To me, one of the first signs of Spring is picking a handful of stickyweed and making a cup of tea with it. It is a delicious pale-green, fresh-tasting pick-me-up, bringing all that wonderful energy and growth and zest for life into the water and then into me. Snowdrops are winter flowers, but the stickyweed definitely heralds that Spring is here!
Also known as cleavers, sticky willy, goosegrass or Galium aparine, it is the plant you probably threw at your friends backs when running around the playground, and gave you rashes on your legs when walking through fields infested with it.
As a gardener stickyweed is one of those weeds I have long had a grudging admiration for. It grows from nothing each year, scrambles up and over any other plants in its way to completely cover them, breaks off when you try to pull it out, and deposits is sticky seeds everywhere. On the soil, on your clothes, in your hair, there will be seeds, so that it can repeat the whole show the following year. Or even later in the same year, if it has got going early enough. However it is a lot easier to deal with than many weeds, as being an annual it doesn’t have a great tap root or rhizomes to grub out. The roots may extend some distance, but they don’t form a mat or even need much attention; their best use is to stop worse weeds getting their way.
Once I discovered herb teas a few years ago, my respect grew. Usually by mid-February enough can be found for a brew. I pick a handful of young growth and use it in place of a teabag, just letting it steep a little longer. Apparently it is good for the lymph system and for water infections or kidney stones, for cleansing the liver, for skin conditions such as eczema, for lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety and bringing calm.
I have since learned that traditional uses include filling a mattress as with bedstraw – its natural ability to stay where it is put stops it going lumpy; and in Northern Europe, as a sieve for separating milk. The seeds can apparently be roasted and used as a coffee substitute, and the roots will make a red dye. And geese like to eat it, hence one of its common names.
But for me it is simply the positive energy it brings that is like shining a light into the dark cold of winter, and bringing everything to life once more. And of course it is so nice to make something so positive out of what is otherwise a pile of weeds!