Tag Archives: Galium odoratum

365 Frankendael day 104

To preserve a little energy I’ve decided to only post photos and the names of herbs shown, on moon days. That’s each full moon and new moon. I’m sure I won’t be able to hold back with a few extra bits of information, but I’ll try.

Today is a full moon…

Bamboo (young shoots edible)

Birch copse.

Indian balsam (Impatiens grandulifera) Flowers taste like lettuce.

Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum).

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) Vanilla scented when bruised.


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

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

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 Juice (Galium aparine, NL:Kleefkruid)

I while ago I posted about the benefits of Cleavers and how to use the herb, including how to extract the juice using a cloth.  Here’s a slightly high tech (and faster) method which I used this afternoon…

Firstly, please remember the foraging/picking rules and only harvest and use if you are 100% confident you have correctly identified the plant. Beware of similar plants such as Woodruff (Galium odoratum), it is another herb with different uses and some unpleasant side effects, if taken in quantity.

  • Wash and drain a good handful of freshly picked cleavers
  • Remove any unhealthy looking stems, rooty/yellowy ends, grass, other material etc.
  • If the cleavers seem very wet from washing perhaps blot dry with a clean tea towel.
  • Roughly chop the stems.
  • Add a little clean water to the blender, perhaps enough to half cover the blades.  This is just to prevent clogging. Then add the cleavers.
  • Blend use the chopping setting, or pulse on full power, until it seems to be nicely pulverised.
  • Strain through a jelly bag, muslin or clean tea towel, into your collection jar.  I also used a funnel to make collection easier but this is optional.
  • The juice should run out quickly.
  • Finally wring out any remaining juice through the jelly bag/muslin/tea towel.
  • Compost or return to the earth, the remaining pulp. This afternoon I used it to help mulch a balcony herb pot.
  • Store the juice refrigerated in an air tight, sterile container. Remember to label the jar and lid clearly.  It should keep in a fridge for a few days but if you notice anything unusual, such as discoloration, changed smell or taste then pour it onto soil and start again.
  • Please read the post about benefits and directions for using cleavers.
  • Generally the dose for cleavers juice is 1tsp up to three times daily as a tonic.
  • Start with a very small amount when you try something new and if you notice any negative reaction then stop using and water your plants with it. That said, this is generally thought of as a safe, nourishing and cleansing tonic which has been used in many countries, as a folk remedy for many many years.
  • A handful of cleavers yielded about 200ml of juice today.  I plant to freeze some in an ice cube tray this evening as 200ml is more than enough for me to use as a tonic over the coming days.

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.