This month’s herbal bog party, hosted by the inspiring Brigitte of My Herb Corner, is on the topic of My Herbal Treasures in March. Its so exciting to be thinking about all the new life beginning to stir at the moment as I’ve just started my first Spring harvests.
Its kind of an obvious one, but my favourite March herb is probably the dear and wonderfully weedy Cleavers. Galium aparine
Also known as Goosegrass or Sticky Willy, Cleavers is one of the first of our spring allies to appear, though it was perhaps a little later this year than I remember as I only managed my first harvest last weekend. It’s found mainly in woods and hedgerows and, along with its good friend stinging nettle, is one of the first wild herbs many people learn about.
Cleavers is a herb of the moon and is governed by the element of water and this is key to my understanding of how it works in the body. As a medicinal herb it is most commonly used to treat the lymphatic system, a network of vessels which runs alongside the blood circulation carrying waste materials in lymph fluid ready for processing in the lymph nodes and organs such as the tonsils, thymus and spleen. The lymph has no pump of its own so is reliant on the movement of blood and muscles to aid its journey, so exercise is vital for a healthy lymphatic system. It’s functions are primarily to aid cleansing of the tissues and assist the immune system by transporting white blood cells and antibodies.
To me, the lymph relates very closely to the water element in us and, as we know, the moon affects fluids in all of nature by governing flows and tides. The nature of water is to be fluid, we can easily see how polluted stagnant water becomes, and the lymph must also be flowing in order to perform its functions within the body. In the winter we can become more stagnant and accumulations tend to build up, stressing the lymphatic system and resulting in lowered immunity, swollen glands and sluggishness.
Cleavers is all about getting things moving and flowing again. I see it as an initiator and indeed it is meant to be auspicious to drink it before a journey. It doesn’t force change, just gently encourages the body to wake and clear itself, helping to remove excess fluids through its diuretic action. This quality means it is also a good urinary tonic, especially in inflammatory conditions of the urinary tract as it is also anti-inflammatory. Its useful for clearing the skin, partly due to its general alterative properties, and it has been used to treat cancers, both internally and externally as a poultice.
The water element also governs the emotions and Cleavers can help us to gently let go of the past and be ready to embrace the new growth and change that Spring awakens.
Cleavers is covered in tiny little hooked bristles which you can see in the close up below which I took last year, later in the season when the plant was more mature.
I see Cleavers as a plant of youth, not only because of it’s appearance early in the spring but due to it ability to entertain the child in us all when, on long walks, we can engage in the game I never grow tired of, how many cleavers can you stick on someone’s back before they notice :)
I think the real reason Cleavers grab on to us as we go by is because, in a damp climate like the UK, we could all do with a bit of lymphatic support and she is generously reminding us of the great service she can offer.
The plant itself is strong yet supple. It is flexible enough to be twisted round itself and apparently, country folk used to use it in this way to make a sieve for straining milk. It uses its little hooks to grow up other plants to get to the light, yet its strong enough to support them too when needed.
Here are a few ways to incorporate Cleavers into your life, they are always better used fresh than dried:
Cleavers Green Juice
Juice is my favourite way to take them and also the most potent as we are ingesting the life blood of the plant which is an incredible gift. It does require the use of a juicer but if you don’t have one you could whizz it in the blender with some water and then strain, though I haven’t tried it this way. I juice a big handful of cleavers with some apple, fennel, lemon, ginger and celery. This makes a delicious cleansing and revitalising drink for bright Spring mornings.
Make your Cleavers into a delicious green vinegar by lightly packing a jar with them then covering in unpasteurised apple cider vinegar. Cap with a plastic not metal lid (vinegar corrodes metal) and allow to infuse for three weeks before straining and rebottling. This makes a lovely spring salad dressing with a drizzle of olive oil.
At this time of year you can finely chop the young cleavers and add to salads, though later in the Spring they become too tough and stringy. Enjoy them now while they’re tender!
Cleavers Cold Infusion
Many people prepare their cleavers as a cold infusion by popping a handful in a glass, covering in cold water and leaving overnight to infuse. Strain and drink in the morning for a refreshing start to the day.
This one comes from Matthew and Julie Bruton-Seal’s wonderful book Hedgerow Medicine which I would recommend to anyone interested in wildcrafting herbs. I haven’t actually tried it yet but will be doing so soon and as it sounded so delicious I thought I’d include it here. Juice fresh cleavers, measure it and add an equal amount of runny honey. Bottle and label. It will last much longer this way and would be a lovely soothing and effective remedy for tonsilitis.
In early Spring the Cleavers Moon
Draws up from depths of wintery slumber
Our waking tides.
From ripple to wave she speaks of cycles
Of change, of flow,
Of newest growth already held in visions.
She invites us too to grow, along with her,
Weedy and wild,
Supple yet unyielding as the waters she guides
She helps to carry us all.
Also Lesser Celandine (or pilewort), Viola and other lovelies are out and about.
Spring love and loveliness to all.