Tag Archives: Cleavers

May Herbs Sauce

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This herb sauce was the result of today’s rainy forage in Frankendael park.

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After a quick chat with the park warden who was chopping up a massive fallen tree, Livvy and I collected a little each of Ground elder (Aegopodium podograria), Wild garlic (Galium ursinum), Wild geranium (Geranium sp), Ground ivy (Glechoma hederaceae) and White deadnettle (Lamium alba).

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I took those herbs (a small handful in all), chopped them, sweated them down in a pan over low heat, with a splash of water for 10 minutes, then added a little blue goats cheese and a desertspoon of sour cream. I them blended it all to a smooth sauce with a hand blender.

The result was very tasty indeed and the balcony harvest Pansies (Viola sp) also went down a treat!

On a less tasty notes: Here is patch of poisonous Lily of the Valley, growing in the park. Just notice how similar the leaves are to those of Wild garlic. The easiest way to distinguish them (apart from the flowers) is that Wild garlic smells very strongly of garlic and Lily of the Valley doesn’t.
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365 Frankendael day 352

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Today a small group of us planted out the Elder cuttings which we took from mature Elder shrubs on Hugo de Vrieslaan last year. The idea was to grow more of this useful native herb in a slightly cleaner part of the area.

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We choose to plant our well rooted cuttings along the edge of the Frankendael woodland. They blended in instantly and we have our fingers crossed that they will take well to their new home.

We also took a fresh batch of Elder cuttings and will care for them at our homes until next year. Thanks everyone who came along today!

Also today, I spotted a good amount of Cleavers (Gallium aparine) for the first time this year. It is growing here beside some Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica).

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And Common Figwort is starting to bolt forth.

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365 Frankendael day 47


Firstly today, fragrant and edible flowers of the urban prolific Rosa rugosa. It is much used by urban landscapers and I think, underused by urban foragers. To be used as any other rose, ensure they are clean and unsprayed as ever.

Next is Cleavers (Galium aparine), still looking fresh and cleansing in the Volkstuin area of Frankendael.


Here is a mature Ginkgo biloba tree which I hadn’t noticed until today. Recently I learned that in some parts of the world it is illegal to plant female Ginkgos because the smell of their fruit is so obnoxious! Perhaps this one is a male? Either way, the leaves will be ripe for the picking and eating or tea making in a few months. There are a great many Ginkgos in Amsterdam.


Above is a small Ladies mantle (Alchemilla) plant. This is a bitter and very useful herb. I grow several on my roof and sometimes eat the flowers as a garnish. The leaves are good as a bitter tea and can be used to make a good breast toning oil. That is one of their traditional uses.


Lastly today, another coppiced Willow living in apparent intimate harmony with a different plant species. This time the lodger USA flowering Elder (Sambucus nigra). Two great herbs together!

365 Frankendael day 46

I’ve been preparing for the next Urban Herbology walk today so here are several photos and not much chat…


Developing cobweb-spirally Burdock flowers.


The Middenweg Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) continues to grow despite being reported to the council. Apparently it’s not a risk to the public because it is growing in the green strip… It is now wider than my bike, well over 2m tall and (although less than before I pruned it) still overhangs the pavement. I shall snip off the flower heads before the seeds set. A deadly beauty.


Greater Celendine, with seed pods developing well.


Comfrey (Symphytum uplandicum), still growing, still flowering – everywhere in the park!


Skullcap (Sculletaria altissima) in the woods. Flowers development very quickly moving up the stalk, sowing be visible for much longer.


The flowers of wild Sage (Salvia officinalis).


On the edge of the rhododendron planted section, I found this shady patch of tasty Pelargonium, Garlic Mustard and also Stinging Nettle and Cleavers, just out of shot.


Lastly, frothy flowers of Hedge Bedstraw.

365 Frankendael day 40

Burdock (Arctium lappa)

Today, many Burdock plants (Arctium lappa) are easily identified because their flower heads, or burs (which give the plant it’s common English name) are developing at the top of the plants. I’ve not really noticed them at this stage, before this year. They look very stately at the moment because the stems are growing fast so the large leaves are clearly separated. Burdock is a biennial plant, flowing during its second year. The roots are the part of interest to herbalists and those are only useful when harvested from first year Burdock plants. So although harvesting of Burdock roots should occur in the autumn, now is a great time to identify Burdock which is not flowering, is in its first year and may be of interest. Here’s a link to a Susun Weed article about Dandelion and Burdock.

Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Here is a little Elder (Sambucus nigra) shrub, growing at the base of a tall park side tree, on the Middenweg. Not a great location for harvesting the flowers. At this height you may also better understand why Ground Elder (shown yesterday in flower) is so named. Fortunately, although both are edible (at least in part), the flowers look quite different, one is a shrub and the other is clearly not.

White Dead Nettle (Lamium album)


Next, a lovely White Dead Nettle (Lamium album). This member of the mint family, which looks very like Stinging Nettle but is totoally unrelated, is still in flower and yielding a tiny sip of sweet nectar, if you pluck a flower and suck its base. This can also be done with Honeysuckle. However the Honeysuckle species is seen as poisonous and White Dead Nettle is edible. The whole plant may be enjoyed and benefitted from. This plant is good cooked like spinach.Here’s a nice recipe from a lovely blog about wild food called Eat Weeds.

Cleavers (Gallium aparine)

Lastly today, Cleavers (Galium aparine) with flower buds clearly developing. It may still be used a tonic herb when freshly juiced or made into a tincture.

365 Fraendael day 27

Today, a lovely walk through the park with Lucile and the little ones. We each went home with a few leaves of Ground Elder and a little Ground Ivy. Plenty of other herbs in season though…

Here’s the foliage from a Wild Carrot! Not one to be dug up, though it would probably taste great. I hope to revisit it later in the year to double check it’s identity when it is in full bloom. Wild carrot has been used in folk medicine for centuries and has recently been researched by Robin Rose Bennett. It is often found to be quite a useful contraceptive. For more information on the research take a look at Robin’s website.

Here is Comfrey, still in full bloom and looking stately throughout the park and city.

Garlic Mustard leaves continue to grace many of my meals. The plants here are nearing the end of their flowering season but the foliage still tastes wonderful and only a leaf or two is needed to add a garlicky kick to regular meals.

Greater Celandine continues to flower. It’s stems remain loaded with bright orange sap which is freely released when a stem is broken. This sap, containing a substance which is acrid and highly irritant but has been used medicinally since at least the middle ages. Historically it was used, in preparations such as lard and milk, to cure piles, cataracts, severe scurvy and some forms of cancer. These days it is still a popular remedy, amongst those who know it, for warts, corns and ringworm. To use for these three ailments, simply break a stem and apply the fresh sap to only affected skin. It will irritate healthy skin. The Latin name of this plant means swallow (the bird) and this is said to be because the plant’s flowering season coincides with the arrival and departure of swallows. So hopefully there should be some time to go before the flowers of Greater Celandine disappear from Amsterdam again.

Cleavers are looking particularly lush and juicy at the moment, about 50 cm long on average. Perfect for harvesting a clean handful and juicing for a cleansing tonic.

Wild Geranium is also looking striking, producing a mass of small purple flowers in the woodland, at present.

365 Frankendael day 4

A quick posting today… The plants are growing so quickly that it’s hard to keep up! Photos today of Stinging Nettle (Urticaria dioica, NL: Brandnetel) with Cleavers (Galium aparine, NL: Kleefkruid), Ribwort (Plantago lanceolata) and a lovely painting of White dead nettle (Lamium album) by fellow Urban Herbie, Elodie den Otter.

In the first photo you may be able to see Cleavers using our prickly friend as a support, to enable its own upward growth. For further information and links about Stinging Nettle, including a video on how to make nettle infusion, see my previous posting. These days it’s quite fashionable to eat nettles – the Italians have been doing it for millennia and nettles really do taste great – so there are hundreds of recipes around. I usually just throw a handful of chopped nettles into regular dishes such as ratatouille, it really beefs them up and to me this spring green tastes like an improved version of spinach. Here’s a link to a few recipes featured by the BBC.


Also today, Ribwort (Plantago lanceolata), which is so handy to remove the burning pain of nettle stings. As a child I was taught about Dock being used in the same way but these days I find Ribwort far more effective.


White Dead Nettle looks similar to the Stinging nettle but is in fact completely unrelated. This plant is just beginning to flower in Amsterdam and is often found growing alongside Stinging Nettle. Unlike Stinging nettle, this plant is best harvested whilst in flower. It has a multitude of traditional uses, ranging from easing sore throats to helping heal burns and eczema. Many thanks for the painting, Elodie!

Beltane Herbs

May Day, also known as Beltane in the Pagan calendar, is traditionally a day steeped in herbal lore. May 1st marks the end of the colder months and heralds the start of summer. It is a fire festival day where fires were burned on hill tops to encourage the sun’s warmth down to the earth. Beltane is half way through the Pagan year, it is strongly linked to fertility and many enduring customs pertain to this.

Not far from my childhood Bristol home, there still stands rather a phallic Maypole, on Iron Acton Common. Villagers will no doubt be dancing around it this Sunday and spectators may not realise that as those pretty ribbons are intertwined around the pole, a symbolic birth canal is being made around the phallus.  That part of the custom certainly passed me by as I enjoyed being an infant school May Queen.   In Minehead, Somerset and several Cornish towns, Hobby Horses (or Obby Osses) will be raising dawn sleepers, with raucous dancing and music over the few days following May Day.   The reason for this also evaded me whilst I lived in Minehead and tried to enjoy a good lie-in. I am pleased these traditions live on.

So back to the Beltane herbal customs and tasty treats…

  • May Dew: At sunrise on Beltane it is customary to rush out into the garden or fields and wipe your face in May Dew, particularly dew gathered on a Hawthorn tree.  This is thought to have magical properties, including the ability to beautify the complexion for the coming year.
  • Hawthorn: This beautiful and helpful herb tree is known by some as the May Tree.  Hawthorn boughs were often harvested at Beltane and the flowers used as gifts and to beautify homes.
  • Herb Gathering: Herbs start to flower a-plenty at this time of year hence Beltane is traditionally a time to go out with family and friends, a simple picnic, a basket and gather some wild herb flowers.  If you like the idea of this, please remember that annuals rely solely on those precious flowers to create seed for next year’s plants. Leave plenty, harvest just a few (perennials) and avoid rare and protected plants.  Try to use the herbs you harvest in some way or give them away to someone in need.
  • Flower Garlands: It is also customary to make beautiful flower garlands on May Day.  Why not choose plentiful daisies and dandelions?  Both are useful herbs, you may like to use when you get home or toss your flower garlands away with a wish, into flowing water.
  • May Bowl:  This is a delicious drink made from Woodruff (Galium odoratum – it looks very like cleavers (Galium aparine) but it is in flower at the moment, looking like swathes of sugary white froth across woodland floors – when you can find it!). Here’s the simplest recipe I know (many variations are available if you have a taste for it):
    8 cups of white wine
    2 cups of fresh, clean Woodruff – chopped, preferably in bud or flower
    1 tablespoon of grated orange zest
    sugar to taste. Pour the wine over the Woodruff and chill in a sealed glass container overnight. Strain off the Woodruff and add other ingredients. Drink in clear glasses, May Bowl is a beautiful pale green color and tastes fragrantly of Woodruff.
  • Oat Cakes (Bannocks): An old Scottish custom is to make a Beltane Oat Cake and to share it between friends who would stand around the Beltane fire and each break off a small peice of the nobbly cake.  They would then cast it over their shoulder whilst saying a line, asking that something precious be protected by something usually linked with it’s destruction (such as chickens or sheep to be protected by the wolves or foxes).
    Here’s a simple recipe (and photo) for Beltane Oat Cake taken from RampantScotland.com. They look very tasty! Traditionally this food would be cooked in the embers of a Beltane fire, a heavy based frying pan or oven will work well instead.

“Beltane Bannocks from Rampant Scotland.com
Ingredients

4 oz (125g) medium oatmeal
2 teaspoons melted fat (bacon fat, if available, butter or ghee will work well)
2 pinches of bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
3/4 tablespoons hot water
Additional oatmeal for kneading

Method
Mix the oatmeal, salt and bicarbonate and pour in the melted fat into the centre of the mixture. Stir well, using a porridge stick if you have one and add enough water to make into a stiff paste. Cover a surface in oatmeal and turn the mixture onto this. Work quickly as the paste is difficult to work if it cools. Divide into two and roll one half into a ball and knead with hands covered in oatmeal to stop it sticking. Roll out to around quarter inch thick. Put a plate which is slightly smaller than the size of your pan over the flattened mixture and cut round to leave a circular oatcake. Cut into quarters (also called farls) and place in a heated pan which has been lightly greased. Cook for about 3 minutes until the edges curl slightly, turn, and cook the other side. Get ready with another oatcake while the first is being cooked.

An alternative method of cooking is to bake them in an oven at Gas5/375F/190C for about 30 minutes or until brown at the edges. The quantities above will be enough for two bannocks about the size of a dessert plate. If you want more, do them in batches rather than making larger quantities of mixture. Store in a tin and reheat in a moderate oven when required.”

Additional note – 1st May 2011 – I made this recipe this morning and added too much butter so I couldn’t form a dough, it became more a crumble. Determined not to waste the mixture, I cooked it gently in a small heavy frying pan and then combined the rich oatmeal with some framage frais, feta cheese and finely chopped tomato.  It became a pate type consistency and was really very tasty.  It was also possible to shape into balls.

Cleavers (Galium aparine, NL:Kleefkruid)

Cleavers (Galium aparine)
I remember having a lot of fun with cleavers or “sticky weed” as a child.  This is a wonderful sticky, prostate annual plant which often grows wild and prolifically against fences, in hedgerows, crop fields and beneath trees.  I know I was not the only child who delighted every time I found a patch of sticky weed, throwing it at my friends to see it stick to their clothes and hair.  If I had known then about how useful it is as a cleansing herb, I may have been more careful with it – or maybe not!

The leaves of Galium aparine grow in whorls of 4 – 8 around its stem, which can grow to 2 metres long.  The plant’s sticky nature comes from tiny hooked hairs growing out from the leaves and ridges of the stems.  It produces tiny greenish white flowers from May to October.  Seeds are set in small sticky hairy burrs and can remain viable in soil for up to 7 years.  The sticky hairs enable Galium aparine to grow upwards by clinging to other plants and fences. They also assist in seed dispersal.

Cleavers are held in high esteem as a spring tonic.  The herb is said to promotes lymphatic flow, to be cooling, soothing and cleansing. It is best harvested when young and prolific from early February.  It can be added to salads, though the hairs give an interesting effect, or cooked in a little water as a leaf vegetable.

Sometimes confused with…
As ever, when harvesting from the wild you should use a good field guide, be aware of look-a-like plants and follow the picking rules which I have mentioned previously.  I think the most likely plant to be confused with Cleavers (Galium aparine)  is Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum).  Sweet Woodruff is also a useful herb but unlike Cleavers it contains substances which can be poisonous in very large doses. Sweet Woodruff is darker green and has sticky hairs on its seeds, but the leaves tend to be smooth.  Sweet Woodruff is a perennial whereas Cleavers is an annual.

Cleavers juice – This is said to be the most potent way to consume cleavers. To make it all you need to do is to clean your harvested cleavers, chop it roughly and then squeeze out the juice through a jelly bag or clean tea towel.  The recommended dose is 1 teaspoon, 2 – 3 times daily as a tonic.

Cleavers tea – Again, clean your harvested cleavers then chop it.  Add 1-2 tsp of this per cup of boiled water.

Cleavers tincture – Harvest the top two thirds of plant when in flower or setting seed. Tincture in 100 proof vodka.  Dosage is 0.5ml – 1ml in water a few times daily when called for.

Cleavers has a folk reputation as a remover of lumps and bumps.  So enthusiastic were many claims that there has been some clinical research, in the hope that it could help reduce certain cancerous lumps.  However the results were not supportive of the traditional claims.

Cleavers is often used by herbalists for cystitis, swollen glands, swollen breasts, PMS, mild lymphedema, prostatitis and as a diuretic for a general spring clean.  Susun weed reports that it can also be helpful in reducing allergic reactions.  Due to it’s gentle diuretic cleansing action, Galium aparine often also helps to ease some skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema and gout.