Cleavers Ointment

Bushcraft / Bushcraft skills / Outdoor survival / Bushcraft Medicine / Herbal medicine recipe

Fed up of chapped skin this winter? Make your own Cleavers Ointment.

cleavers - outdoor survival store
Cleavers (Gallium aparine), also known as Goose Grass, sticky willies, ladies bedstraw and scurvy grass is a common plant which has acquired a vast array of names throughout history. These reflect the wide variety of uses that this plant has been put to, many of which merit their own blog.
Today we are going to focus on cleavers’ ability to aid skin complaints, insect bites and burns. We are going to make an ointment that can be used to treat chapped skin, minor burns and any irritating insect bites, all common ailments when out in woods or countryside. This time of year isn’t traditionally the best time to create ointments using the juices of plants, namely because there shouldn’t be a whole load of fresh growth around. One of the benefits of our soggy winter is that there are a number of plants starting (or not stopped entirely) to grow early in January. Many people have been noticing unusual animal behaviour, especially woodland birds that seem to be becoming very vocal this early in the year.

Making this ointment really couldn’t be simpler. All we need is:
– Sandwich bag full of fresh Cleavers
– One large table spoon of Lanolin
– Kitchen mixing bowl (stainless steel for ease of cleaning)
– Spoon for mixing ingredients
– One small 25ml jam jar (or any other small travel sized container you have to hand)
So let’s run through how to make the ointment. First thing is to gather enough cleavers to make the amount you require. I only gathered a sandwich bag full and this was enough for one pot. Given the warm weather we’ve had this winter you should find cleavers growing through along most hedgerows and foot paths.

cleavers in bowl

Once you have got your cleavers back to the kitchen it’s best to process it sooner rather than later as it’s the juices from the plant that you want to utilise. If you can’t find the time when you get back home then put the cleavers in the fridge and continue the next day.
Next job is to crush the cleavers up and pulverise your foraged cleavers as much as possible to release their juices. This I did simply using the end of a rolling pin and my hands to squeeze the juices out.

cleavers pounded

When squeezing out the juice ready to be mixed with the lanolin it’s best not to do it into the best cake mixing bowl, unless you like a slight sheepy twang to your Victoria sponge!

lanolinmixing lanolin and cleaver juice
Once you have a bowl of pure cleavers juice it’s time to introduce the lanolin, I simply added one heaped table spoon to the juice, and this may vary depending on the age of the plants and their moisture content. Best policy would be the old doctrine ‘measure twice cut once’. So just add a small amount of lanolin at a time until you end up with the right consistency. You want to aim for a thick paste that is ever so slightly runnier than the lanolin on its own.

Next comes the laborious task of blending the two, this can take a little while as the lanolin softens up and the juice starts to be incorporated. Persevere though and you should eventually end up with a very attractive bright green paste.

Cleavers Ointment - Outdoor survival store

Once the juice is completely incorporated it can be placed into the jar and is ready to use. If at home it is best to keep the jar in the fridge in order for it to last well. That being said I’ve been using a small jar of this exact ointment from our summer medicinal plants course for chapped skin over the past 6 months and there are no signs of mould whilst living in my pocket all day every day.

finished product copy
So there you have it your very own addition to the woodland first aid kit. Even nicer is that it contains all natural products which to me are in keeping with the ethos of getting out into our woodlands and enjoying them.
An even simpler use of cleavers is to create a poultice with the fresh plant and apply it straight to the affected area. This will have much the same effect as the ointment, obviously without the properties of lanolin, but good to know if you’re caught without.

So despite the persistent rain I hope that you can get out and enjoy our countryside and start on some early foraging this year and if you have an interest in medicinal wild plants why not join us on our Hedgerow Medicine day course.

Danny Hodgson
Apprentice bushcraft and survival instructor

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