Common name: Cleavers
Scientific name: Galium aparine
Family: Rubiaceae (Bedstraw)
This sprawling annual “weed” has hook-like hairs on its stem and leaves that act like plant Velcro!
Cleavers has thin stems with 4 corners support whorls of 6-8 leaves, all edged with little hook-like hairs. As the sprawling stems grow they eventually form a thick tangled mass. The white, 4-petaled, star-like flowers emerge from the leaf nodes in May-June, while the seeds (“burrs”) start appearing from July onwards.
This little plant is one of the earliest greens to emerge after winter, appearing in its regular spots from February onwards. It is considered a “spring tonic”, a source of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals to nourish our bodies after the winter. While the hooks mean that its not a nice texture to eat raw, once lightly steamed it becomes a deliciously sweet green vegetable. Only pick the young tops, old growth is stringy and bitter. The burrs contain caffeine (cleavers is in the same plant family as coffee…) and these were traditionally collected, the hooks rubbed off, toasted on a skillet and ground to make a beverage along the Atlantic seaboard for many hundreds of years.
Cleavers are diuretic, nutritious and help our lymphatic system get rid of wastes in the body. Its best used fresh as a tea or juice (pass through a macerating “wheatgrass” juicer).
Take a handful of cleavers, pop into a mug and pour over just boiled water. Steep for 10 mins and drink.