Cleaver Plant Benefits and Medicinal Uses | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Benefits of the Cleavers Plant: A Spring Herb for Health

Cleavers herb in a small wicker basket

Cleavers (Galium aparine)

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Natural medicinal uses of cleavers!

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Like the dandelion, a wild plant called “cleavers” arrives in springtime. Cleavers is one of the most useful herbs in our home! She is an amazing spring cleanser and lymph mover, removing waste and abnormal cells. Learn how to identify this plant, the health benefits of cleavers, and how to use this medicinal herb in your home.

You may not be familiar with the cleavers plant (Galium Aparine), though you’ve probably come across this unassuming “weed” outdoors in your yard, along a street, or in a park. It’s not as flashy as the yellow-flowered dandelion. But, like to the dandelion, cleavers is also an edible plant with medicinal uses, joining many other wild plants, including violet, chickweed, purslane, and stinging nettle. Other common names for cleavers are goose grass, bedstraw, and cleaver wort.

The unusual name, “cleavers,” comes from her most identifying feature… the fact that she sticks (or cleaves) to clothing and even the skin by way of the tiny hairs along her stem and seed pods. In fact, this plant is said to be one of the inspirations for Velcro. Her botanical name, Galium, is Greek for milk, due to the curdling property of the leaves, used in cheesemaking, particularly in England.

When I see cleavers come up in our gardens in the spring, I don’t see her as a weed as many gardeners do. She is the people’s medicine. Free and available for those who know how to identify and bring her into the home.

How to Identify Cleavers

  • Cleavers’ leaves grow right from the main stem, circling the stem in whorls of 5 to 10, but usually 8 oblong leaves that come to a point.
  • Her flowers have 4 tiny white (or white-ish) petals and grow from the base of the stems.
  • The flowers arrive in late spring or early summer.
  • But most notably, cleavers is known for her tiny hooked hairs that act like Velcro. She will stick to your clothes if you brush her. This is her most defining characteristic.
  • While cleavers will most often be found growing along the ground, if given a chance, they will climb up trees or anything around it, using their hairs to cling and climb to up to 6 feet.
  • Arriving in early spring, this herb will die back as the summer heat arrives. As a perennial, she will return in the same spot every year and often spread if given the chance. Cleavers prefers temperate climates but can also be found in some tropical places.
  • As always, consult a good foraging guide to ensure correct identification.

If you don’t have access to cleavers plants in nature, you can also buy cleavers herb tinctures or dried cleavers herb online.

Cleavers is an amazing lymph mover

The lymphatic system removes waste, decreases congestion, and reduces swelling. Have you ever had swollen lymph nodes around your jaw or neck, armpits, or even the groin? This is how you know your lymphs are blocked and/or you are fighting off sickness. The lymphatic system in the body is deeply connected to our immune system function, though it’s often overlooked.

The lymphatic system runs through the body through vessels and capillaries, similarly to the cardiovascular system. In fact, wherever you find blood vessels, you are likely to find lymphatic capillaries.

All those lymph vessels and capillaries help to drain fluids from areas of the body where they need to be moved and usher them through the kidneys and out of the body.  During this process, the fluid flows through lymph nodes, filtering out debris and pathogens on their way.  Think of this system like a sewer system. You definitely don’t want a clogged sewer system.  A clogged, dry or slow moving lymphatic system means all systems in the body are compromised by the lack of movement in this important system.  As this fluid is being moved and filtered, the lymphatic system jumps in to help kickstart the immune system response when a pathogen or bug enters the body.

How does Cleavers help support this important system in the body?

How does nature know how to heal? Cleavers appears in early spring, right when our sluggish immune systems need a cleansing spring tonic and a boost!

Cleavers is cooling diuretic, meaning it moves water and lymph out of the body through the urinary tract. The cooling property of cleavers also helps to soothe inflammation that can come with swollen or stuck lymph in the body.  Because the lymphatic system is so closely connected to the immune system, taking cleavers can also help move things along when experiencing sickness.

Other times to look to Cleavers

  • Cleavers can help support the urinary tract, especially for someone experiencing a urinary tract infection.
  • When one is experiencing extra water weight and bloating, cleavers can help move the water through the body and relieve that swelling.
  • Cleavers can help cool inflamed skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis.

Recipes to Use Cleavers in your Home

Cleavers is most notably an herbal medicine but is also known to be used as food.  Because of the tiny hairs, I don’t find this plant enjoyable to eat. But if you wish to use the leaves for a salad or soup, harvest only the youngest leaves very early in the spring before the leaves’ tiny hairs become more pronounced. John Parkinson notes that the seeds can be dried and used as a coffee substitute in his book, “The Herbalist’s Bible”.

Cleavers is best used as a nourishing herbal infusion. This term, coined by Herbalist, Susan Weed, refers to a long infused tea that takes on more of a nourishing food-like quality rather than a casual tea. To a one quart jar, fill loosely with fresh cleavers stems and leaves (flowers too if it’s in flower) and pour over boiling water.  Place a lid on the jar and let steep for 4 to 6 hours.  Strain and refrigerate and drink with ice and a sprig of mint.

Making a Cleavers vinegar can preserve the medicine for months and create a versatile way to use this potent herb. Use a quart jar, fill with chopped cleavers loosely halfway up the jar. Use a clean spoon or chopstick to stir and push the herb down.  Make sure the vinegar completely covers the herb. Fill the jar with organic apple cider vinegar.  I like to use parchment paper over the opening before placing the lid on the jar to keep the metal lid from rusting (or from a plastic lid coming in contact with the acidic vinegar).  Allow to steep for 4 weeks.  Strain and use in the kitchen when making dressings or cooking.  You can also add a shot of this vinegar to water or beverages.  You can also add to the bath!

Making a juice with cleaves is also a wonderful, very potent way to receive lymph and kidney support.  Juice large amounts of the stems and leaves.  You can take a small shot of the straight juice or add this juice to a beverage or water or even make a veggie juice with this cleavers juice as part of the recipe.  I personally love to freeze the juice in ice cube trays to preserve the cleavers and use an ice cube or two in a beverage when I feel I need the support of this herb. You can freeze the juice for a few months to have it on hand. 

I encourage you to get to know this herbal ally and bring her into your home. Your Lymphatic System will thank you!

Contraindications: Cleavers is contraindicated in diabetes due to its diuretic action. Those experiencing edemas due to impaired heart or kidney function also are cautioned in taking diuretics in many medical texts. As always, avoid herbs if you are pregnant and/or breastfeeding, and talk to your health care practitioner before introducing any new herb into your life. There are no known herb-drug interactions with cleavers.

Learn about 20 edible weeds in the garden!

About The Author

Audrey Barron

Audrey Barron is a herbalist, writer, and herbal farmer in Indianapolis, Indiana. Read More from Audrey Barron

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