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Goosegrass

Other names: gripgrass, cleavers, stickyweed, robin-run-the-hedge.

Galium aparine

Goosegrass - foraging identification & processingThis is an extremely easy plant to identify, and one that quite possibly everyone will have encountered at some point in their life – if not only for its clinging nature making it one of the best plants for a harmless prank on your fellow walkers!

You might not have considered that it can also be a source of food, but now we’ve re-introduced you keep scrolling to discover the best time to pick and how best to enjoy it...

 

Edible Goosegrass as the 'sticky-weed' - foraging identificationThe plant uses a clever clinging ‘technology’ to climb and find support amongst competitors as well as to reproduce; those little (nuisance!) sticky balls containing the seeds get caught up in animal fur, hair, boot laces, and trouser hems to be carried away to new ground. Goosegrass’ ability to grab a hold of things is down to a covering of tiny hook like hairs similar to Velcro, which incidentally was inspired by the tiny burs inventor Georges de Mestral discovered stuck to his dog and himself after a walk – the offending burs likely being that of either Burdock or the very same Goosegrass we’re looking at today!

 

Historically bundles of Goosegrass have been used as a make-shift strainer, since nothing seems to want to let go once in contact with the hairs, and the juice as a ‘milk seizer’ for cheese making.

 

When to pick:

Goosegrass in early Spring - foraging identificationGoosegrass is one of the first plants I notice in January and February, generally after a warmer period of no frosts, helping to provide valuable vitamin C in those otherwise hungry months. It grows prolifically from May onwards until the frosts return later in the year.

Patches of goosegrass seem to pop up almost year round so there’s often young shoots to be found somewhere that make for good eating. Older specimens that have gone to flower and seed, like many plants, are far too tough and hairy to be able to really enjoy so it’s always best to hunt out the younger growth. Look for the brightest green leaves in the patch for the young stuff up to six inches in length, you might need to have a root around amongst the grass beneath the more obvious longer growth that will have at least served to catch your attention.

 

How to identify:

Goosegrass grows pretty much anywhere though seems to really like bright sunny spots near hedgerows and other rich patches of ground.

It’s leaves are narrow, slightly wider at the ends and arranged in a whorl at grouped intervals around the square stem. The ‘sticky’ nature is the real key in identification.

I’m not aware of anything dangerous that can be mistaken for Goosegrass, that’s not to say that you still shouldn’t employ a degree of cautious scepticism when gathering anything for the first time.

 Goosegrass growing alongside Wild Garlic in Spring

How to enjoy:

Goosegrass is safe to eat raw as it is or along with other leaves as a salad, no extra work required! If the sound of a hairy salad isn’t appealing you needn’t worry; if you followed the picking advice above, the hooks on younger leaves are much softer and won’t catch in your throat like the older ones. A light bruising by rolling the leaves gently between your palms can also help tenderise Goosegrass if you feel yours needs it.

 

You can cook Goosegrass to serve as a green vegetable, simply boil or steam for several minutes until tender. This can really help to reduce any bitterness and soften those pesky hairs on older examples. Feel free to mix it up with other wild veggies you may have found like Sorrel, Sea Beet, Purslane, or Fat Hen.

 

Lastly you can use young Goosegrass leaves to pep up an omelette or such like for an extra boost of vitamins and flavour. Chopping it finely is another good way to deal with coarser growth if you've picked a tough patch.

 

Have you tried Goosegrass? We’d love to hear what you think so leave us a comment below!

 

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Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more


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