In March it’s so exciting to be thinking about all the new life beginning to stir in nature at the beginning for Spring!
Now the weather is warming and we are surrounded by fresh green plants again it’s a good time to start gently cleansing the body of the accumulations of winter with delicious spring treats. When temperatures rise, the mucus in our bodies thins and begins to move and can result in runny noses and phlegm. Whilst an excessive attitude to ‘detoxification’ can be detrimental, spring is a natural time to work with plants in assisting the body to release and let go.
At this time of year we have two great lymphatic remedies needed our lovely spring cleavers and sweet violets.
March one of the most treasure herb and is probably the dearest and wonderfully weedy is Cleavers. Galium aparine. Also known as Goosegrass or Sticky Willy, Cleavers is one of the first of our spring allies to appear. Cleavers are found mainly in woods and hedgerows and, along with its good friend stinging nettle, is one of the first wild herbs many people learn about.
Cleavers is a herb of the moon and is governed by the element of water and this is key to understanding of how it works in the body. As a medicinal herb it is most commonly used to treat the lymphatic system, a network of vessels which runs alongside the blood circulation carrying waste materials in lymph fluid ready for processing in the lymph nodes and organs such as the tonsils, thymus and spleen. The lymph has no pump of its own so is reliant on the movement of blood and muscles to aid its journey, so exercise is vital for a healthy lymphatic system. Its functions are primarily to aid cleansing of the tissues and assist the immune system by transporting white blood cells and antibodies.
The lymph relates very closely to the water element in us and, as we know, the moon affects fluids in all of nature by governing flows and tides. The nature of water is to be fluid, we can easily see how polluted stagnant water becomes, and the lymph must also be flowing in order to perform its functions within the body. In the winter we can become more stagnant and accumulations tend to build up, stressing the lymphatic system and resulting in lowered immunity, swollen glands and sluggishness.
Cleavers is all about getting things moving and flowing again. We see it as an initiator and indeed it is meant to be auspicious to drink it before a journey. It doesn’t force change, just gently encourages the body to wake and clear itself, helping to remove excess fluids through its diuretic action. This quality means it is also a good urinary tonic, especially in inflammatory conditions of the urinary tract as it is also anti-inflammatory. It’s useful for clearing the skin, partly due to its general alterative properties, and it has been used to treat cancers, both internally and externally as a poultice.
The water element also governs the emotions and Cleavers can help us to gently let go of the past and be ready to embrace the new growth and change that Spring awakens.
Cleavers is covered in tiny little hooked bristles which you can see in the close up below later in the season when the plant was more mature.
Herbalists see Cleavers as a plant of youth, not only because of it’s appearance early in the spring but due to it ability to entertain the child in us all when, on long walks, we can engage in the game we never grow tired of, how many cleavers can you stick on someone’s back before they notice
We think the real reason Cleavers grab on to us as we go by is because, in a damp climate we could all do with a bit of lymphatic support and she is generously reminding us of the great service she can offer.
The plant itself is strong yet supple. It is flexible enough to be twisted round itself and apparently, country folk used to use it in this way to make a sieve for straining milk. It uses its little hooks to grow up other plants to get to the light, yet its strong enough to support them too when needed.
Here are a few ways to incorporate Cleavers into your life.
Cleavers Green Juice
Juice is a favorite way to take them and also the most potent as we are ingesting the life blood of the plant which is an incredible gift. It does require the use of a juicer but if you don’t have one you could whizz it in the blender with some water and then strain. You can juice a big handful of cleavers with some apple, fennel, lemon, ginger and celery. This makes a delicious cleansing and revitalizing drink for bright Spring mornings.
Make your Cleavers into a delicious green vinegar by lightly packing a jar with them then covering in unpasteurised apple cider vinegar. Cap with a plastic not metal lid (vinegar corrodes metal) and allow to infuse for three weeks before straining and rebottling. This makes a lovely spring salad dressing with a drizzle of olive oil.
At this time of year you can finely chop the young cleavers and add to salads, though later in the Spring they become too tough and stringy. Enjoy them now while they’re tender!
Cleavers Cold Infusion
Many people prepare their cleavers as a cold infusion by popping a handful in a glass, covering in cold water and leaving overnight to infuse. Strain and drink in the morning for a refreshing start to the day.
Juice fresh cleavers, (dry cleaver can be used also) measure it and add an equal amount of runny honey. Bottle and label. It will last much longer this way and would be a lovely soothing and effective remedy for tonsilitis.
In early Spring the Cleavers Moon
Draws up from depths of wintery slumber
Our waking tides.
From ripple to wave she speaks of cycles
Of change, of flow,
Of newest growth already held in visions.
She invites us too to grow, along with her,
Weedy and wild,
Supple yet unyielding as the waters she guides
She helps to carry us all.
A large handful of fresh cleavers is delicious in a juice with apple, cucumber and perhaps a little lemon on a warm day, or ginger when the mornings are still crisp and cool.
Medicinally, violet is a gentle but potent remedy. It is classified as an alternative (or "blood purifier"), which means it helps the body restore optimal functioning by aiding metabolic processes, especially the elimination of waste products. Violet stimulates the lymphatic glands, helping the body get rid of bacteria and other toxins. It is especially useful for swollen glands. Over time, violet can help clear stubborn problems like eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Taking Violet after a long winter is a wonderful way to get our bodies ready for a healthy and energetic spring
Violets are also easy to add into our every day diet as long as you have a plentiful supply growing nearby. Great ways to take them include a few leaves and flowers added into salad or as a fresh tea with other spring greens such as cleavers and young hawthorn leaves. You can also snack on a few flowers when out walking. Taking one on your tongue and holding it there as the flavor infuses your senses is one of the truest delights in wild cuisine. Just eating a few flowers and leaves will have a beneficial effect on the lymphatics, you don’t need many.
Violet, Viola odorata, could happily be renamed Viola adorata, as she is just the most adorable plant around.
The sweet violet flowers we know and love are what is known in botany as chasmogamous flowers, those that display their stamens and style for insect pollination, but many species of viola also produce tiny self pollinating flowers later in the year which are known as cleistogamous. This means that we can be a bit freer with our harvest than we might otherwise be but we should still remember that insects need the flowers for an early source of nectar and therefore not take too many. Also, a beautiful patch of wild violets is enjoyed by many passers by and its not fair to strip it bare.
As a herbal remedy Violet is used most often for it’s soothing, demulcent properties found in the leaf and flower. Being cool and moist they are particularly good for conditions where there is heat such as inflammation and irritated coughs. Culpepper wrote, ”A drachm weight of the dried leaves or flowers of Violets, but the leaves more strongly, doth purge the body of choleric humours and assuageth the heat if taken in a draught of wine or other drink.”
Three species are used medicinally, Viola odorata, V. tricolour (the wild pansy) and V. yezoensis (the chinese violet). The wild dog violet is one of the most common violets found in the UK but it lacks scent, unlike the odorata, though it is still mucilaginous.
Violets are also gently cleansing and decongestant and can be used safely for helping clear the chest and sinuses. Combined with their anti-inflammatory effects and their antioxidant content, this makes them particularly helpful for allergies.
They are also specific for a sluggish lymphatic system and make a very valuable spring tonic herb for getting everything moving again after a stagnant winter. This makes them helpful for breast swellings and mastitis and many sources recommend them for cancer treatment. Used as a poultice and taken internally as tea or tincture they were a traditional remedy for breast cancer. Many Herbalists think they resonate with this area of the body particularly as they are, a remedy of the heart as they are certainly deeply comforting and loving in their energy. In fact Violets were used by the ancient Greeks in potions for love and fertility.
Herbalists also like to use violet as a skin remedy. Both the odorata and the tricolor, better known as heartsease, which flowers a little later, are very valuable in oils or washes for a variety of skin ailments. Their cooling, soothing and protective properties can be used on both dry and weeping eczema as well as acne and irritated, itchy skins. The leaves and flowers contain volatile oils and saponins both of which are extracted well in an infused oil which can then be made in to a lovely cream. Combine with chickweed, cleavers and lavender infused oils depending on the person it is for. For acne treatment use it as a wash rather than an oil based preparation.
The flowers and leaves are a very gentle laxative and are often given to children in syrup form to ease their bowels. The root however is a strong laxative and purgative and in high doses will cause vomiting, so be wary.
Also be sure not to use the house plant, African violet, which is poisonous!
The flower remedy is a particularly special preparation which holds many great lessons for us. It is for those who have a very pure vision of the way they feel the world should be. It is a remedy of the imagination, for promoting and holding a clear and positive vision and returning us to a sense of child-like joy and wonder that can heal despondency and the fatigue caused by living in a challenging world. The sweet violet helps us stay centered in the place where love and imagination has the power to manifest physically and create a better world as a result.
The upper petals are open to give and receive but the perfect gold centre is protected, so the visions held cannot be compromised by the challenges of this world. The fine veins running through the petals are like nerves, indicating the extreme sensitivity of the violet personality. Their heads seem to hang heavy indicating how weighed down these folk can feel by the suffering they see around them. They grow close to the ground indicating how the remedy can help in grounding our dreaming into the here and now and stabilizing us when times are tough. The large heart shaped leaves unfurl from the centre enabling us to open our hearts to all life’s experiences whilst remaining equanimous, grounded and free.
A perfect remedy for our troubled times, the violet is one of herbalist best friend
Violet infused honey is such a treat and you can leave the flowers in to add a decorative and delicious touch to your food. It has many of the same properties as the syrup but is simpler and better for those who seek the medicinal benefits of honey rather than using sugar. An added advantage is that you don’t have to heat the flowers or honey at all so none of the antioxidants or vital enzymes will be destroyed. To make the honey just fill a jar with violet flowers, cover with a reasonably runny raw honey and stir with a chop stick. Let infuse for a fortnight or so and then enjoy. The flowers tend to float to the top so just turn the jar or give it a stir now and again to ensure everything is well mixed.