CLEAVERS: Spring Drink
By Geraldine Lavin
Genus & Species: Galium aparine
Common Names: Cleavers, Bedstraw, Grip Grass
Tissue State: Atrophy
Organ Affinities: Nerves, Lymphatic, Kidneys, Genitourinary
Properties: Diuretic, Alterative, Anti-inflammatory, Tonic, Astringent
Taste: Sweet, Salty, Cool, Moist. Vanilla-like.
Parts Used: Aerial parts, during flowering, before going to seed. Fresh pressed juice.
Harvest: Cleavers should be harvested just as they begin to flower, and throughout their small flowering period. Once they begin to go to seed, they are no longer ideal for medicine making. The flowering period is about two weeks in late spring or early summer, depending on your location. Matthew Wood says to pick in flower “when it smells beautiful.” (personal communication, September 6, 2017)
Botanical Habit & Ethnobotanical Uses: Cleavers is a friendly little plant, familiar to many as a common “weed” of spring and early summer that has the property of velcro, so that one could snip a stem and stick it to their shirt as a makeshift corsage. This abundant plant creates small stands throughout North America and across Europe, making its home in fields, the edges of farms, vacant lots, and city sidewalks.
In spring, when does are giving birth to fawns, they are said to prefer using Cleavers as their bed, not only for it’s lush, billowy growth, which makes a fine bed – but also for it’s scent, which disguises theirs as they hide from predators during their period of vulnerability. Matthew Wood notes that some Native American tribes considered Cleavers to be “Deer Medicine”, remedies that relate specifically to the nerves, artists, and beauty.
Cleavers shines in the spring, a lush and important herb for cleansing the internal environment by working on the lymph, and preparing the body for the change of season. In the rural countryside, Cleavers is a noted ingredient in “Spring Drinks”. By mid-late summer, Cleavers becomes stringy, understated, and almost invisible amongst the lush growth of many other species.
Maude Grieve notes that both the Greeks and Swedes (as told by Dioscorides and Linnaeus, respectively) fashioned sieves out of the stems of Cleavers, as a filter to strain milk. Grieve reports that this use is still employed in Sweden today. (A Modern Herbal)
Key Uses: We are all familiar with the concept of spring cleaning. The work we are motivated to do when it’s finally time to throw the windows wide open, sweep out the dust, and prepare for the change in energy brought on by a new season. Cleavers is like that refreshing gust of wind, blowing through the house after a long winter, sweeping out last year’s debris and making way for the warmer weather. This is how Cleavers works in the body, a tonic for the lymphatic system, traditionally taken in the spring to clear out stagnation. David Hoffmann calls Cleavers the “best tonic to the lymphatic system available (Simple Herbal Extracts).” This is perhaps because many herbs specific to the lymphatic system are drying, or harsh, or simply unsuitable for daily use. Cleavers, however, is classified as a sweet tonic and safe enough for children. This is one of those herbs that is nourishing and building and gentle enough to be taken daily. It is one of the only lymphatics suitable for Vata people (Vata, being the dosha in Ayurveda that describes the constitution of someone who is thin, dry, and perhaps tending towards nervousness), though it is suitable for all constitutions. Cleavers should be considered for immediate use when a lymph node becomes newly enlarged, as it’s cooling nature can combat the inflammation.
The lymph channels that run through the breast are sometimes obstructed, causing cysts. Cleavers is noted by Matthew Wood and Thomas Easley as an excellent lymphatic deobstructant for polycystic breasts, and in this case should be taken as a tonic for 6-12 months.
Cleavers is a non-irritating diuretic, increasing the flow of urine and is appropriate for use where there is irritating and inflammation of the bladder, urethera, and vas deferens. This makes it a very valuable remedy for cystitis, benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostatitis, epididymitis, urethritis, chronic UTIs, and interstitial cystitis. Combined with soothing urinary demulcents, cleavers is an excellent part of a formula for any of the above conditions.
Cleavers should be considered in Psoriasis, or in skin conditions of a dry nature.
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 on the sheathes of the nerves, and that fresh cleavers juice should be considered when exposure to gluten is causing inflammation.
Overall, Cleavers is a tonic herb, soothing for inflammation in the lymph, nervous, kidney, and genitourinary system.
Constituents: Glycoside asperuloside, gallotannic acid, citric acid. (Hoffmann)
Warnings: Cleavers has diuretic properties, and should be therefore used with caution by people with diabetes or other conditions where taking something diuretic in nature might be irritating.
Preparation & Dosage: Culpeper notes that Cleavers is ruled by the moon. I wonder if this is because cleavers is one of the juiciest plants out there. When I was a younger herbalist, making tinctures by stuffing plants in jars and covering them with alcohol, Cleavers was the only one to ever go bad. The fresh herb has such a rich water content, that the 40% alcohol I was using from the state store was reduced to below 30% when combined with the cleavers, and my tincture went rotten. Lessons learned!
A few handfuls of fresh herb in a quart jar, just boiled water poured over, steeped for 15-20 minutes.
2-4 ml, 3 times a day – David Hoffmann
1-3 drops, 1-3 times a day – Matthew Wood
“3 oz. twice a day, but as it is a rather powerful diuretic, care should be taken that it is not given where a tendency to diabetes is manifested.” (A Modern Herbal)
The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism by David Hoffmann
The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism: Basic Doctrine, Energetics, and Classification by Matthew Wood
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal by Nicholas Culpeper
A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve “Clivers” https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/c/cliver74.html
Simple Herbal Extracts: Cleavers. David Winston. http://www.davidwinston.org/extracts/cleavers.html
Notes from classes with Thomas Easley & Matthew Wood The Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine, 2016-17