Today's guest blogpost is by Jacki, another of my apprentices. She tells the story of her discovery of cleavers
Until a few weeks ago I’d never even heard of Cleavers (Galium aparine)! I hadn’t included it as one of my herbs to study as part of the apprenticeship with Sarah. I guess I couldn’t have really if I’d never heard of it! I’ve become more aware of it and how it could be useful to me. Recently, I started asking questions and researching it and, as promised, below is the outcome.
I do recall it growing, at the bottom of my garden, sometimes completely covering the old fencing by the end of summer. Since the new fencing was erected I don’t see it anymore. I think it has ended up in my neighbour’s garden. I wonder if I could ask for it back! I doubt it still exists to be honest; she is very handy with the weedkiller spray.
I can’t remember what first drew my attention to it more recently. I’m thinking perhaps I was just browsing in a book and one of the alternative names given to it caught my eye. Afterall, who wouldn’t be curious about a name like ‘sticky willy?!
It has many other names: Goosegrass, Barweed, Catchweed, Cleavers, Cleavers Goosegrass, Cleever, Clivers, Eriffe, Goosebill, Goosegrass, Grateron, Grip Grass, Hayriffe, Hayruff, Hedge Clivers, Hedgeheriff, Loveman, Mutton Chops, Robin-run-in-the-Grass, Scratweed, to name a few.
It’s found in Australia, Britain, China, Europe, Iraq, Mexico, Turkey and the US. It grows anywhere but prefers a loose moist soil in partial shade. It will reproduce easily and can be invasive (really!). Although the origin is debatable Angela Paine has included it in her book exclusively about Celtic Herbs.
It uses little hooked bristles on the stems and leaves to attach itself to objects and climb its way upwards. I remember looking at it one year and feeling the fuzzy roughness.
The leaves are narrow, spear-shaped and occur in rounds of six to eight leaves, at intervals, along the stem. Flowers bloom April thru til September. They are white and star-like, growing on a separate stem rising from the same point as the leaves. The seeds are contained in little round balls, covered with hooked bristles that attach themselves to everything and anything that brushes passed them, which ensures dispersal of the seeds.
It is edible raw. I have a friend who has started cutting it up and putting it on her porridge in the morning...but I’ve always thought her rather strange! It can be used as a pot-herb (which my online dictionary tells me means, any plant having leaves, flowers, stems, etc., that are used in cooking for seasoning and flavouring or are eaten as a vegetable) or it can be added to soups. I have a lovely recipe for a kind of pastry-less quiche. I often make it when I have a glut of eggs. It is great warm but can be sliced and eaten cold. It contains, butternut squash (or is it sweet potato?), red onions, eggs, spinach and is topped with feta cheese before baking. I would like to try substituting the spinach for cleavers one day.
I read somewhere (?) that using the plant as a vegetable has a slimming effect on the body but there wasn’t any further explanation. Perhaps it is how it helps the elimination process that accounts for this but I’m unsure. Does anybody have any further information?
Several sources quote Cleaver seeds as a good coffee substitute. It simply needs to be dried and lightly roasted and supposedly has much the same flavour as coffee. I find it quite surprising that this isn’t better known. I have every intention of collecting the seeds and will, hopefully, be trying it out on people...so beware! I thought a good way of accumulating a large enough supply would be to simply send the dogs off through the undergrowth because they will come back covered in them whether I want them to or not. For some reason Sarah didn’t seem to think this would be the best way to harvest the seed!
Medicinally it is used both internally and externally in the treatment of a wide range of ailments.
A quick inventory: it is said to be alterative (gradually induces a change, tending to cure or restore to health), anti-inflammatory, antiphlogistic (counteracting inflammation), aperients (purgative), astringent, depurative (promotes elimination via natural channels of the body), diaphoretic (inducing perspiration), diuretic, febrifuge (lowers body temperature to prevent or alleviate fever), tonic and vulnerary (wound healing).
(Please forgive my need for the definition of certain words but I had to go back to my dictionary to clarify some of the meanings)
The fresh plant or juice is used as a medicinal poultice for wounds or ulcers. Other skin problems such as seborrhoea (greasy, oily), eczema and psoriasis will benefit from using it externally on the affected area. A ‘tea’ can be made for this by placing one teaspoon (I’m guessing this means dried) of cleavers in a cup of boiling water and allowing the mixture to steep for at least thirty minutes. Use it to wash the skin when it has cooled. It is a good hair tonic and can help alleviate dandruff.
Cleavers is an excellent herb for the urinary system. It increases the amount of toxicity eliminated by the kidneys and can help soothe cystitis.
As a good cleansing herb it will assist liver problems. It will help clear the liver of toxins. Cleavers is often used to detoxify after long periods of using medications that damage the body. It is a general detoxifying agent in serious illnesses such as cancer. It is used particularly for cancer involving the lymphatic system.
Cleavers stimulate the lymphatic system and relieves swollen lymph glands. The lymphatic system is responsible for eliminating the toxins and waste products that accumulate in the body. If the system is not functioning properly the removal of the toxins can become sluggish and impaired. Too much toxicity and the lymphatic system can actually become damaged itself.
Its detoxifying effect can help rheumatoid arthritis and gout. I think I also saw some information about cleavers being useful for high blood pressure but I seem to have lost that somewhere along the way.
An infusion of the herb has shown to benefit in the treatment of glandular fever, tonsillitis and hepatitis.
Now for the science bit! I’m only copying this bit in case somebody thinks it’s useful, it’s all a bit over my head at the moment (even with the help of a dictionary). The plant contains organic acids, flavonoids, tannins, fatty acids, glycoside asperuloside, gallotannic acid and citric acid. It also contains the constituent asperuloside, a substance that is converted into prostaglandins by the body. Prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds that stimulate the uterus and affect blood vessels.
A medicinal tea is simply: 3 heaped tablespoons of dried or fresh herb to a pint of boiling water. Allow to stand for 10 minutes and when cool take mouthful doses throughout the day.
Another recipe I found is: Place one teaspoon cleavers and one teaspoon uva ursi in a cup of boiling water and allow the mixture to steep for thirty minutes then drain. Add honey to sweeten if the tea is too bitter for your taste.
Just for interest I’m also listing some of the other uses I found for it while I was doing this research:
· Several Native American tribes used an infusion of the plant for gonorrhoea.
· It has been used as a love medicine by one North American tribe. An infusion of the plant was used as a bath by women to be successful in love.
· Gerard writes of Clivers as a marvellous remedy for the bites of snakes, spiders and all venomous creatures (one advantage living in England – no seriously venomous critters around).
· It provides food for the larvae of many butterfly species.
· A red dye is obtained from a decoction of the root.
· A thick matt of the stems, when used as a sieve for filtering milk, was said to give healing properties to the milk and is still used in Sweden for that purpose.
My particular interest is twofold. Firstly, I have a cat, Princess Icky Poo, she has kidney disease and also often gets cystitis. Damage to the kidneys is irreversible and progressive so I’m really interested in anything that will help with the management of the problem. I chopped some fresh leaves very finely and added them to her usual wet food. I was delighted when later I examined the bowl to discover almost all the leaves were gone. Incidentally, I also regularly give her parsley the same way.
Before anybody tells me off, I did check it was OK to give her cleavers before including them in her meal. It would seem that I’m not the first to make the connection. Gregory Tilford in his book, Herbs for Pets, states that, ‘cleavers is a safe long-term aid in the treatment of feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), and the herb may also be useful for chronic low-grade kidney inflammation’.
Oh and did I mention that the dogs, rabbit, chickens and parrots are all having some too?!
The second reason for my interest is more personal, I want to use it for its detoxifying properties. I may include other herbs at a later date but firstly I’m just going to use cleavers so I can better monitor the result.
I started to realise, that if I’m going to use the herb over a significant amount of time, I could have a problem. I am going to need to store it. An easy way to do this would be making a tincture using a reliable method but I don’t want to work using alcohol so that’s when I started to get really confused. Although some sources suggest drying, others seem to think that it is not a good idea because it can lose too much of its potency by the drying process. It sounds simple enough to dry the herb but how would I know if it lost its worth? It’s annoying because I’m sure you can actually buy cleavers as a dried powder.
Juicing seemed to be the next suggestion. What a palaver, I thought but apparently not according to some. Note to self, don’t bother re-decorating the kitchin before attempting this. Actually, upstairs I have a juicer. I bought it a couple of years ago (literally) for my daughter but as it is still upstairs, unopened and unused I might just claim it back for myself. Having extracted the juice it can be frozen. One idea is to freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, they can be popped into a tightly sealed polybag for storing.
The next problem seems to be collecting it. It’s more an issue of when rather than how. I think even I can master the gathering process! Apparently, cleavers has a very short life cycle and is best harvested from the beginning to the middle of its flowering period, which seems to mean that it can only be harvested for about a week! Do I really have to be monitoring the parks and canals daily waiting for just the right moment to go collecting my stash? Other information suggests that it needs gathering before it flowers. This seems a lot simpler information and makes much more sense, to me, the worth of the plant will go into the flowering process. It also gets tougher with age.
Incidentally, I have just seen mentioned that I could make a cleavers vinegar. I don’t think Princess Icky Poo will be that impressed but it will be good for me. I wonder what it would taste like in honey.
I’m looking for recipes to try out now. I want to find and try as many as possible.
Most of my work thus far is mainly theory as I explored this worthwhile ally. I guess what I have really shared is my investigation and decision making process. I will need to update it at some point to including my successes, failures and conclusions.
The best bit is I also discovered that much more scientific research is being done on the plant and it is of great interest to pharmaceutical companies. Do you think they will contact me if they need any help?!
Postscript. I have been experimenting with the recipe from Brigette http://www.myherbcorner.com/wiki/index.php?title=Mac_%26_cheese_%26_Onion_weeds
The truth is I saw the recipe and instantly changed it (typical). I exchanged the macaroni for wholewheat pasta and because I don’t know what onion weed is I use an onion and then put in whatever else I want (e.g. cleavers, nettle). It’s a good way to ‘hide’ the herb! It’s really simple and taste lovely.
I’m looking forward to trying it using ‘jack by the hedge’ (garlic mustard) but haven’t found any near where I live yet.
Gregory L. Tilford, Herbs for Pets (2001)
David Conway, The Magic of Herbs (1973)
Richard Mabey, The New Age Herbalist (1988)
M Grieve (Mrs), A Modern Herbal (1931)
Angela Paine, The Healing Power of Celtic Herbs (2006)
Annies Remedies: http://www.anniesremedy.com/remedy_use145.php
Deb Jackson & Karen Bergeron: http://www.altnature.com/gallery/cleavers.htm
Michael Vertolli: http://www.vitalitymagazine.com/cleavers
Brigitte Myherbcorner: http://www.myherbcorner.com/blog/?p=2522