of it? check Wild Food Map and enter a search on the top bar. Please harvest responsibly, NEVER over harvest, and ALWAYS look after the colony.
'till next week, happy weeding :)