Cleavers is one of my favorite plants to forage. It grows like a weed in huge clusters, meaning you can harvest large amounts of it without much effort or worry that you are harming the local ecosystem. Compared to other wild edibles, cleavers is very easy to identify and there aren’t any toxic lookalikes. On top of that, cleavers has many health benefits yet still tastes good.
If you aren’t sure what to do with cleavers you harvest, here are some ideas.
You can eat cleavers raw in salads. Young cleavers are the best because their “hairs” are still soft. If you want to make salad from older cleavers plants, chop it into VERY tiny pieces. Chopping softens those little hairs on the plant. Otherwise they can feel scratchy in your throat.
Ideally, you’ll mix cleavers with other salad greens to get a better texture. The salad in the picture was made with a mix of foraged greens, including cleavers.
2. Cleavers Juice
Compared to a lot of other greens, cleavers isn’t very bitter so it makes a really nice juice. I’ve heard of some people drinking it like a smoothie. However, the smoothie can end up a bit chunky if the plant is older. Instead, I recommend making cleavers juice this way:
- Blend the cleavers in a blender with just enough water to get it started.
- Pour the blended cleavers through a cheesecloth
- Add some lemon to the juice to
If your main goal with cleavers is to get health benefits and not food, then use it to make tinctures. Just soak it in high-percentage alcohol like Vodka for at least a week. Ideally, you will dry the cleavers first but you can also make tinctures from fresh cleavers.
Cleavers is really good as pesto. You can find a recipe here.
5. Cream Soups
You can use cleavers in any soup but IMO it works best in cream soups. Because cream soups are blended, you don’t have to worry about ending up with weird textures as you would with whole pieces of cleavers (the stalks and bottom of the plant can be tougher than the younger parts). Here’s one good recipe for cleavers red pepper soup.
6. In Place of Spinach or Other Greens in Cooked Meals
You can substitute cleavers for pretty much any other leafy green in cooked dishes, like pasta sauces, lasagna filling or fritters. Just make sure you remove any thick stalks or the cleavers will end up chewy.