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Archive for the ‘Cleavers’ Category

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From top left clockwise: Nettle, hawthorn blossom, cleavers, ground elder, ground ivy, garlic mustard/jack by the hedge, dandelion flowers, hawthorn leaves, dandelion leaves.

One of the things I love most about spring is that it is probably the time when picking plentiful quantities of wild food is the easiest, at least in temperate northern zones such as the area in which I live. There are many edible wild spring greens in the hedgerows, woods and waysides and in no time at all you can have an abundant harvest for creating delicious and healthful meals and teas.

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A mix of wild and cultivated salad leaves decorated with primrose, three cornered leek and heartsease flowers.

Eating even small quantities of wild foods regularly is one of the best things you can do for your health as they are so nutritionally dense, vibrant, seasonal and fresh. So many of the best wild foods are those we consider weeds, but when we look at the qualities of these plants, how tenacious and insuppressible they are, we can see that their strength and vitality surely makes for a more fortifying meal than those cultivated plants that have been shipped half way round the world and sat on supermarket shelves for days. I think weed is a derogatory term, the four letter word of the plant world, which I will henceforth refer to as w**d. I do however reserve the right to use it, along with other four letter words, in the presence of my arch-nemesis ground elder.

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Young lime/ linden leaves

At this time of year we have a lovely mix of mild tasting moistening greens, like the young lime/linden and violet leaves, and more drying or pungent herbs like nettles, young yarrow leaves, jack-by-the hedge and the dead nettles. This makes for a perfect balance of nourishing and toning qualities to help build us up and get us into shape after winter.

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My little forager picking lime leaves.

The three cornered leek or wild onion is one of the most delicious additions to spring salads, tasting something like a spring onion, and the flowers make beautiful decorative additions to any meal and are also edible. They are more common in the south west than the south east and I don’t find many growing near me but luckily it has spread all over my parent’s garden so I got to pick lots when visiting recently.

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Three cornered leek

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From a distance it looks a little like white bluebells or even snowdrops but can be easily differentiated close up by the shape of the flowers and the distinctive triangular stem, hence the common name of three cornered leek. Also the smell of onion is a give away. Do be sure of your identification as both snowdrop and bluebell bulbs are poisonous.

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Wavy bittercress is a very common spring salad green which has delicious leaves and flowers and tastes much like normal cress.

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Wavy bittercress

Lady’s smock, also known as cuckoo flower, is another edible mustard family plant with deliciously peppery leaves and flowers.

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Lady’s smock

Jack by the hedge or garlic mustard is also in the mustard family or Brassicaceae. This family used to be known as the Cruciferae so if you have an older plant identification book you will find this name instead.

Jack by the hedge

Jack by the hedge

Nettles are found in abundance at this time of year and are a true superfood for the blood. You can read more about them in a previous post here.

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Nettles in the spring sunshine

Pick cleavers by the handful for use in cold infusions and juices, instructions for which can be found here.

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A tangle of cleavers

Wild garlic is one of the true delicacies of the season. If, like me, you love the fiery garlic taste then make it into a pesto by itself but if it is a bit too intense for your palette you can tone it down with nettles or shop bought herbs like basil. More about wild garlic can be found here.

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Wild garlic pesto – pungent and powerful!

Do remember when picking wild greens to be absolutely 100% sure of your identification as some edibles have poisonous lookalikes. Also avoid the sides of paths where dogs are commonly walked and always, always pick with respect to the environment and don’t over harvest. Finally avoid the edges of fields unless you know the land to be organically managed.

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At the back; cleavers cold infusion and hawthorn blossom tea. Centre; nettle pesto with jack by the hedge and ground elder. Front; wild green salad of hawthorn leaves, jack by the hedge, dandelion leaves, violet leaves and white dead nettle with nettle pesto and dandelion flowers on toast, nettle and ground elder soup.

Spring greens and flowers also make for wonderful teas.

Ground ivy has a pleasant but musky flavour which is nice in teas when mixed with something lighter like a little mint from the garden. It is great for stuffy sinuses that can go along with spring allergies.

Ground ivy

Ground ivy

And the most wonderful spring tea of all in my opinion is hawthorn blossom, the very Queen of May herself. Read more about hawthorn blossom here.

Hawthorn blossom

Hawthorn blossom

I have also written a post on harvesting spring greens in this issue of the Mother magazine.

Wishing you all a joyous Beltane and a marvellous May Day!

 

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Spring fever is most definitely upon us as I get busy in the garden, the cats lounge in sunbeams and all of nature seems to be rejoicing. Today I noticed a squirrel prancing around for what looked like the simple joy of being and a friend sent me a link to this video showing the cows on one farm celebrating their release from their winter housing.

Now the weather is warming and we are surrounded by fresh green plants again it’s a good time to start gently cleansing the body of the accumulations of winter with delicious spring treats. When temperatures rise, the mucus in our bodies thins and begins to move and can result in runny noses and phlegm. Whilst an excessive attitude to ‘detoxification’ can be detrimental, spring is a natural time to work with plants in assisting the body to release and let go. Last week I had a dream that I was sat in a cafe with friends eating cake and chatting. Within dream-time, hours passed and I kept on eating more and more cake until the glands on my neck started to visibly swell. Upon waking I thought that my body was perhaps trying to tell me that it was time to indulge in some good lymphatic tonics and have a little break from the various cakes that have indeed found their way onto my plate in recent weeks!

At this time of year we have two great lymphatic remedies freely available in this part of the world with our lovely spring cleavers and sweet violets. I wrote about cleavers and their relationship with the lymphatic system here if you would like to read more about it. I have been incorporating them into my daily routine in three ways over the last fortnight or so; in juice, as a succus and as a cold infusion.

A large handful of fresh cleavers is delicious in a juice with apple, cucumber and perhaps a little lemon on a warm day, or ginger when the mornings are still crisp and cool. Cleavers succus is made by juicing several large handfuls of fresh cleavers and mixing with equal quantities of runny honey to make a syrupy liquid that will keep in the fridge for a month or two. I have been taking a couple of tablespoons a day when the urge takes me and though it closely resembles murky dark pond water in appearance, in taste it is fresh, sweet, green and totally divine! (If you like pond water that is.)

Cleavers cold infusion

Cleavers cold infusion is the simplest way of taking them as it requires no extra equipment such as juicers or blenders. All you do if place a couple of handfuls of freshly picked cleavers in a jug, cover with cool water and leave to infuse overnight. In the morning you will have a delicately flavoured liquid that will gently cleanse your body and help the lymphatic system to move and clear out the stagnation of winter.

Violets are also easy to add into our every day diet as long as you have a plentiful supply growing nearby. Great ways to take them include a few leaves and flowers added into salad or as a fresh tea with other spring greens such as cleavers and young hawthorn leaves. You can also snack on a few flowers when out walking. Taking one on your tongue and holding it there as the flavour infuses your senses is one of the truest delights in wild cuisine. Just eating a few flowers and leaves will have a beneficial effect on the lymphatics, you don’t need many. For more violet inspired ideas see this post from last year.

While we are on the subject of spring plants I just wanted to share a little story with you about an encounter I had last weekend. Whilst walking down Brixton Hill in London I noticed this old Sweet Chestnut tree.

An ecosystem in the city

I felt drawn to take a closer look and wondered over to it. Beneath its trunk were growing great clumps of cleavers and dandelions with young yarrow leaves interspersed with the grass nearby.

Cleavers beneath the Sweet Chestnut

The tree itself had a few little shoots with the characteristic sticky chestnut buds willing it to life and the trunk was covered in our local ganoderma, the artist’s bracket or ganoderma applanatum.


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As I wandered around, marvelling at all the beauty and medicines available in and around this one tree and snapping these few shots with my phone, I became aware of a lad standing nearby watching. After a short while he addressed me, “Excuse me lady, what are you doing with your phone and that tree?” After a moment of lamenting the fact that I am now clearly old enough to be addressed as ‘lady’ by the youth of today, I invited him over and proceeded to tell him about all the plants and what they are good for. He seemed really interested and curious and we had a lovely little interaction. As I turned to leave he said, ‘this is cool, it’s like bush tucker land.’ Yes indeed, I thought, even in the midst of Brixton the wild is marginalised yet somehow still thriving. Afterwards I reflected on how, when you are involved in the thing you love, people are drawn to see what you are doing and you can share in each other’s curiosity and inspiration. It’s perhaps not always necessary to go out preaching the importance of valuing biodiversity, wild plants and natural health, for when you do what you do for the simple joy of doing it, the rest happens all by itself.

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Today was beautiful. The sun shone all day and the world seemed a more cheerful place as everyone stopped to enjoy the fresh, spring air and the warmth on their faces. I spent the afternoon reading in the sunshine after gathering a bagful of spring delights. This evening has been both productive and fun as I’ve whipped up some more goodies for the medicine cabinet accompanied by my trusty familiar.

There was an abundance of violets in the woods today, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place, so I gathered enough to make an infused oil and a syrup, with a few extras to sprinkle on this evening’s salad. I plan to make the oil into a skin cooling cream, with infused lavender and chickweed oils, after letting it steep for a few weeks. I’m making the syrup with honey rather than sugar, which is more traditional, because its health giving properties are so superior. I’m doing it more or less according to Susun Weed’s recipe which Sarah Head included in her post for last month’s blog party here. I think Violet, Viola odorata, could happily be renamed Viola adorata, as she is just the most adorable plant around. :)

The infusion for the syrup yielded the most beautiful coloured liquid.

Violet Infusion

And the oil also looks promising. I used sweet almond oil as the base as its fairly light and therefore good for making creams. Also it doesn’t have a strong smell like olive and unrefined sunflower do.

Violet Infused in Sweet Almond Oil

I also made a delightful cleansing and cooling tea with lemon peel and viola flowers.

Violet and Lemon Tea

Cleavers were also out in force, vital and green, so I picked a bagful, enough to make a vinegar, the succus that I mentioned in my previous post on Cleavers and an extra few to add to a green juice to revive us when we got in.

The succus is just divine. Often, when you mix two flavours, one will predominate but this is an exact mix of the grassy green, cleansing taste of cleavers and the sweet earthiness of honey. The colour is also incredible, a deep, emerald green that reminds you of the forests where this remedy originates.

I have heard that the placebo effect accounts for something like 40% of the healing effects of all medicines. If this is true I think it must be especially so for medicines you make yourself. The simple pleasure and creative joy engendered by this most vital of skills must be half the goodness of the finished remedies as they are full to the brim of gratitude for the healing potential of nature and deep love for those you wish to share it with.

Cleavers infused vinegar, Cleavers succus, Viola infused oil and Viola infusion for syrup

Not bad for an evenings work. :)

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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.

Cleavers Vinegar
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.

Cleavers Salad
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.

Cleavers Succus
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.

Some other things to be happy about in March:
My first dandelion.
Young Comfrey leaves appearing.
Fresh, young nettles.

Also Lesser Celandine (or pilewort), Viola and other lovelies are out and about.

Spring love and loveliness to all.

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