The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson
Every year we add manure to our garden and every year we get uninvited wildflowers as part of the package. (“Wildflowers” sounds gentler than “weeds.”)
This year a healthy crop of Galium aparine, or Cleavers, is springing up. If you have these guests in your yard you need no description from me. Scratchy stems covered with recurved (down-pointing) prickles make Cleavers memorably unpleasant to the touch. That said, the tiny tender leaves are edible and can be steamed and eaten like spinach, or can be added raw to salads—although if you’re not careful you will spend a lot of time picking out prickly bits of stem and laying them aside.
Common garden variety Cleavers (the name is plural) is a member of the bedstraw family and is related to—of all things—coffee! In a month of so, if you have time on your hands, you may collect the minuscule Cleavers seeds and roast them to make a coffee substitute. Of course you can also dig up dandelion roots and roast them for the same purpose. A person can do all kinds of things and it’s good to try doing something at least once. When you have scrubbed enough dandelion roots or collected enough Cleavers seeds to make one cup of beverage, you can return to your real dark roasted coffee beans with renewed appreciation and enjoyment.
More Cleavers lore: Cleavers is called Goose Grass because geese are fond of the leaves. The dry matted foliage of the plant was once used to stuff mattresses. Greek and Swedish farmers used the barbed stems to strain milk. The roots make a permanent red dye. And most importantly, Cleavers is a tonic for the lymphatic system, used to treat swollen glands such as tonsils and adenoids. Isn’t it humbling (and a little annoying) to find that most of our weeds have valuable medicinal uses? Once I learn about them I almost hate to rip them out of the ground; but I do it anyway.
Now here’s something entirely unrelated to Cleavers: Our neighbor Floyd came to the door with a bug in a jar. Good grief! We have earwigs, slugs, mosquitoes…and now Belostomatidae? (That’s Latin for Giant Water Bugs.) Floyd’s specimen, which he found in a Charlottetown parking lot, was a black five-centimeter-long bug with nasty pincers and a devil-may-care attitude. None of us had ever seen anything like it and we’re not sure we want to see another one. Although these creatures are fried and eaten in Asia, a single bug would not make a meal and none of us wish to experiment.
Down at the Cove the periwinkles are all nicely lined up sunning themselves in cracks in the sandstone. Blue herons wade in tidal pools, patiently waiting for dinner to swim by. A seagull cries, “I’m hungry! What did you do with that Giant Water Bug?” A dozen Canada geese skim over our heads honking imperiously, “Where are those Cleavers you’re talking about?”
—This is JoDee Samuelson’s 92nd column for The Buzz.