And most I like the winter nests deep-hid
That leaves and berries fell into:
Once a dormouse dined there on hazel-nuts,
And grass and goose-grass seeds found soil and grew.
(Edward Thomas, excerpt from Birds’ Nests)
She cleaves — but painlessly, like a dear friend or kindred spirit — in the way we all, from time to time, have need.
Throughout the winter she continued to grow in neglected patches along fences of the railway station, resurrecting, every time my eye fell on her, a faint but clinging memory of abundant water last summer.
She’s of many names, and “Cleavers” is not, perhaps, the most poetical among them! She is also known as Everlasting Friendship, Loveman, Catchweed, Robin-run-in-the-grass, Goosegrass, Bedstraw and Sticky Willie.
The clinging of Cleavers (Galium aparine) comes from its wee hairy hooks, but their attachment to you as you walk past is friendly. Indeed, the Greeks called the plant philanthropon — “man-loving” or “friendly-to-man” (later Anglicized as the above-mentioned “Loveman”).
Perhaps the plant reaches for us to remind us that it is time for a little of her support.
Cleavers, however, is often treated as a noxious weed as she can grow rampant. Birds and fowl in general flock to her (hence the name Goosegrass) and this human impulse to eradicate the plant is another reminder that we have forgotten to see Medicine in “weeds.”
Cleavers | Galium aparine
The Latin botanical name aparine is derived from the ancient Greek verb ἁρπάζω, meaning “to seize, snatch away, carry off,” given the habit of the plant to stickily cling.
Galium is derived from the ancient Greek as well, from the word meaning “milk” (γάλα). Cleavers was once used to strain milk and one of its relatives to curdle milk.
According to Chinese 5 Element Theory, the element Water is associated with winter. Water is also key to your lymphatic and genitourinary systems, to which Cleavers is specific. As we move from winter to spring, there is an accumulated congestion to be cleared out from the body — hence Cleavers has also been used as a traditional spring tonic (along with Nettles, Chickweed, and Dandelion, who are also appearing around this time).
In part because of high water content, Cleavers is one of those herbs that is much more potent fresh than dried, and I prefer to harvest her just before she comes into flower (May/June here). But you can start using her right now in the kitchen.
Happy Spring Equinox!
Remember, as always, to harvest away from the road (plants absorb car exhaust) and where there has been no spraying of chemicals or pesticides. And I am a doctor of philosophy, not of medicine: consult with your health practitioner before ingesting or using herbs and do your own research! Cleavers, for example, should not be consumed by an individual with diabetes.
Again, Cleavers is very watery and full of potent and cleansing moisture. If you have a juicer, simply juice the aerial portions and experiment with incorporating a combination of other ingredients (apple, ginger, celery, lemon…) or with adding a teaspoon to your smoothies. Do your research on dosing; the herb is a powerful cleanser and you don’t want to take too much.
Cleavers makes for a delightful green vinegar. Lightly pack the aerial portions into a clean mason jar and cover with apple cider vinegar. Infuse for 3 weeks or so before straining and rebottling. Use as a salad dressing.
Enjoy bits of Cleavers mixed into your salads or cook the young tips as you would spinach (boil for a few minutes and season with olive oil or butter and salt/pepper to taste).
You can read more fully about Cleavers in the Materia Medica.