Galium aparine is a ‘weed’ which goes by a lot of different names. We always called it stickywilly when I was growing up, and it is also called goosegrass, sticky weed, or cleavers. All of its names refer to the way in which it sticks, velcro-like, to everything – adhering itself to our clothes as we pass by. If you are only familiar with this plant as a straggly weed growing at the sides of paths or in corners of your garden, then you might not be aware of just how useful it can be.
I recently picked some for a spring tonic, steeping some in water before straining and drinking it. Like many other plants that we think of as weeds, Galium aparine is a very useful medicinal herb. I am by no means an expert in herbal medicine, but I understand that it has many science-based uses as a detoxifying and anti-inflammatory herb. (Rubbing the plant on the skin takes out the sting from nettles too.)
Galium aparine is a very safe herb, since it is also perfectly safe to eat. Of course, with their sticky texture, they’re not good raw. But we sometimes add some fresh young spring growth into soups or other recipes where they impart a mild, slightly celery like, vegetable flavour. They make a good pot herb, and can also, like many other spring greens, be blended with oil, nuts or seeds and garlic to make a pesto. I occasionally use them in this way alongside other spring foraged greens.
So next time you pick up a ‘hitchhiker’ when out on a walk, and recognise it as Galium aparine, consider bringing it home for tea.
Long sticky strands of this plant can also be gathered, clumped together, and dried to make some handy firelighters, used as a natural sieve, or used in crafting in several fun ways.
One other interesting thing to note about Galium aparine (though I have not tried this myself) is that the mature seeds can be roasted and ground as a caffeine-free coffee substitute. So that is, perhaps, one more thing to try in future.