It’s a busy time for foraging plant materials right now. The plants have made all the vegetative growth they’re going to make this year. And now they’re setting seed. Over the past months I’ve logged key spots in my mental map of the neighbourhood, spots where certain useful plants are growing in abundance. At the moment I’m out re-tracing that map most days to forage them, bring them back to dry and then store for future making projects and courses.
Yesterday it was dock stalks and reed mace. Today it’s cleavers.
A great place to find cleavers is on the south side of a hedgerow where they grow up into the hedge. By now they’ll have grown in height to five or six foot, they’ll have dried and be covered in seeds. Cleavers (Gallium aparine), shown left, is known by lots of names, including sticky willy and goose grass. It’s an amazing plant with lots of uses, including medicinal ones. It’s one of my favourite spring tonics, the leaves and stem juiced when young and tender.
Those bright green leaves are the ones we used to throw on each other’s backs where they stuck fast and went unnoticed. But the little round seeds, abundant right now, are just as sticky. Maybe even more so.
At at this time of year I’m collecting it for the fibres. They make excellent tinder bundles for wild fire-making, not least because of the way the fibres cleave together into a perfect nest shape. You can see it in action in this photo of Linda making fire on a recent Wild Pottery course.
Certain types of foraging are a rhythmic physical action. In this case, teasing and pulling the cleavers from the hedge; forming it into a nest shape; moving along; repeating, repeating til I have a few dozen large brown wispy nests at intervals along the verge I’m moving along. My jumper is covered in seeds, they’ve even worked their way up the inside of my sleeves, where they feel very scratchy. No doubt about it, wool jumper = dodgy wardrobe choice for today.
That aside, this kind of rhythmic physical activity is well known for inducing alpha brain waves. Walking, digging etc do it as well, and they’re all conducive to a deep sense of well-being and relaxation. Often a seemingly unconscious problem-solving takes place.
I’ve come from the local hospice where I was visiting my friend Kevin today. Foraging seems like a good thing to do afterwards, as a way to digest our final goodbye. As I pull and bundle cleavers in the quiet lane I find this song repeating in my mind like a mantra:
When you were born you cried, and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die the world cries and you rejoice.
The song’s been with me a lot since singing it recently with a group of friends round the fire. Having it accompany me as I forage is soothing and lends a steady rhythm to the task. It’s a song for living too of course. A call to live life fully. It’s attributed as Native American, some say Cherokee, some say Navajo.
Whoever… thank you.