A Foretaste of Spring

This morning we made a supreme effort and managed to drag our weary bodies out of bed early. After a brief breakfast, we headed off to Rufford Abbey and country park.


All week there have been up to ten hawfinches in the trees surrounding the car park and we wanted to see these birds. We crossed the city in record time and found ourselves getting out of the car less than 45 minutes after we had set out. Following the know of birdwatchers in the car park gave us directions to nine hawfinches obligingly perched high in a tree.


They remained in full view for approximately 15 minutes. It was the best view of hawfinches I have ever had. Around us, blue tits great tits nuthatches and chaffinches all sang at the top of their voices. We had limited time due to an appointment at 11am so we headed for the lake. 

Although the weather was cold four degrees it was bright and sunny and we found our first snowdrops in flower. You may not be able to feel spring is around the corner. You may not be able to see it but these small signs are the foretastes and promises of the spring and they always make me happy.


Hazel trees were full of catkins and we saw wild arum just poking above the soil. Great tits, robins, and blackbirds have been shouting all week about how sexy they are and proclaiming territory. Indeed earlier this week a blackbird was still singing well after dark just near the library

Our diligence was rewarded with four goosanders two males and two females on the lake. Some species of birds were obviously accustomed to being fed regularly by visitors. A crowd of robins followed us hopefully whilst blue tits and great tits hovered nearby. At a bridge, we were treated to sights of a coal tit a few feet away from us great tits and blue tits were everywhere as were dunnocks robins and an occasional wren. A goldcrest hovered at the edge of a yew completely oblivious to our presence.



Our pleasure was increased by a flock of approximately fifty siskins who flew into the trees at the edge of the lake. One of two of us were sure there was redpoll amongst them but your father refuses to be convinced. None of those I saw had the red forehead but they did have the streaky pattern and buff wing bars of immature redpolls. 



We headed back to the car seeing treecreeper, nuthatch and two great spotted woodpeckers on the way. We missed the brief flash of a kingfisher as it shot past. However, despite this disappointment, we saw three new species for the year Hawfinch, siskin and treecreeper. The drive home took twice as long as the early morning drive. For a short trip, we picked up four new species for the year, had wonderful views and had a lovely walk in the sunshine. A really lovely morning. As you can see the close-up shots of birds courtesy of Nottinghamshire birdwatchers are far superior to anything our camera can achieve. Hope everything is going well.

Love Mum 



Galium aparine L. cleavers

Galium aparine L. cleavers,
Also called clivers, goosegrass, kisses, stickyweed, stickybud, sticky willy
This species is a straggling climber, growing up to 3 m long, with slender 4-angled stems. Its narrow leaves can reach 7 cm long and are arranged in groups (whorls) of 6-8 (rarely 4) around the stem.

Goosegrass plant
Goosegrass plant

This is a scrambling annual whose stems may reach up to five feet in hedgerows, fields and gardens where it flourishes. It clings by the curved hook-like prickles on the four angles of the stems and the edges of the leaves.
Indeed the whole plant is covered in minute hooked hairs, and can cling to skin, fur and clothing. It has been raised from the excreta of various birds demonstrating that it is consumed by them. Viable seeds have also been found in manure and compost showing that they are resistant to the heat required to decompose manure and compost and that they are persistent. The flowers are tiny (2mm across), white, 4-petalled tubes. The fruits are purplish green covered with numerous colourless joked bristles, often borne in clusters of two or three. The individual fruits are approximately 2mm to 2.5 mm across and weighs approximately 0.02 to 0.05 grams. Germination mostly occurs in autumn but may occur in spring. In harsh winters it is the latter that survives. The germination in different seasons is a characteristic that has enabled this plant to proliferate.
goosegrass flowers

These fruits are also covered in hooked hairs which catch in the fur of passing animals or the peoples clothing. This is an efficient distribution mechanism that has contributed to the plant’s wide geographical range.
goose grass seed

.It is well known by children for its ‘stickiness’, owing to its covering of hooked hairs. There is a rather cruel Scottish children’s game involving this plant. The trick is to persuade somebody to allow a piece of it to be put in their mouth – then pull it out fast. The hooks being rather sharp, the game is called ‘bleedy tongues’! Galium aparine is also well known by herbalists for its medicinal properties.

goose grass close up
Geography and distribution
Galium aparine is naturally widespread throughout Europe, North America and some parts of Asia, and occurs as far north as Alaska and Greenland. Its seeds have been recorded from deposits of Paleolithic or Mesolithic Age, which render it less probable that it owes its presence to conditions created by man, despite being especially associated with habitat conditions that are partially artificial. It can grow at heights of up to 1500 feet above sea level. It has been introduced as far south as Australia, New Zealand, and the sub-Antarctic Islands. It can be a prolific weed of cereal crops (especially in Europe and North America). Heavy infestation can cause significant yield losses, and its seeds can be difficult to separate mechanically from those of crops such as oilseed rape (canola). It is found throughout the British Isles (except in some places in the far north) and appears to be increasing in abundance in recent years despite the use of species-specific agricultural herbicides. Galium aparine can be found growing naturally on scree slopes and shingle banks.

Used as a love medicine by one tribe, the infusion of plant was used as a bath by women to be successful in love. Also used as a hair tonic, said to be good for the hair, making it grow long. Several Native American Tribes used an infusion of the plant for gonorrhea. A red dye is obtained from a decoction of the root, it is said to dye bones red. It was also believed to remove freckels. Gerard writes of Clivers as a marvelous remedy for the bites of snakes, spiders and all venomous creatures. A thick matt of the stems, when used as a sieve for filtering milk, was said to give healing properties to the milk
John Ruskin went so far as to trace out aesthetic and moral standards for flowers labelling weeds as unfinished. He argued that it was unnatural for a plant to have a cluster of bristles springing from its centre. Interestingly the term weedy when applied to humans has connotations of weakness or feebleness rather that those of strength and intimidation characteristics of many weed species.

This is not a recommendation merely information
The whole plant is edible, though not particularly tasty, and in China, for example, it is eaten as a vegetable. In times of war of famine it has been eaten possibly from desperation rather than as a delicacy. Its seeds can be roasted to prepare a sort of coffee substitute. It is also reputed to have a number of medicinal properties, having been used in traditional medicine (usually as an infusion) to treat kidney problems, skin disorders and high blood pressure among other ailments. Archaeological evidence suggests that it may have been used in this way for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Cleavers is still used by medical herbalists today, although scientific evidence regarding its effectiveness is still lacking.
botanical drawing of goosegrass
Britain’s wild harvest
Kew’s Sustainable Uses of Plants Group undertook a survey of commercial uses of wild and traditionally managed plants in England and Scotland for the Countryside Agency, English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage to determine the economic role of wild plants and to assist in their sustainable use. Despite the revival of interest in herbal remedies in UK most plant material used in herbal products is imported. However, there are exceptions. In Norfolk, for example, cleavers is gathered from hedgerows and used in herbal products.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
This weedy species is an annual that can be grown in temperate regions, in parts of the garden managed for wildlife, as either a summer or winter annual (or occasionally as a biennial). The seed is thought to be viable for around 2-6 years unless frozen. Seeds should be sown in moist soil, preferably a rich loam, with above-average fertility and pH of 5.5-8.0. Seeds must be buried to germinate, ideally at a depth of 2-10 mm. Seeds that have passed through the gut of a herbivore are thought to have a higher germination rate. Development is rapid with flowers appearing as soon as eight weeks after germination. Ripe seeds develop from summer through to autumn, depending on the region in which plants are grown. Supports such as pea sticks can be provided, as this plant likes to scramble. Plants will die down after the fruits are released at which point seeds must be collected for next year’s plants.
Note that this plant can be invasive. In some parts of the world it is a serious weed of crops and native vegetation, where it can out-compete indigenous species. For this reason, if cultivating cleavers, care should be taken to prevent its spread into farmland or sensitive areas of conservation importance.
hooks on seeds

Climbing mechanism of Galium aparine.
Galium aparine is a herbaceous climbing plant that attaches to host plants mainly via its leaves, which are covered by hooked trichomes. Although such hooks are found on both leaf surfaces, the leaves of G. aparine are mainly positioned upon the leaves of supporting plants and rarely beneath. In order to understand the mechanism underlying this observation, we have studied structural and mechanical properties of single leaf hooks, frictional properties of leaf surfaces, turgor pressure in different leaf tissues and bending properties of the leaves in different directions. Abaxial and adaxial leaf hooks differ significantly in orientation, distribution, structure and mechanical properties. In accordance with these differences, friction properties of leaves depend on the direction of the applied force and differ significantly between both leaf surfaces. This results in a ratchet mechanism. Abaxial leaf hooks provide strong attachment upon the leaves of adjacent plants, whereas adaxial hooks cause a gliding-off from the underside of the leaves of host plants. Thus, the leaves of G. aparine can function as attachment organs, and simultaneously orient themselves advantageously for their photosynthetic function. Further adaptations in turgor pressure or concerning an anisotropy of the flexural stiffness of the leaves have not been found.
goose grass showing hooks

Always on the bright side: the climbing mechanism of Galium aparine
Georg Bauer,1 Marie-Christin Klein,2,3 Stanislav N. Gorb,2,3 Thomas Speck,1 Dagmar Voigt,2,3 and Friederike Gallenmüller1,*
Author information ► Article notes ► Copyright and License information ►
This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.

References and credits
Allen, D.E. & Hatfield, G. (2004). Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition: an Ethnobotany of Britain and Ireland. Timber Press, Portland.
Bown, D. (2008). The Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses. Dorling Kindersley, London.
Gucker, C. (2005). Galium aparine. Fire Effects Information System [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available online
Milliken, W. & Bridgewater, S. (2004). Flora Celtica –Plants and People in Scotland. Birlinn, Edinburgh.
Prendergast, H.D.V. & Sanderson, H. (2004). Britain’s Wild Harvest: The Commercial Uses of Wild Plants and Fungi. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and The Countryside Agency, London.
Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. & Dines, T.A. (eds) (2002). New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora: an Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Kew Science Editor: William Milliken
Kew contributors: Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell
While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.
Richard Mabey 2010 Weeds Profile books London
Edward Salisbury 1961 Weeds and Aliens Collins Press London

History of the uses of Nettles

History of the uses of nettles

Fabric woven of nettle fibre has been found in burial sites dating back to the Bronze age. A Bronze Age (2200 – 700 BCE) body was discovered in Denmark wrapped in cloth made from nettles.

Ancient Fabric from Denmark made of Nettles

ancient nettle cloth

Human settlements that have long since been abandoned can be spotted by archaeologists as nettles still grow there.
Nettles at Danehill Fort

nettles at Danehill fort

The plant is listed as one of the Anglo Saxon nine sacred herbs. Samuel Pepys enjoyed nettle porridge on 25th February 1661 and Sir Walter Scott wrote about the gardener in Rob Roy raising nettles for use as early spring kale (Mabey 2010).

The Romans are said to have brought Urtica pilulifera to Britain where they used them to relieve rheumatism and arthritis by flogging themselves with small branches of them tied together, this stimulates the blood. They also used them to keep out the cold of the damp British climate. However this species of nettle is not common in the United Kingdom.
Urtica pilulifera

Urtica pilulifera

Nettles Urtica dioica have been used to make cloth, paper, fishing nets, sails, tablecloths, ropes and textiles since the Neolithic times. The German army used nettle for their uniforms in World War 1 However it took 40kg of nettles to make a single shirt. In the Second World War the leaves were used to make the green dye for the military uniforms.  Today nettles are again being used to make cloth as they are Eco-friendly and easy to grow. The tough fibres from the stem are used to make the cloth. It is reported that it is stronger than cotton and finer than hemp. People used to sleep between the sheets made from nettles.

Nettle Cloth

nettle fabric

 Nettles can also be used to make paper, however the process is complicated

Nettle Paper

nettle paper

There are records of nettle fibres being spun into ropes.

Nettle Rope

 The roots can also be made into a dye that is yellow (Mabey 1977).
The chlorophyll is used as a green dye and is listed as a food colorant (E140) by the European Community.

Dandelions control and allelopathy

Although where ever possible I am not a user of herbicides, dandelions could be considered an exception.

Even the smallest fragment of root will regenerate and with the production of hundreds of seeds from each plant the potential for regeneration of plants and spread of seedlings is immense.

Dandelions are broad leaved, herbaceous, perenial plants and therefore systemic weedkiller such as round up containing glyphosate or a herbicide containing 2,4-D such as Weed-B-Gon will kill them without damaging grass.

For those who prefer less commercial methods vinegar has been shown to kill dandelions when applied directly onto the leaves. However vinegar is not selective.

If using a commercial weedkiller the active ingredient is translocated from the leaves to the root. Glyphosate is inactivated when it contacts soil.  However, the time taken for it to become inactivated can vary from 3 days to over 2 years in Sweden. So the rate of degradation is closely linked with the soil type.

Glyphosate  inhibits the action of  an enzyme ( 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase) involved in the synthesis of amino acids tyrosine, tryptophan and phenylalanine. It is absorbed through foliage and translocated to growing points it is therefore only effective on actively growing plants.

2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid abbreviated as 2,4-D was one of the first herbicides to be used in the 1940s. It is inexpensive to manufacture and kills many broadleaved plants whilst leaving grasses largely unharmed. 

Obviously if dandelions are treated with herbicides they should not be used for food or medicine as they will be contaminated.

Regularly mowing the lawn reduces the height of the dandelions and their leaf area. It is possible to individually remove the plants but it is time consuming.

Dandelion root extracts have been demonstrated to inhibit seed germination and have therefore an allelopathic effect on other plants. Leaf extracts produced much less inhibition.

Dandelions nutritional content and medicinal usage

There are many nutients in dandelions including vitamins A,B1, B2, B3 C and E and minerals such as calcium , copper iron, magnesium and phosphorus. They contain more beta carotene than carrots, more potassium than bananas, more iron than spinach and more lecithin than soyabeans. Therefore despite its bitter taste dandelion is packed with nutrients.

The scientific name for dandelion Taraxacum officinale translates as an official remedy for disorders. The information is given here for interest. I have not tried these remedies or tested their efficacy or side effects and I am not recommending them. However, I have found them freely available on the internet or in books.

Culpapers herbal describes it as follows

 “It is under the dominion of Jupiter. It is of an opening and cleansing quality, and therefore very effectual for the obstructions of the liver, gall and spleen, and the diseases that arise from them, as the jaundice and hypocondriac; it opens the passages of the urine both in young and old; powerfully cleanses imposthumes and inward ulcers in the urinary passage, and by its drying and temperate quality doth afterwards heal them; for which purpose the decoction of the roots or leaves in white wine, or the leaves chopped as pot-herbs, with a few Alisanders, and boiled in their broth, are very effectual. And whoever is drawing towards a consumption or an evil disposition of the whole body, called Cachexia, by the use hereof for some time together, shall find a wonderful help. It helps also to procure rest and sleep to bodies distempered by the heat of ague fits, or other wise. The distilled water is effectual to drink in pestilential fevers, and to wash the sores.

You see here what virtues this common herb hath, and that is the reason the French and Dutch so often eat them in the Spring; and now if you look a little farther, you may see plainly without a pair of spectacles, that foreign physicians are not so selfish as ours are, but more communicative of the virtues of plants to people.”

Traditionally Dandelion greens applied as a poultice were used to treat breast cancer

The potassium present in the leaves provides dandelion with its diuretic properties. These diuretic properties have resulted in its use to ‘cleanse’ the kidneys and aid kidney stones.

 The bitter compounds in the leaves and root are reputed to stimulate digestion leaves by increasing bile production in the gall bladder and are mild laxatives. In France, dandelion flower buds are sometimes served with pickled beetroot as an apperatif. The increase in bile production which is stimulated by dandelions has led to its use in the treatment of liver complaints.

As so many compounds are present in dandelions the interaction of the various constituents may provide the beneficial properties rather than any one chemical.

The flowers have been used as a poultice for cuts and the latex like sap from the stalk was traditionally used to treat warts although there is some evidence that it can cause contact dematitis in susceptible individuals.

In summary the plant has been used for hundreds of years to treat a variety of disorders both internally and externally.