How to Make Wild Cleaver Coffee
Over the centuries many different grains and plants have been used as an alternative or substitute for coffee. In the 2nd World War acorns and chicory were used. Roasted rye, brown rice and malted barley have also been used across the world.
These are Cleaver seeds, Goosegrass (Galium aparine), sticky grass or sticky willy - as we called it as children. Cleavers makes the best alternative to coffee I know.
Related to coffee, when roasted their flavour resembles coffee’s taste and smell. Cleavers even contain some caffeine. Each plant can produce hundreds of seeds, anything from 300 to over a thousand. Giving you a bounty to forage if you have the patience. Oh, and a little perspective, by the time you’ve finished reading this page, you could have collected enough seeds to make a mug of cleaver coffee.
Where can you find cleavers?
Cleavers can be found in fields, crop fields and hedgerows. They prefer nutrient-rich soil, can survive dry conditions well and can grow from just above sea level up to 1,500 ft. A straggly, creeping plant that can grow more than 1 metre long. Each seed is covered in tiny hooks that attached themselves to, pretty much anything, except plastic.
When to harvest cleaver seeds?
The seeds start from summer; though these aren’t the ones you want to harvest. Instead, wait until they turn from green to brown in late summer or autumn. You can keep an eye out for them throughout winter too.
What are the benefits of cleaver seeds?
Cleaver seeds are a mild laxative, stimulate the lymphatic system and are good for treating urinary irritations. A word of warning though, don’t try and bite on dried cleaver seeds, they are very, very hard.
How to Make Cleaver Coffee
For committed coffee drinkers, this is the best wild substitute that you can find in the hedgerows. It may not impress expresso lovers though! However, it suits desserts faultlessly and can be used to make a coffee-flavoured drink with a mild caffeine hit.
Makes 90 g (9 tbsp)
100 g Cleaver seeds (picked off the stems)
Pick the dry, brown seeds and discard as much of the stems as possible. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C, place the seeds on a baking tray and dry roast for 45 minutes to an hour. The more seeds you have, the longer the roasting will take. An aroma reminiscent of weak coffee will be released when they are ready, and they’ll turn a little darker, though don’t let them burn.
Remove the seeds from the oven, allow to cool a little before grinding, or store and grind on demand. You’ll need a good, strong seed or coffee grinder to break those hard seeds into a ground powder. Stores well for up to a year.
Want to learn more and make some cleaver coffee?
Also, have you seen my dandelion coffee recipe? Dandelion roots and cleaver seeds are two wild edible plants I teach on my late summer, autumn and winter foraging courses. which you're welcome to join For my best recipes you may want to check out my foraging members options too.