Cleavers

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Cleavers (Galium aparine)
cleavers is an excellent springtime tonic
photo by Richard Old

Botanical: Galium aparine

Family: Rubiaceae

parts used: aerial parts

actions: alterative, anti-inflammatory, aperient, astringent, cholagogue, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, lymphatic, tonic, vulnerary

energetics cold, dry, mildly bitter, sweet, salty

key constituents: Cleavers contains organic acids, flavonoids, tannins, fatty acids, glycoside asperuloside, gallotannic acid and citric acid.

common names: clivers, goosegrass, catchweed, stickyweed, robin-run-the-hedge, sticky willy, sticky willow, stickyjack, stickeljack, grip grass

It is much more fun to call cleavers goose grass. The geese love it. It is a climbing plant that grows along ditch banks, under trees, in rocky dirt piles, and in flower beds. I’m actually trying to think of a place where cleavers doesn’t grow. Even though you will read that it likes some shade, I have found it growing in full sun. And I don’t mean 6 hours a day is “full sun” I mean it grows where “the sun shines on it from the moment it rises until the moment it sets” full sun. Cleavers does like to find a fence or a tree or another plant that
grows tall so it can climb right on up with it. But if it can’t, it will form a dense mat or bed upon the ground. This is why some species are called bedstraw.

You will also read that the seeds of cleaver, if one will take the time to harvest them, makes a good substitute for coffee. Wonder why? Enquiring minds would like to know! Because dear herbal friend, believe it or not, coffee is in the same family, Rubiaceae, sort of makes sense then, doesn’t it? In the family of Rubiaceae, to which the Madder (Rubia tinctoria) and common weeds, like cleaver and sweet woodruff belong, there are almost 3,000 species; many of them of great benefit to people, both as food and supplement. Take, for example, the coffee tree, Coffea Arabica. Quinine (the first effective Western treatment for malaria) occurs naturally in the bark of several species of Cinchona. The medicinal properties of the cinchona tree were originally discovered by the Quechua (keech-wa), indigenous people to Peru and Bolivia. A very interesting story about the growth of “modern” herbals, you can find more here… Cinchona

Dioscorides, who brought to us in the 1st century AD the De Materia Medica, wrote that the Greek used this thick mat of grass to make a filter or ‘sieve’ to pour milk through, not only to remove any foreign bodies, but also to embed beneficial nutrients into the milk. This method is still used in Sweden.

Culinary Use of Cleavers

Culpepper in his “Complete Herbal” wrote…

It is a good remedy in the Spring, eaten (being first chopped small and boiled well) in water-gruel, to cleanse the blood, and strengthen the liver, thereby to keep the body in health, and fitting it for that change of season that is coming.

Using Cleavers for Wellness

cleavers-galium-aparine
cleavers, up close

Many herbalists will tell you (and it IS an understatement!) that to understand how Cleavers works in the body, you need to know a little about the lymphatic system that cleavers has such an affinity for. I couldn’t agree more. I have found it difficult to explain to people why such a much disliked pesky weed as this is SUCH a great herb. But let me try..

  • Because it acts as a diuretic, cleavers aids elimination of fluid toxins through the kidneys.
  • Cleavers is a blood purifier and helps to cleanse the circulatory system after a sluggish winter season.
  • May be helpful in hepatitis.

Cleavers is a mild diuretic and blood and lymphatic cleanser used for psoriasis, eczema, and other skin conditions. It has a particular affinity for the lymphatic system and may be used for swollen glands, tonsillitis, and as a lymph tonic. In Chinese medicine cleavers are used to disperse stagnancy and inflammation and for urinary problems. Cleavers make a useful addition to formulas to lower blood pressure. Cleavers are best used fresh or tinctured as they lose their effectiveness quickly after drying.

Cleaves is a lymphatic tonic enhancing lymphatic circulation aiding the body in its cleansing and immune work and purifying the blood. Recommended often by herbalists for lymphatic congestion, swollen lymph glands, and tonsillitis.

Dose: It is said that fresh plant juice (extracted with a juicer) is best as cleavers loses something with drying and too much heat. Fresh plant juice take 2-3 teaspoons in a little water three times a day. Infusion: 1 cup, 3x daily. Tinture: Fresh undried plant, 40-60 drops 3x daily.[1]

Safety:

  • GRAS, however, as the plant dries, coumarin (C9H6O2) is released. Therefore, it is advised that you should not take it with other anticoagulant medications.

Video!Herbalist David Hoffmann discusses the alterative herbs. Herbs discussed include cleavers, red clover and nettles.

Works Cited:

  1. Green, David “The Male Herbal”, 2nd Edition 2007
  2. Culpeper’s Complete Herbal
  3. McIntyre, Ann “The Complete Herbal Tutor” 2010 Endeavor House, London