Cleavers: Your ideal foraging find for spring

Forage & Folklore, who host guided nature walks in Suffolk, tell us about the abundance and value of cleavers!

Cleavers are one of the most common wild herbs you will come across on your walks out in the countryside. Even in town, wherever there is green space to be found, you will likely come across this unassuming foraging find on your path, perhaps without even knowing it! This peculiar plant is known by an array of different and vibrant names: Sticky Willy, Sticky Bobs, Claggy Meggies, Kisses, Bobby Buttons, Goosegrass, and Robin-run-the-hedge gives you just a sample of what folks have called them. However, most of us will fondly know them by the pertinent name of “Sticky Weed”, and this is not a name you are likely to forget once you have encountered it (you might find that it sticks!).

Cleavers are an annually occurring green creeper, notably covered in its characteristic hooked bristles, and they grow abundantly all across the UK, considered by most to be a weed. The name “Goosegrass” refers to its use as feed for chickens and geese, which is a little more mundane than sticking them on the backs of long-suffering parents! But what many do not know is that this plant is actually edible and has a great many uses with numerous health benefits to offer.

Typically found growing alongside the widely known (and wrongly despised) Nettle, Cleavers are usually to be found growing on mounds of decomposing plant matter and in shady areas, often along country pathways. They may be commonly paired with their Nettle counterpart to create refreshing tea blends and cleansing infusions, also making for a wonderful wild-foraged hot drink with benefits akin to green tea. Likewise, Cleavers can be treated much the same as Nettles and made into a warming soup or added to your existing Nettle soup recipes. And interestingly, also have beneficial effects upon the hair and skin when used topically a nutrient-rich rinse or wash.

Cleavers are an absolute ideal foraging find for this time of year in so many ways. When made into a tea, infusion or tincture, they assist in cleansing the body of toxins, which many of us find necessary as we move from the heaviness of the Winter season into the lightness of Spring. This herb also aids in reducing swelling of the lymph nodes and acts as a diuretic, serving to further detox our bodies. Cleavers are therefore ideal for refreshing and rebooting your system to really kickstart the reawakening of your body, mind, and spirit in time for Spring and all the new life it commands. In more traditional use, Cleavers have been known as an ingredient in low alcoholic beer brewing, and the fruits of the plant (which are tiny green balls which are also covered in small, hooked bristles – you may know this already if you have outdoor-loving pets!) were once used to top the heads of the delicate lace pins used by lace-makers of old.

We personally associate this commendable plant ally with the heralding of spring, particularly as observed in the Celtic festival of Imbolc. This celebration typically takes place around the month of February, with celebrations of modern pagans falling within the timeframe of the more commonly known Christian celebration of Candlemas. This seasonal festival typically aligns itself with the time ewes begin to lamb, cows begin to calve and produce milk again, and signs of new life begin to emerge everywhere in the natural kingdom, with a favourite being the first Snowdrops of the season as they shoot up from the soil. This is a considered time of great cleansing & purification; a time when home and hearth are cleansed of all the cobwebs, dust, and dirt left over from the harsh winter months when energies are low, and the heaviness of hardship lingers. Essentially, this is the time of year to get your spring cleaning underway!

This time of the year is an especially great time to create harvesting plans for cleavers for several reasons. From a practical standpoint, the cleavers are nice, young, and fresh; always ideal conditions for harvesting the green shoots well-suited for use in teas, infusions and even salads, regardless of the plant. And due to how commonly found cleavers are and the large clusters they tend to grow in when conditions are right, the environmental impact of gathering this plant should not be significant when carried out sensibly, of course. Most importantly, the necessity we all feel for ‘spring cleaning’ is the single biggest reason why Cleavers are a perfect choice for foraging at this point time on the cusp of transition and seasonal shift; something it is equally important to prepare ourselves and our spirits for, not just our physical spaces. As all await the promise of Spring and look to begin cleansing our homes, we also should focus on cleansing and detoxifying our bodies. But one reason you should seek out this particular plant on your next trek out in nature: Cleavers are incredibly easy to identify for beginners. As most of us are venturing out more frequently on walks due to the pandemic, we can use foraging as a way of learning about our natural spaces, connecting to the land and building a relationship with nature, the spirit of the season and the celebrations of old.

But just on a personal level… One thing Cleavers are also known for is their effectiveness when used in binding and love spells! Who needed more reason to get out foraging this season?

Visit Forage & Folklore at https://www.forageandfolklore.com/

Galium aparine

Galium aparine

Sticky willy

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