Cleavers (Galium aparine common family name ‘bedstraw’)
Cleavers is that maddening hairy/clingy weed which appears everywhere in early summer and climbs through, round and over grasses and low shrubs, trying to smother everything. Sometimes mistakenly called bidibidi (which is a NZ native with much larger hooked spheres as seedpods), the seeds, stems and round seed pods catch and cling to clothing and animal hair. Although the stems are weak, it is strong on tenacity.
Originally from Eurasia, it is now found throughout New Zealand, in gardens, orchards, crops, and places where grass has been allowed to grow long.
A popular game of childhood was to furtively press a piece of stem or some seed pods to another’s back, to be carried about without their knowledge. And anyone who has patiently picked seed pods from a cat’s fur, will remember the experience vividly.
Cleavers has square stems with hooked prickles on the corners. Leaves are in whorls of 5 to 8, narrow, pointed at the tip and about 3cm long, with hairs on the mid-ribs and edges. Flowers are tiny and white, and seed pods are 5mm spheres which turn from green to purple as they ripen and are covered in hooked bristles. A very furry, hooky plant all round. Near the ground the stem is often brownish and threadlike, and it can be difficult to ensure that one has removed the whole plant, roots and all.
But while it’s a nuisance, best removed by pulling and gathering into armfuls, it has lots of good herbal properties, especially for horses and donkeys. Cows and goats also seem to appreciate it. So throwing it over the fence into the neighbouring paddock will see your animals arriving to munch on it happily.
It provides support and toning for lymphatic systems, and is especially good for urinary infections such as cystitis and enlarged lymph glands. It is also silica rich, and therefore good for soft swellings and fluid retention. Those providing herbal horse remedies recommend giving a daily dose mixed in with other feed.