Category Archives: herb gardening
Plant family: Rubiaceae
Common Names: Cleavers Wort, Clivers, Goosegrass, Bedstraw, Catchweed Bedstraw.* Always be Absolutely sure when identifying plants. “When in doubt, leave it out.”
Cleavers grow in moist places, roadsides, woodlands, near disturbed areas such as trails
According to prominent herbalist, scholar, teacher and composer, Michael Moore and his book: Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West: There are many Galium species in the West. “The leaves of cleavers, roundly lanceolate, form a circular rosette of six or eight leaves; the bedstraw (native galiums) frequently have four leaves in a whorl…
(Cleavers beginning to flower)
…Leaves and stems of this featured species have bristley stems and leaves.
…This species also has loose and star shaped white flowers…with rather lacey, dense clusters of white flowers found in the native species. Galium aparine also develops seeds in pairs, covered in bristles, green becoming brown seeds in the fall.”
Native and Non native Galiums can be used more or less exchangeably as herbal remedies according to Moore.
Differences may vary and not all are edible, though many are. Research your species.
*Moore also says the Galiums should not be confused with carpetweed or mullogo.
It is recommended to forage cleavers during New growth or the tops of plants before they flower. Otherwise the plants have developed too much silica and are inedible.
The young tips, raw or boiled for 10-15 minutes makes a great forged food says Green Deane ofeattheweeds.com
He says that the seeds are prohibited or restricted in: Connecticutt, Massachuseets, Vermont and New York.
He also states that the seeds when roasted make an excellent coffee (no caffeine) substitute.
In the Canadian Provinces of Alberta, B.C., Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Deane also says they are considered a noxious weed there.
I have been happy to find cleavers near springs or the surrounding habitat, in at least 3, likely many more, mountain ranges of New Mexico. Not so far, in the lower elevations in this state unless near a spring or garden perhaps. After eating a few stems on a hike I went back to forage cleavers as a plant rennet. This one attempt at using cleavers as a plant rennet was largely unsuccessful.plant rennet
I have had success using fresh nettle to set cheese but, cleaver and my inexperience eluded me this time. One time fail is not uncommon so, I will try again when I come upon a hearty patch of cleavers.
This is the benefit of learning from each other in person. And, also for us to pass on traditions and knowledge to our lineage and each other.
I was feeling disappointed with myself that I had wasted the cleavers I had gathered. It was a handful of stems and, I would not have wanted to take more from the site where I had gathered. A handful of stems felt appropriate. I did learn how to transport them down from the mountain. A stem I had not eaten on a previous hike had all but withered away to a tiny, pitiful fraction of the juicy stem I had picked.
It loses a lot of its properties when dried and should be used fresh. Such as: the juice, chopped fresh for poultice, or tincture fresh. Also as Matt Wood describes: Maria Treben would add the fresh Cleaver juice to butter, keep in the fridge, as a salve.
The best way I found to harvest cleavers is simply to thoroughly wet a towel, ring it a bit and place your cleavers in it right after picking it. Then roll gently in the towel. Or prepare on the spot. (Wheatgrass juicer or tincture fresh, etc.)
(photo aside: The thicket and bed of cleavers above reminds me of what Matthew Wood said in his book: The Book of Herbal Wisdom. He describes that deer use bedstraw to give birth and to rest with baby fawns.)
So, my Cleavers were in good shape when I brought them home, that is ’til I tried to make cheese with them. Ah yes, the learning curve! The patch I had harvested from, the stems were getting leggy and beginning to flower. It was like pick up stix that are all velcroed together. They stick together and to you. My little, intact bundle, rolled up in the wet/damp cloth, was all stuck together. All those little hooks clinging to each other.
The expression: “I got you!” came to me.
Deane explained that the Greeks called cleavers: Philanthropan which means (human) loving for its clinging nature.
Sheep herders are known to sieve milk through a basket shaped sieve of the clinging stems. This was done to clean the milk of any hairs, dirt or debris. Matthew Wood cites both Discorides and Linnaeus for historically noting this.
Cleavers has a history of use for easing hot swellings in lymph and infections such as drawing out a measles rash to resolve the illness. (M. Wood, re: Native American use)
It works for skin conditions, like eczema, lymph stagnation and kidney function. Wood describes: “In short, we may say that Cleavers cools, moistens, filters, detoxifies, and promotes transportation within the hidden waterways of the body.”
In addition to foraging for green edibles like cleavers and its use as herbal medicine; I am happy the lost arts of ancient foodways are resurfacing. ( With great respect to people’s culture.) For ex., My father was born in Ireland and I am just learning about bog violet to curdle milk. Cheese making and its other fermented cousins are really speaking to me right now. I am exploring plant rennet again as well as ancient techniques for fermenting. Will keep you posted!
I am especially interested in learning how the original plant(s) can be used rather than a modern substitution.
The juice of cleavers is said to provide the rennet qualities. I wonder if instead of chopping and bruising the stems and leaves, perhaps a blender would work better. Strained out or in a fine mesh bag to soak.
Galium has a long history of being used in food and beverages. German Maywine is made by using Galium odoratum.
Galium verum’s flowers were used to scent and color cheese and butter.
Galium mullago is another drink made from flowers. Many species, different uses, check to see if edible, avoid older plants for food and Deane states that many Galium are endangered. Know your specific plants!
To some, Cleavers is only known as an herbal remedy.
(A happy trio continued…)
I often found Nettle in the same habitat, especially in the woodlands on this hike. Nettle likes moisture too although I found it in the under story of Alligator juniper and oaks on a trail featuring under and above ground springs.
Nettle below a desert mountain oak with Cleavers in small patches nearby.
Cleavers with backdrop of a majestic Alligator Juniper, Juniperus deppeana. The tree below.
(Cleavers and Nettles, fast friends.)
My first introduction to Cleavers is akin to the name itself. To cleave. My herb teacher and plant guide gave us all a small crown of whorled leaves on a short stem and we stuck them on our and each others’ shirt collars.
Edible corsage. It’s bristly hairs cling to fabric , no pin needed.
It is a crisp, fresh tasting edible. It would make a great addition to salad, pesto or a smoothie.
As a fresh nibble, You can feel the texture of the fine plant hairs, the bristles but, I did not think that interfered much as it doesn’t last past the first one and 1/2 munches 🙂
The Story is a common one I am sure except The Mountain forests always enchant. Mossy glades and thickets. Meadow rue for faeries, so is said and Monkshood near wild Geranium. Monkshood is deadly poisonous its leaves of first growth often mingling with similar looking Geraniaceae. On this hike, I found what I believe are wild geraniums before flower with some cleavers poking through. I will watch these as they flower and how they flower to distinguish them from Monkshood. Never can be to cocky when it comes to Monkshood.
Cleavers in a stand of leaves~
There are a few different species of wild geraniums in New Mexico.
These leaves look similar enough to Monkshood: Aconitum columbianum that I will wait to see what flowers emerge.
I would not want to forage the cleavers when in doubt because of possible toxic plants nearby.
Better to wait.
Just a small patch of earth and what happens there can yield many observations, questions and insights.
Cleavers, what sticks with you?
It is fall and I deleted all my other horehound pictures. drat!
But, horehound is hearty. It has many green leaves still as well as sticky seed pods that orbit between leaf growth on stems. I have been picking up seeds, stuck on my clothes.
Horehound wants to grow other places and maybe I helped deliver some.
One of my favorite places to walk our dog, Fella, is here. Covered with patches of horehound. I have admired the plant for a few years in this beautiful locale, where it grows wild.
I knew it must be horehound although I think it looks less silvery than I have read described, and decidedly more frosted looking.
So, sometimes it takes time to decipher descriptions you read of a plant but, makes it all the more interesting a journey.
Horehound feels fuzzy, like wrinkled, crinkly velveteen. It has these beautiful, crenulate leaves, square stems and beautiful discs of seed pods.
And, it is in the mint family. Although more bitter than minty.
A good bitter for digestion.
I liked the taste though and would like to try horehound beer sometime. A traditional beer.
I always was curious about horehound candy as a child and on Western shows, children were sure to suck on a stick of hard candy, often horehound candy.
My grandmother, mother and aunts would get together around the holidays when I was growing up and make a type of rock or hard candy called beach glass candy. My mom grew up in an ocean town and I always enjoyed the baby food jars or other small jars filled with the bright, snipped bits of multicolored beach glass candy inside. All different flavors. yum.
My life is a little bit homesteading, off grid, work in an herbal shop and slowly I am teaching myself. All about plants, a bit of gardening, jelly and jam making, salt preserving food and bits of old time skills here and there.
I went through a sewing phase a few years back and would really love to find an old time Singer Sewing machine complete with treadle and hand wheel. The original off grid kind. 🙂
I’ve always been fascinated with candy making but haven’t done much. I’ve made chocolate truffles which were a blast and one batch of jelly tasted reminiscent of cotton candy. sugar, sugar sugar to bring it to gel.
But, horehound cough drops are my second attempt to make hard candy a.k.a. herbal candy…cough drops. The first time around I did not use a candy thermometer or the cold water test method so ended up with a taffy like syrup made with elderberries, which was frankly, delicious and gooey, but not hard candy. And, the second time was like a caramel! Maybe my thermometer was touching the side or bottom too much and the reading was off…
So hopefully, 3 times a charm!
With my second attempt, all that foam got downright daunting.
(I’ve read not to stir too much as air can get into the mixture and make it cloud over.) Maybe my pan was not deep enough or I stirred too much as it was foaming to the top so, I scooped some out at the syrup stage, all is not lost. The caramel or taffy consistency cough drops just don’t make it. But the cough syrup I scooped out of that batch is great.
Trial and error with herbs and candy. hard candy making…
guess they don’t call it hard candy for nothing! ha ha ☺
I have found and tried a simple, easy recipe that worked great.
I haven’t bought this much sugar, maybe ever but I had fun making hard candy. Herbal hard candy.
A cooking accomplishment for me.
It works best if you have a thick bottom pot. A thin bottom can scorch your sugar.
A greased baking tray is helpful.
Here is a fairly fool proof recipe:
and art piece ☺
2 Cups white sugar
1/2 Cup strong herbal tea
1 ounce tincture (optional)
powdered sugar to coat candy when done (optional)
3/4 Cup light corn syrup.
A candy thermometer isn’t always foolproof but once I angled it and kept it off the bottom it worked best.
Cold water test:
Also drop mixture when you think it is done in some cold water. If it forms a hard ball it is done. It will be in thread form if not done.
Time to make the Candy a.k.a. cough drops if you like…
They taste good too, and, depending in what you add, room for creativity here!
Pour granulated sugar in pan
Add strained herbal tea and one ounce herbal tincture if you have it.
Whisk together off heat
Then turn on heat to medium using a thick bottomed pan if you can.
Add corn syrup, use wooden spoon
and stir too incorporate.
Don’t stir too much, lower heat if you need to to avoid scorching.
Angle thermometer to avoid hitting the bottom as this throws off the temperature…(yep)
listen to some good music 🎶…. wait a half hour or so, watch pot it can get foamy and unruly.
Eventually thermometer will rise to 300°
Some recipes say to bring it to 305°
but, I found 300° works better, so recommend that.
Add any food grade essential oils for flavor when temp reaches 275° fahrenheit. If adding color, add at this stage as well. Non toxic food coloring can be found too. Be careful of steam/reaction when adding essential oils or colors at these high temperatures. Some colors maintain better when removing heat at 290° but candy may be more sticky at this stage. I haven’t tried adding colors or essential oils since the cayenne, ginger and cinnamon added good flavor. And, I like the amber colored candy.
I tried transfering to a pyrex pitcher but the mixture hardened quickly off heat.
Yay! I broke the code but it was challenging. A helper would be good.
I made depressions in powdered sugar to act as a mold and also greased and lined a pan with a heap of powdered sugar too.
The powdered sugar also helps the mixture not to stick.
And it kind of worked. I broke the lozenges out of the thinner parts of candy. With the other pan I just broke the candy into bite size pieces. fun again!
Eventually I had more success pouring the mixture all at once instead of trying to fill each depression with the hot mixture.
That is where the greased baking tray would come in handy.
In the old fashioned way to break up hard candy, in about an hour just break it with the handle side of a butter knife.
Fun and satisfying.
Coat with powdered sugar by tossing it in a pan lined with the sugar or use a bag with powdered sugar in it and shake, if you want. It’s optional.
I mixed in powdered ginger too.
These cough drops…a.k.a. herbal candy contain many goodies….
grindelia, horehound and thyme tincture, and these herbs in the tea: red root, horehound, cayenne, cinnamon, ginger, thyme, and osha!
sugar sugar sugar how about minus sugar recipes… here goes!
You can also make Sugarfree Lozenges!
Use slippery elm powder as the flour. Or marshmallow root powder. I wasn’t sure if marshmallow root powder would work but it worked great.
Slippery elm is on an herbal watchlist. Due to overharvesting and elm diseases.
An herbal friend has used Siberian Elm that worked well.
Look for cultivated Slippery elm or try marshmallow root powder. It worked well for me too.
Make an herbal tea, strain and
let the tea cool. Licorice tea or other herbs such as red root or osha would work well here.
Add enough tea to form a dough.
Mix and pat the dough into a ball.
Press or roll into shape.
Use small cookie cutters or a bottle cap or just cut strips into small pieces, lozenge size.
Dusted with powdered ginger, soothing to sore throats.
Slippery elm powder mixed with a strained herbal tea made from horehound, licorice, osha, red root.
Have fun with this! You can use the slippery elm as a method to mix lots of herbs.
Consider a happy mood lozenge.
Or a soothing tummy lozenge…
Possibilities are happily endless here.
Slippery elm, alone, has many health benefits: mucilage, soothing to gastric tissues, in combination with licorice can heal ulcers, helps heal mucous membranes -throat, etc.
Slippery elm lozenges are a fun activity to do with kids of all ages!
Try other herbal powders too!
This is the marshmallow root dough
And, the marshmallow lozenges cut into shape.
*A tip for drying lozenges. Mine molded. Even when dried for a few days. I recommend purified water, and drying on lowest setting of an oven til completely dry. Air dry first if you like.
Also honey or tiny amounts of stevia can be added to sweeten.
Lemon balm, elder berry and mints make nice flavor additions to counteract bitter herbs.
Hard Candy Cleanup Tips!
Clean up works best with very hot water. It dissolves the candy. Some people suggest adding vinegar to the hot water. Soap and a scrubby sponge helps. But hot water is the trick.
Careful not to immerse the thermometer into cold water after cooking with it, as it could break!
And the cough drops in a fun, recycled jar.
The herbal hard candy looks metallic but is a deep amber brown topped with powdered sugar and ginger.
They taste mildly spicey too. Not bad for medicine afterall.
And, horehound in a happy autumn field.
Fun with cough drops and lozenges, who knew?
Nettles, Stinging Nettles
Nettles grow wild and can easily be cultivated. I transplanted mine from a thinned out patch from an herbal garden. They went into shock when transplanted and appeared to die. But, once roots took hold, they burst forth with life and vigor.
Nettles grow wild and can form high thickets near streams, rivers, shady areas with rich soil.
our container garden of nettles!
Nearby deer ate most plants in our container pots and also our small amaranth patch. We raised the containers to keep the bunnies and jackrabbits from munching our simple gardens. Our simple fences and dead cholla branches were nothing to stop the deer.
We are getting more acquainted to wildlife habits here. We hear the coyotes often and see juniper berries in their scat.
Owls, crows and hawks reign the skies, on hunts and thermal airwaves.
And, in autumn we are hearing different songbirds, on migration we think.
Last year, a favorite wild, clammy ground cherry, I liked to visit, got eaten down to the ground. I kept getting a message to pick one of the berries in its papery husk, to put it on my alter. I amost felt guilty for doing so, but heeded my intuition and did so.
(a gnawed off stem found on another hike.)
When I returned to visit, and saw the Ground Cherry gone, I understood the message and the temporary nature of all things.
The ground cherry became a much needed meal for a wild desert creature. I marvel at how wildlife exists, struggles and thrives in this desert environment.
And, I recognize the huge bounty I experience. Even if fellow humans might laugh or some acknowledge.
In perspective, to feed a herd of deer was an honor.
We read that deer live in the Ortiz, but hadn’t seen many signs. We live in the desert, canyon foothills. In the piñon and juniper ecozone.
So the hoofprints in dirt tracks along with our dinner salad garden gone, we knew for sure.
During a long weekend away, they ate amaranth, lemon balm, garden sage, catnip and peppermint… makes we wonder if they had good dreams those nights. haha!
Recently, on a hike up into the Ortiz, we saw two deer trotting on a ridge, along with fir trees and tiny groves of aspen on some of the peaks. Amazing to think of their treks for food, water and survival with mountain lions which rove for prey.
we thought this could be a mountain lion track…
In the peaks
In our garden, the two pots of nettles survived along with a mostly dead horehound plant. (the bitter and stinging plants were left behind.)
Which makes this post come alive. I used these fresh, growing nettles, for homemade cheese and pesto, even in fall.
Handled carefully because of stinging hairs on stems and the underside of leaves which can sting you. They are filled with formic acid.
And, I used about 12 tops of these nettles to make my homemade cheese. And, about the same number of tops to make nettle pesto! Both flavored with Herbs de Provence.
Here is the salted nettle tea I made. Add a tablespoon of sea salt to the nettle tea to further extract the nettle rennet properties.
Simmer for 30 minutes. Turn off heat and cover the tea and let sit for 10 minutes. Strain the liquid. It will be a light brown color. This is your Nettle Rennet.
I’ve also read that dried nettles work as an herbal rennet too and dried nettles do not sting!
Use one Cup of the strained, salted nettle tea rennet for a gallon of cow’s milk. This is what I have read.
I had half a gallon and used 3/4 of it.
So, heat the milk slowly.
As it heats add the juice of one fresh lemon and spices.
Just before the milk starts to simmer and bubble, while stirring constantly…
add the one Cup of the Nettle tea Rennet.
In my case it made a big bubble when I added the Nettle Rennet. I stirred it gently and the curds formed instantly. The whey separated and the curds were all on top like the picture. You can see the spices too. I turned off the heat once the curds all formed. It all happened at this point really quickly.
I let the curds and whey sit covered for 30 minutes.
Then I lined a colander with a thin dish towel to strain out the liquid. -(the whey) People sometimes save the whey for cooking other recipes.
I squeezed out the excess whey and the cheese congealed quickly. I let it set for a bit, covered with the cloth.
I took the next pictures of the cheese just a few minutes later. A day later in the refrigerator the consistency was even more like a soft gouda. I was really happy with it. I might salt it a bit next time. I guess I am used to the salt in cheese. But, experiment because I really liked it and the salted nettle rennet may impart the perfect amount of salt for you.
This post by Monica Wilde truly inspires. Check out her recipes using a variety of wild plant rennets.
In Cornwall, a famous cheese from an ancient recipe, called Yarg, involves using nettle rennet and nettle leaves wrapped around the cheese to flavor and cure it. The nettle leaf patterns are beautiful.
not too ironically searches for Yarg brought up pictures of pirates! ha!
More of the present day Yarg story here.
Thistle stamens can be used to make cheese rennet as well. Check out my blogpost and links on how to prepare thistles for food and to use thistles for cheesemaking.
You can also make a delicious pesto using nettles.
Super easy and fun to make Nettle Pesto. I have made pesto so many times, I often wing it but keep some basics in the ingredients too.
For Nettle Pesto, steam the tender stems and leaf tops for 2 minutes.
I then felt the leaves and stems for any sting they might still have and 2 minutes of steaming did the trick.
I dried them off with a towel then added olive oil, garlic cloves, juice of one lemon and hulled hemp seeds instead of cheese.
Plus, spices and herbs that suited my fancy at the moment.
Blend it up and voila!
I really liked this pesto and the rest of my cheese as a simple dinner.
I saved most of the pesto to add to tomorrow’s soup as a garnish.
The Herbal Goodness of Nettles!
Deb Soule, Herbalist and Biodynamic gardener and plant enthusiast lists Nettles as one of her favorite herbs.
In her book: The Roots of Healing.,
She describes many of nettles virtues and for being
a wonderful fresh green at the close of winter and turn of spring in Maine.
I enlist the many healing properties from Deb Soule’s book here, amidst a few other notes.
Stinging Nettles, just the name can turn some people away. The hairs on the stems and the underside of leaves can be quite formidable. The hairs contain formic acid which can cause painful stings when you touch the hairs of the plant.
This painful sting, is used in urtication therapy.… Urtication derives from nettles, its botanical name: Urtica dioica
Nettle Sting therapy:
Many people have taken nettle leaves/stems of leaves and hit or rubbed them on painful arthritic joints and areas. This brings a rush of blood to the area with subsequently less inflammation, relieving the pain.
Many people swear by this method since the pain from the nettles is temporary compared to the relief they feel within their arthritic joints.
If you get stung by nettles and need to relieve the pain, crushed/bruised plantain leaves or yellow dock leaves, placed on the sting, make an effective remedy.
Nettles are high in iron and greatly help those who are anemic. Steam new tops of nettle leaves or make a tea from fresh or dried nettles. Fresh leaves made into a tincture work best.
Nettles are vitamin and mineral rich so are a tremendous health ally.
Nettles are an excellent tonic for the kidneys and adrenals. In many cases, regular use of nettle tea or tincture can reduce the risk of kidney stones.
Nettles also nourish the liver and blood. And, improves elasticity of veins, helpful for hemorrhoids or varicose veins.
Nettles also strengthens the plasma membrane/outer membrane of cells… making them less vulnerable to inflammation and allergic response.
Nettles work very well in Menopause formulas. Especially when added to these herbs: oatstraw, red raspberry leaves, borage leaves, and siberian ginseng (eleuthero root)
Does your dog scratch and dig at hot itchy spots on his skin? A nettles wash can help.
Likewise, nettles is good in formulas for eczema and skin problems.
The astringent nature of nettles lessens: nosebleeds, uterine hemorrhages and bleeding from cuts.
Drinking cool nettle tea decreases inflammation in kidneys and bladder.
Nettle teas and tinctures have been shown to decrease painful conditions like arthritis and rheumatism for people and animals.
Nettles are commonly used to decrease allergies.
Deb Soule also suggests to let fresh and/or dried nettles to sit over night in a glass jar/pot, of cool or room temperature water, to extract the most vitamins and minerals from nettles.
Drink this health rich tea as is or gently heat and then steep for 15-20 minutes.
For many health benefits and as remedy, 1-3 cups of nettle tea a day for several weeks or months is recommended.
Please seek good counsel outside of this post to determine the best course for you.
And nettles greens, cooked or steamed can be eaten as often as you delight in. lucky us!
Include wise stories and counsel from plant wise friends and from Nettles themselves!
Posted Links with gratitude
and this book:
The Roots of Healing. A Woman’s Book of Herbs. by, Deb Soule. Carol Publishing Group, 1995.
And, what else did I do today? Learned to use a chainsaw to harvest our own wood. Sawing dead trees by hand last year is something I will never forget.
Here’s to You and all You Inspire!