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The bedstraws.

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Ubiquitous herbs, but I only use two species.

You'll find bedstraws (Galium spp.) everywhere. The most common one, up here, is white bedstraw, Galium album. It's so common that I haven't even gotten around to taking pics of it yet - it's invisible, just green noise.

People frequently misspell it as gallium. Umm, no, that's a chemical element (which is why your spellchecker doesn't flag it), it's not a herb.

I've only used two kinds of galiums:

  • cleavers (Galium aparine and similar clingy bedstraws), and
  • yellow bedstraw, (Galium verum).

My plant name database turns up lots of galiums. Most of the old tomes (linked from King's) only mention cleavers; but both King's and the USDisp mention other galium species, as well.

I use these two in recurrent urinary tract infections. They're also very good lymphatics. Howie said (about red root) on a list for herbalists, that red root, Ceanothus, is stronger than cleavers but weaker than poke root, Phytolacca.

That means cleavers is the weakest lymphatic of those three.

Ceanothus and phytolacca are both exotics to me, and I have cleavers and yellow bedstraw all over the place - the cleavers in damp meadows and vegetable plots, and the yellow bedstraw on dry meadows. They're easily picked in quantity, easily dried, and easy to add to tea blends.

Picking cleavers: pull up the plants (they're annuals), remove yellow and brown bits, make into a wreath, and store that on your head until it gets so heavy that it slides off. Take the top-heavy thing inside (or put it into a basket or paper bag), and go out and weed some more. There's capsella and bidens to be had in the same spots, but it's a poor herbalist who only gets three medicinals when weeding the veggies.

Picking yellow bedstraw: I cut a few flower stalks from the edges of larger yellow bedstraw clumps (they're perennials); on a largish meadow that gives me a basketful in a little under an hour. There's a but: there's lots of horseflies on the hot summer meadows in yellow bedstraw time, so it's not all that comfy: either swat away the horseflies all the time, or get bitten, or cover up completely and sweat as you go.

Drying them: I hang them up to dry, the cleavers as is (it clings to itself), the yellow bedstraw in bundles of 10-12 flower stalks per bundle.

They're lovely little herbs. I'm told (but I haven't tried it) that you can roast the clingy seeds of cleavers for a substitute coffee - sounds like a lot of work, and you'd need oodles and doodles of cleavers for that.

And an overnight infusion of cleavers is extremely tasty. Mmmm, a hint of nuts. Lovely, with or without milk. Gotta make some more of that. It's even better than nettles.

Related entries: Picking yellow bedstraw - The bedstraws - The yellow herbs of summer: Yellow bedstraw


hmmm.... the weakest?

I'd agree with the galium to ceanothus to phytolacca, but I still wouldn't refer to Cleavers as ~weak~.

I always refer to Cleavers as "gentle". Good for babies, good for kids, and ideal for those who are especially sensitive to medicines & herbs.

...and, couldn't agree more about the "roast the seeds as coffee" thing. Had someone tell me about that at a class, and I was like, "do you know how many seeds you'd have to gather to make just one cup? That's insane."

(This from a guy who cut up a pound of whole dry yerba mansa roots with clippers in one sitting so he could bond with the plant...)

OOh, galiums! There are going wild this year with a very wet and rainy spring. I found it under nearly every oak on my way up a wash in the foothills this afternoon. I got rained on a bit, but the cleavers were sparkling. I LOVED the wreath! Queen of cleavers!?

Jim: see, I've never used phytolacca, and can't get more red root (the UK herb houses don't carry it, and anyway I prefer the red red tincture of fresh root), so can't really compare these with cleavers. Cleavers is an average strength lymphatic, as far as I can tell.
Darcey: yep, I hereby wreath you queen of cleavers.

Just wonder if there are any recipes for using yellow bedstraw to make cheese available? Thanks in advance!

Carol: Miriam made some last year (or is it already two years ago?) and told the folks on the herblist that it's sort of a runny mascarpone... I'll make some myself, this summer, so we'll see if I can improve on that description.

I did take cleavers and simmer them in milk, hoping to get something like cheese. However, I didn't keep the notes I posted to the list. But as I recall the result was a very nice goat's-milk mascarpone. I remember I wrote to the list asking for help! What should I do with 2 liters of mascarpone? (I made cheesecake.)I think the way to go would be to encourage curdling by adding a little lemon juice to the milk first, then dumping in the cleavers; that way you would get a more solid mass of curds separated out of the whey, which you could go on to drip-dry.

I made a milk-based mead a few weeks ago. The procedure included adding crushed lactose enzyme tablets to the milk/honey mixture simmering away; anyway the protein came right up as curds (tasted like dulce de leche) and were good for cheesemaking. Obviously, the milk needed something acidic to curdle and the honey and/or lactose-destroying enzymes did the trick. Cleavers in this case would help to achieve a smoother, cohesive mass of curds; at least, that's what I saw in my limited experience.

I've read that nettles are a good substitute for rennet; I'd like to try that sometime too.

Thanks for those tips, Miriam!

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