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Cleavers (Galium aparine) - a Spring Drink

17.4.19

Personally, I always get just a little excited when I see the cleavers coming through in early Spring. For me it's a major landmark, along with seeing the new nettle shoots, the first daffs and the first blossom.

Cleavers is a standout medicinal, and also very generous as once it gets going it’s not long before it’s smothering everywhere with its Velcro charm, before it becomes stringy and almost invisible by summer. Overall, Cleavers is a tonic herb, soothing for inflammation in the lymph, nervous, kidney, and genitourinary system.

I use it extensively for its lymphatic system affinity, which also connects to the skin and lungs; it’s such an effective herb for cleansing the internal environment by working on the lymphatics, especially in spring to sweep out lymph winter stagnation. Many respected herbalists consider cleavers the 'best tonic to the lymphatic system available', and in rural folk medicine cleavers was – and still is - a major ingredient in a Spring Tonic.

Cleavers is classified as a sweet, moist tonic, safe enough for children. It’s a gentle, nourishing, building herb; in Ayurvedic medicine it’s considered one of the only lymphatics suitable for Vata people (Vata; the dosha in Ayurveda that describes the constitution of someone who is thin, dry, and perhaps tending towards nervousness).

Cleavers should be considered for immediate use when a lymph node becomes enlarged, as it’s cooling nature will swiftly go to work on the inflammation. Another classic lymph blockage syndrome can occur in the breast tissue lymph channels, which can also become blocked, causing cysts. Cleavers is noted by Matthew Wood and Thomas Easley, both esteemed herbalists, as an excellent lymphatic deobstructant for polycystic breasts, with cleavers recommended to be taken as a tonic for 6-12 months.

The skin and lungs also benefit from cleavers’ affinity with the lymphatic system, as both these organs rely on the lymphatics to drain away congestion. Dry skin conditions such as Psoriasis also benefit from cleavers.

I also like to use cleavers as an effective, non-irritating diuretic which helps increase the flow of urine, as it has a valuable association to the kidneys and urethra. It’s especially useful in cases of irritation and inflammation of the bladder, urethra, and vas deferens (the duct which conveys sperm from the testicle to the urethra). This makes cleavers a valuable support for chronic UTIs and cystitis.

The nervous system can benefit from cleavers as well. Matthew Wood’s specific indications for someone in need of cleavers are “nervousness, sympathetic excess, skin tickles and itches easily, a feeling of fussiness, insatiability, irritability, and 'not myself'.” Thomas Easley notes that cleavers acts beneficially on the nerve sheathes, and that fresh cleavers juice should be considered during gluten gut inflammation.

Preparation & Dosage

  • Standard infusion - a few handfuls of fresh herb, or 30g dry, to 1-litre just-boiled water poured over, covered and steeped for 15-20 minutes. Strain and decant to a thermos to keep warm. Sip throughout the day.
  • Tincture - 2-4 ml or 1-3 drops, either direct under the tongue or mixed with a shot of water, 3 times a day. This is my preferred method as try as I do, I really struggle with the taste of some herbal teas - straight green or jasmine teas, no problem, but earthy teas like nettle and cleavers ... shudder ...
  • Pressed Juice: 100ml twice a day.

Trivia-time

  • Maude Grieve notes that both the Greeks and Swedes (as told by Dioscorides and Linnaeus respectively) used cleavers as a natural sieve to strain milk through; apparently this method is still in use in parts of Sweden today.
  • Native american tribes consider cleavers to be deer medicine; amongst deers’ many preferences for cleavers, does will also purposely root out cleavers as beds for their fawn, not only because its billowy growth makes a great mattress, but also for its scent which disguises theirs as they hide their babies from predators.

Common Names: Cleavers, Bedstraw, Grip Grass

Tissue State: Atrophy (wasted away, especially as a result of the degeneration of cells)

Organ Affinities: Nerves, Lymphatic, Kidneys, Genitourinary

Properties: Diuretic, Alterative, Anti-inflammatory, Tonic, Astringent

Constituents: Glycoside asperuloside, gallotannic acid, citric acid. (Hoffmann)

Taste: Sweet, salty, cool, moist, vanilla-like.

Parts Used: Aerial parts, during flowering and before going to seed. Fresh pressed juice comes highly recommended.

Harvest: Matthew Wood says to pick in flower “when it smells beautiful.” Cleavers should be harvested just as they begin to flower, and then throughout their flowering period, stopping once they begin to go to seed. Depending on your location, the flowering period is around 2-weeks in late spring or early summer.