Foraging for Cleavers

(Galium Aparine)

Commonly known as Sticky Weed or Sticky Willy, due to the plant’s sticky tendencies! It ‘cleaves’ to animal fur, human boots and clothing. It’s a fantastic wild ingredient as the stem, leaves and fruits are all edible.
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Wild Greens

How to Identify

 

Cleaver stems range in length and can be found up to 30 – 150cm long. The stems are slightly square and are long and straggly. They’re covered in tiny hooked prickled leaves, with little joints up the stem, each with 6-8 leaves in a circle formation, found at each joint. Cleavers do not branch, the entire stem is one long piece. Individual cleavers plants can grow to be 2-3 feet long, however, they rarely appear to be more that 6-7 inches off the ground, as they grow horizontally along the ground.

 

From June to August, you’ll see tiny white flowers in small clusters form at the tip of the stem.

 

In late Summer/early Autumn, the flowers develop into small fruits (called burrs),  which are also covered with hooked hairs and cling to clothes and animal fur that disperse the seeds easily, often said to be why the plant is so prolific!

When and Where

 

Cleavers can be found abundantly under hedges, paths and roadsides, waste ground and woodlands.  Often found growing next to the humble (and one of our favourites) – the nettle. 

 

Cleavers are said to sprout when our immune systems may be a little sluggish from the long winter – a very considerate plant indeed. 

 

Leaves | Harvest early Spring to early Summer.

Flowers | April to May

Seeds | July to October

Flavour and How to Use

When young, the plant is much more tender and has a more pleasant texture. Be sure to only pick plants before it’s gone to seed (unless you’re after the seeds!) – as they get more fibrous and hairy as they age. 

 

The plant’s hook-like bristles soften when cooked, and have a fresh green taste, similar to young peas with a hint of grassiness/herbal flavour.

 

Cleavers have quite the portfolio when it comes to their potential uses and capabilities! Here are just a handful of ideas to get you started:

  • They’re part of the coffee family and the seeds can be ground to make cleaver coffee. One to try for the avid coffee-connoisseurs (if a little fiddly / time-consuming to make!). 
  • Infuse in water for 24-28 hours for a spring tonic with a cool, green herbal flavour (take care not to steep for too long as the raw plant contains bitter tannins).
  • Great infused in spirits – adds a layer of grassy, herbaceous-ness
  • Add to green smoothies for an extra nutrient boost.
  • Infuse in vinegar (great combined with dandelion leaf).
  • Delicious as part of a wild salsas or chutney. 

Medicinal Properties

As well as an extensive edible list, cleavers have many medicinal properties. From a medicinal perspective, it’s best to use cleavers fresh, as heating the plant may reduce some of its benefits.

 

  • Very rich in vitamin C, often used as a Spring tonic.
  • Diuretic properties, long used as a slimming aid. 
  • Fresh or dried, cleavers have anticoagulant properties therefore can help lower blood pressure. They are therefore not suitable for individuals on blood thinning medication. 
  • Consuming cleavers is also not advised for those pregnant, as it can stimulate uterine contractions. 
  • A handful of cleavers pressed against a wound can help the flow of blood much better than pressure alone. 
  • Often used by herbalists to treat skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and seborrhoea.
  • Known as an alternative, a herb that gradually restores the proper functions within our bodies and aids health and overall wellbeing. 
  • Helps to improve lymphatic flow, key for a healthy immune system, assisting in removing any nasties from our bodies.

History and Folklore

 

The root yields a red dye that is often used by natural crafters.

 

Cleaver’s sticky tendencies have been useful in creating an alternative to a sieve, historically used to strain milk. 

 

Combined with straw, they have been known to be used to make a natural mattress.

Things to Note

Don’t eat cleavers if you are pregnant, may become pregnant or nursing, or are on high blood pressure and/or blood thinning medications.

 

Cleavers have a high water content, therefore will wilt quickly. They are definitely best used fresh.

Possible Confusions

Whilst there are a number of similar-looking plants, all lookalikes are edible – therefore won’t cause any harm.

 

Cleavers can be confused with lady’s bedstraw or sweet woodruff, however both are hairless and don’t have sticky tendencies. 

Lady’s Bedstraw
Sweet Woodruff

Foraging at our Cookery Courses

All of our Cookery Courses include a short foraging walk as part of the day, introducing you to a handful of commonly found wild ingredients.

Keen to learn more?

There are a wide range of resources on foraging. Here are just a handful of our favourite books.

Our Foraging Tips

Ask permission. 

Essential if you’re picking on private land. As with everything, respect is key and goes a long way.

 

If in doubt, leave it out. 

Why rush? Nature isn’t going anywhere! Take time to ensure you safely identify your finds.

 

One step at a time.

No one becomes an expert overnight. Build up your identification skills and your confidence will grow. 

 

Enjoy the process.

Foraging is not only about what you pick but the experience – Immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the little things. The fresh air, birds chirping, a light breeze or the feel of soil beneath your feet.

 

Celebrate locality.

With an abundance of forage at your doorstep, why not start local?

 

The 10% rule.

Only take what you need (or 10% of what is available). This not only means that you leave plenty for other foragers, but also local wildlife. We want to enjoy our ecosystem not damage it. 

 

Leave room for regrowth.

Never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.

 

Wash before consumption.

Always give your foraging finds a good wash before consuming, especially when picking on busy routes/path.