Tag Archives: Skin

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.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana, NL:Toverhazelaar)

Witch hazel is one of my favourite shrubs and I am hoping to introduce it to my pavement garden this winter.  When unrestricted its crooked, apple tree-like branches grow to 4 – 6 inches in diameter and the whole shrub can reach around 12 feet in height.  However it can also do well in small spaces, such as large pots or pavement gardens (geveltuinen). It grows best in moisture retentive, acid to neutral soil and is adapted to living in light shade.  Witch hazel is also tolerant of polluted city air and its unusual yellow October flowers make it a good option for the urban herbologist.

The leaves and bark of Witch hazel are very useful.  They taste bitter, containing tannic and gallic acids as well as a volatile oil.  Its effects are  astringent, tonic and sedative so preparations of Hamamelis virginiana are often used to treat internal and external bleeding.  The most well known uses of this herb are for treating piles, bruises and inflammatory swellings but it is sometimes used for diarrhoea, dysentery and mucous discharges.  Please be aware that using Witch hazel internally should only be done under expert guidance.  Due to its astringent effect, Witch hazel distilled extract (available cheaply from many chemists) makes a great skin toner.  I used it as a teenager, it works well and I think it smells great.  These days I use it mostly for treating bruises.

Chips of dried Hamamelis virginiana bark can be obtained from herbal suppliers.  You may find this beautiful shrub in local parks, hedgerows and areas of woodland.  It is also a fairly popular garden shrub due to the unusual winter flowers.  Apparently it is very difficult to propagate Witch hazel by cuttings and the edible seeds (if you can find them as they are dispersed far and wide by explosion) can take over a year to germinate.  I am hoping to take a winter cutting from a friend’s plant very soon.  I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has been successful in this.

Witch hazel can be used in many ways;

  • Tea (made from the leaves and young twigs or bark, fresh or dried) can be applied directly to piles or dabbed onto bruised or inflamed areas of skin.  This also makes a milder skin toner than the distilled extract, often good for acne, oily skin and shrinking bags under the eyes.
  • Tincture, best made from the bark.
  • Fluid extract, if you can squeeze the juice out, can be included in ointments to calm varicose veins.
  • Distilled extract, easily obtained from chemists, great for dabbing onto bruises, insect stings and bites, applied very quickly as a compress for burst varicose veins – which are life threatening and need immediate medical attention. Can be applied to intact varicose veins as a soaked lint bandage, wrapped gently around the area loose enough to allow the blood to flow unrestricted.
  • Powdered bark, if you can make it then this can be applied to piles when combined in a cream or paste.

43 Uses for Calendula (NL:Goudsbloem)

Calming, cooling, cleansing. Calendula officinalis (Pot Marigold, NL: Goudsbloem) is one of the easiest herbs to grow and perhaps one of the most useful to Urban Herbologists. It is a hardy annual which does very well in containers, can flower throughout the year and self seeds readily. It is beautiful, tastes good and has gentle astringent, anti-inflammatory, cooling, detoxifying and antiseptic actions. If you only have space to grow one herb, this has to be one to consider. Many of the remedies mentioned here are very easy to make, if you prefer to buy them from a reliable source, I recommend Weleda products (some links are included in the list). N.B. Calendula is not to be confused with French marigold (Tagetes patula). Calendula is very gentle but when trying a new herb it is always wise to use very small quantities at first or to do a skin patch test.

43 uses for Calendula

Medicinal uses
1. Sprains
– make a compress from infused flowers.
2. Gum infections –
Mouthwash from tea or a few drops of tincture in water.
3. Sore throat pastilles – Powdered dried flowers, blended with honey.
4. Mastitis & sore nipples – Calendula Cream can help strengthen nipples and prevent mastitis in nursing mothers.
5. Cold sores – Calendula salve is helpful to many cold sore sufferers.
6. Acne – Lotion made from Calendula tea can help speed healing and reduce scarring.
7. Nappy rash – Infused oil, lotion or Calendula Cream can prevent and speed healing.
8. Athletes foot – Calendula cream or infused oil, anti fungal.
9. Ring worm – Calendula cream or infused oil, anti fungal.
10. Period pain – Many women find regular use of Calendula tea helpful as a menstrual regulator.
11. Digestive inflammation – Calendula tea can often gently reduce inflammation.
12. Scar reduction – Often Calendula Oil, cream or salve can help to reduce existing scars and prevent scars.
13. Lowering mild fever – Drinking Calendula tea at first signs may help.
14. Skin softening – Massage using Calendula infused oil.
15. Eczema – Calendula infused oil or cream often calms red, hot eczema conditions.
16. Dry chapped skin – Calendula salve or infused oil.
17. Varicose veins – Calendula salve or cream.
18. Chillblains – Calendula salve or cream.
19. Post operative recovery – Calendula tea. Gentle, cooling, nourishing, speeds healing, reduction of scarring.

Culinary uses
20. Herbal ice cubes/wands – Freeze petals in ice cubes for summer drinks.
21. Salad flowers – Pretty and tasty, sprinkle on top.
22. Soups Add dried or fresh flowers or petals to soups. An ancient broth without Calendula was incomplete, hence the name Pot Marigold.
23. Saffron colour substitute – The taste is different but the colour is very similar.
24. Risotto – Adding whole petals livens up the appearance of risotto.
25. Soft cheese –
Blend in whole or chopped fresh petals. Previously used to colour cheese yellow.
26. Yoghurt –
Mix in fresh petals or spinkle on top.
27. Butter –
Mix in finely chopped fresh petals. Can be frozen.
28. Omelettes –
Add fresh petals for colour and taste.
29. Cakes –
Use calendula butter or add fresh petals to cake mix.
30. Milk dishes –
Add to rice pudding, custards and similar dishes.
31. Sweet breads –
A little like saffron.
32. Vegetable bouillon – Add to mixes of dried herbs and vegetables.
33. Source of Vitamin A

Other uses
34. Fabric/Wool dye –
Boil flowers, yellow dye. Suitable mordant is alum.
35. Pot pourri – Whole dried flowers retain colour and mild scent.
36. Alter decorations – Used since ancient times to adorn spiritually significant objects and buildings.
37. Skin toner – Cooled tea.
38. Eye make-up remover – Infused oil.
39. Face cleanser – Infused oil or cream.
40. Lip balm – Soothing and calming, beeswax and infused oil.
41. Hair rinse – Tea, to brighten blond hair.
42. Companion planting – Useful for deterring pests in organic gardens.
43. Year round colour – The Romans noted this plant tends to be in bloom on first day of each month (calends), hence the latin name.