Cleavers (galium aparine) loves cool, moist soil and is often one of the first green plants I see pushing up through the leaves in the early spring. It is a gift of the spring, an offering of medicine – the exact medicine that our bodies crave this time of year!
Cleavers likes to grow in partial shade, where it can stay cool and moist, I often find it growing at the forest’s edge, or roadside. It does not tolerate heat well, so by the time early summer rolls around cleavers will go to flower and seed and die back, if it has not already. Sometimes, if there is a year with lush fall rains, a second flush of cleavers will grow in the late fall.
Cleavers has a square stem with whirls of small leaves (usually 6 with this variety) that appear every 1 – 3 inches along the stem. It can grow 12 – 36 inches tall and, in taller stands, you will sometimes see it branch. Cleavers will climb in an almost vine like way on bushes and other small shrubs, but it also does just fine supporting itself. A member of the bedstraw family, cleavers looks similar to other bedstraws, but can be easily differentiated by the matt finish of the leaves and the sticky hairs that it has covering the aerial parts. These coarse, hair like pieces of the plant cause it to cleave or stick to you, hence the common name, cleavers. When I say sticky, I do not mean sticky from a substance the way honey is sticky. I mean sticky like velcro – coarse hairs that cause friction and stick to clothing, fur and other materials. In fact, cleavers is often called nature’s velcro.
Cleavers is a wonderful fresh plant medicine. If you don’t mind the texture it is a wonderful spring edible, it can be added to soups or eaten raw in salads. The seeds are often collected at the end of the season, dried, ground and used as a coffee substitute.
Vitamin and Mineral rich, cleavers is a welcome treat after a long winter. It is also an excellent herb for the lymphatic system, supporting the movement of lymph fluids and easing congestion of swollen glands. It is the first herb I reach for when I have a sore throat or swollen glands. It is important for immune support as well, almost acting as an immune stimulate – since the lymph carries the specific immune response. It is an excellent herb for elimination support, great for skin issues of all varieties from acne to eczema to propensity to rashes and other sorts of inflammatory reactions.
Cleavers is also a mild diuretic and a urinary demulcent. It can be used in formulas for the urinary system, including those accompanied by infection. It is also a good ally for prostate issues including BPH and other inflammatory prostate conditions.
While a tea from dried cleavers will boast a wide range of vitamins and minerals, the lymphatic and diuretic properties do not hold up well in the dried plant. I recommend a fresh plant tincture of cleavers to make sure you have access to this important medicine all through the year. Once prepared, it will last 1 – 2 years. An adult dose of 30 – 60 drops, 2 – 3 times a day is usually appropriate for supporting any number of the things listed above.
Cleavers is an appropriate herb to use as a tonic in the spring to remineralize and support gentle cleansing. Consider adding it to your spring support protocol – it is a great way to help the body gracefully transition into spring. Enjoy!