Cleavers (Galium aparine)
I remember having a lot of fun with cleavers or “sticky weed” as a child. This is a wonderful sticky, prostate annual plant which often grows wild and prolifically against fences, in hedgerows, crop fields and beneath trees. I know I was not the only child who delighted every time I found a patch of sticky weed, throwing it at my friends to see it stick to their clothes and hair. If I had known then about how useful it is as a cleansing herb, I may have been more careful with it – or maybe not!
The leaves of Galium aparine grow in whorls of 4 – 8 around its stem, which can grow to 2 metres long. The plant’s sticky nature comes from tiny hooked hairs growing out from the leaves and ridges of the stems. It produces tiny greenish white flowers from May to October. Seeds are set in small sticky hairy burrs and can remain viable in soil for up to 7 years. The sticky hairs enable Galium aparine to grow upwards by clinging to other plants and fences. They also assist in seed dispersal.
Cleavers are held in high esteem as a spring tonic. The herb is said to promotes lymphatic flow, to be cooling, soothing and cleansing. It is best harvested when young and prolific from early February. It can be added to salads, though the hairs give an interesting effect, or cooked in a little water as a leaf vegetable.
Sometimes confused with…
As ever, when harvesting from the wild you should use a good field guide, be aware of look-a-like plants and follow the picking rules which I have mentioned previously. I think the most likely plant to be confused with Cleavers (Galium aparine) is Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum). Sweet Woodruff is also a useful herb but unlike Cleavers it contains substances which can be poisonous in very large doses. Sweet Woodruff is darker green and has sticky hairs on its seeds, but the leaves tend to be smooth. Sweet Woodruff is a perennial whereas Cleavers is an annual.
Cleavers juice – This is said to be the most potent way to consume cleavers. To make it all you need to do is to clean your harvested cleavers, chop it roughly and then squeeze out the juice through a jelly bag or clean tea towel. The recommended dose is 1 teaspoon, 2 – 3 times daily as a tonic.
Cleavers tea – Again, clean your harvested cleavers then chop it. Add 1-2 tsp of this per cup of boiled water.
Cleavers tincture – Harvest the top two thirds of plant when in flower or setting seed. Tincture in 100 proof vodka. Dosage is 0.5ml – 1ml in water a few times daily when called for.
Cleavers has a folk reputation as a remover of lumps and bumps. So enthusiastic were many claims that there has been some clinical research, in the hope that it could help reduce certain cancerous lumps. However the results were not supportive of the traditional claims.
Cleavers is often used by herbalists for cystitis, swollen glands, swollen breasts, PMS, mild lymphedema, prostatitis and as a diuretic for a general spring clean. Susun weed reports that it can also be helpful in reducing allergic reactions. Due to it’s gentle diuretic cleansing action, Galium aparine often also helps to ease some skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema and gout.