I only learned how to identify cleavers (Galium aparine) this spring, after reading about it on some other foraging blogs.
Usually, when I learn a new plant it takes me a year or so of scouting around before I’m able to spot it from a distance and/or from my bike. Not so with cleavers! Three weeks after identifying the weird clingy thing in my weed patch I was seeing it everywhere.
I’m very sorry I didn’t learn it earlier, because cleavers is an A++ worthwhile plant. Not only is it easy to find, it is easy to harvest – grows in big swaths, far enough above the ground to stay clean, does not require any fiddly treatment post harvest – and delicious. With my first haul I made cleaver lemonade, which seems to be the standard treatment: Whiz the cleavers up in a blender and strain out the juice (or use a juicer, if you are so endowed), add the juice and zest from a couple of lemons, sweeten to taste. Drink 50/50 with club soda. Mine also had a bit of chickweed in it as they were growing together and I was too lazy to detangle them.
I took a growler of the stuff to a party over the weekend. Many people declined to try it – it’s a very lurid green and green planty-tasting juice is not everyone’s thing. Those who did try it, liked it; as one friend said, “It tastes like green plants only it also tastes good”.
Another friend offered to buy me brunch in exchange for the secret of my cleavers patch. Cleavers patches being only slightly more jealously guarded than Himalayan blackberry patches, I of course offered to just tell her, but she insisted on buying me brunch anyway and making a story out of how she got my secret. Sometimes the point of foraging is not to just have the delicious free food. Sometimes the point and the fun is having a good story to tell when you are serving the delicious free food to your friends. And there’s a marketing lesson for you!