Have you ever heard of cleavers? Cleavers is another wild plant that is useful for its food and medicinal qualities. It is a good thing to learn to recognize it and thankfully, this is usually quite easy to do. Cleavers are wide-spread in range, which makes them a valuable survival food. A disclaimer is needed, however.
Disclaimer: Some people are allergic to this plant and may develop a rash after touching it. If this reaction is seen, the person shouldn’t eat the herb. For most people, the plant is harmless.
Cleavers (Galium aparine) are native to Europe, England, and parts of Asia. However, the plant has become naturalized in North, Central and South America, Australia and Africa. Cleavers has several common names, including grip grass, stick-weed, catchweed and goose grass. The last common name is because of the fact that geese seem particularly fond of eating it.
Cleavers have slender, creeping stems and the plant is covered with many little hair-like hooks that tend to catch on almost anything that brushes against them. For this reason, the plant should be cooked before ingesting it. Eating it raw could cause irritation. The hooks are used by the plant to climb up and over fences, plants and other supports.
Cleavers are annual plants. The stems can grow a yard or more in length and periodically around the stem, the plant has a whorl of usually six or eight narrow leaves growing all the way around the stem. The flowers are small and pale, often greenish white, usually with four petals. These appear in the axils of the leaves. The fruits are also small and are more heavily hooked than the stems, as is typical of burrs. When dry, the burrs cling readily to clothing or the fur of pets.
For harvesting, the stems and leaves are normally collected before fruiting occurs. They can be chopped, then steamed or boiled. They tend to be bland tasting and a pat of butter can help with the flavor. They can also be added to other potherbs. The plant curbs the appetite, which can be helpful for dieters, and it can lower the body temperature, much as cucumbers do. As a food, this plant is also good for fighting or preventing cancer and it contains good amounts of vitamin C.
Cleavers are related to coffee and the seeds are sometimes lightly roasted, then used to make a coffee substitute. The cleavers coffee contains less caffeine than real coffee, though it isn’t caffeine free, so it contains more than chicory.
Medicinally, cleavers are often crushed into a pulp, which is then spread over minor scrapes, cuts, burns, skin eruptions, insect stings and other abrasions. Prepared as a tincture or tea, cleavers has been used to lower blood pressure, to help with kidney function, as a diuretic to treat water retention problems and even as a shampoo.
The roots can be crushed to produce red dye. The plant is also useful as stuffing for pillows and mattresses since the stems stick so easily to each other. Because of this, it isn’t difficult to fill pillows or mattresses so the filling is uniform rather than being lumpy.
Cleavers are widely thought of as a troublesome weed, but they do have uses and they are among the most abundant wild foods that can function as survival food. It is also good for people who are trying to lose weight as well as those who are trying to find natural ways to lower their blood pressure.
Cleavers may not be as tremendously useful and food or medical purposes as many other wild plants, but they are still good for these purposes. The late herbal expert, Euell Gibbons, was quite fond of Cleavers.