Cleavers is a native to countries in Europe, North Africa, North America and also in Asia, but it is now found around the world, from Saskatchewan Canada to South Australia.
It grows in forests and other wooded areas, to fields and other cultivated crops, bush and shrubbery, gardens, to lawns and meadows.
The name Cleavers comes from the old English word, meaning “to cleave,” which means “to latch onto.” Not the other meaning of ‘to cleave’, meaning to separate or come apart.
The Greeks called it ‘philanthropon’, which means to ‘Love man’ as it has this spreading habit via clinging to people, as well as animals.
Pliny the Elder once suggested that “A pottage made of Cleavers, a little mutton and oatmeal is good to cause lankness and keepe from fatnesse.” he and the Roman physician Galen also understood its ability to prevent and treat oedema caused by water retention.
Due to its many hooked shaped hairs, which resembles velcro, and although the Greek physician Dioscorides had never heard of velcro, he also used it to curdle milk and filter. This tradition of filtering has been kept alive and is still used in countries such as Sweden, where people who milk cows would use the plant to strain out any animal hair, which may have fallen in during the milking process.
It was used by the Native American tribes to promote kidney health, and in China it has been used as an antiperspirant.
Some may not know it but, in the country of Turkey, it is called ‘yogurt otu’, meaning ‘yogurt herb’, this is because the plant literally contains an enzyme that can coagulate milk.
The Weed File
There are three main ‘cousins’ to Cleavers and they are: Sweet woodruff – Galium odoratum; Ladies’ bedstraw – Galium verum, and Madder – Rubia tinctorum.
Sweet woodruff: is a perennial plant that grows to an average height of 23cm with whorls of 6 to 8 shiny leaves and starry white flowers. Part used – leaves and flowers
Ladies’ bedstraw: (Yellow bedstraw or Our lady’s bedstraw) is similar to Sweet woodruff, but much more slender. It got its original name from its earlier use of ‘bedstraw’. Part used – leaves
Madder: is a perennial with more yellowy flowers, but is coarser and larger than Sweet woodruff, Parts used – roots
Another variety that some may know of is: the Three-horned bedstraw – Galium tricornutum. The South Australian and Western Australian governments consider this as serious weed problem.
In my own personal opinion, for all that it is worth, is if you have a serious problem with Cleavers, is to graze it out. As all the aerial parts are edible, therefore, one should rotate both their crops and grazing animals. It seems to be a specific issue in canola and therefore, we would need to make sure it is thoroughly eaten out before the seed has a chance to form and throwing in a few chickens or geese for good measure.
Most would say that I’m a nutter for suggesting this, but why couldn’t some folks literally carry several thousand chickens around in trucks going from farm to farm acting as weed cleaners and pest eradicators for farmers?
How To Use Cleavers
There are only a few culinary uses for Cleavers, but its principle use is medicinal. Which isn’t really a concern, as it is a fantastic herb to use medicinally.
Many of the common afflictions which humans suffer from, can either be helped greatly or even in some small way by adding it to a formula combined with other herbs.
We all face skin issues such as acne, dermatitis, dry skin, psoriasis and eczema throughout our lives, and this is one of its areas it excels in.
The other very important area in which Cleavers excels in, is the lymphatic system, and although this is related to many skin issues, it can help clean deeper into our bodies. This means it can clean our blood, help with swollen lymph nodes and infections, clearing them out of your system.
With most herbal teas, pouring in boiling hot water is usually just fine, but with Cleavers you should not use boiling hot water, just very warm, as it destroys some of its vital constituents. The infusion of Cleavers tea can be a beneficial wash for the skin, so if you want to have a more therapeutic infusion, it is even better to make a cold infusion.
Simple Cleavers Tea
To make a simple tea, place 1 teaspoon (or 2 teaspoons fresh) of dried Cleavers into a cup and pour in the very warm water, wait five minutes and drink.
Now how’s that for simple, being healthier just couldn’t be easier.
Customised Cleavers Teas
I don’t have too many recipes to offer here, but one that would work and especially with Urinary Tract Infections (UTI’s) would be to have equal parts of both Cleavers and Raspberry leaf, say, 1 heaped teaspoon of each, placed into a cup, pour in very warm water, not boiling, wait about 5 minutes and than add a sweetener, and enjoy.
Culinary Uses of Cleavers
There not many culinary uses for cleavers, mostly medicinal, but you can use it in green smoothies, as it does have a high chlorophyll content, which would also help with magnesium intake. In some places around the world, it is used as a ‘spring tonic’ because it cleanses the lymphatics and the blood.
The dried and roasted seed of Cleavers can be used as a coffee substitute.
Cleavers was consumed in China as a vegetable, probably steamed, as its the ‘furriness’ that throws most people off. Cooking it in some ways gets rid of the ‘fur’ and then could used in various dishes as a green vegetable.
Health Uses of Cleavers
Cleavers has been used now for many centuries as a folk medicine and most specifically for skin ailments.
Probably one of its most important benefits is that it helps to remove metabolic waste from your body. This is why it is called a ‘lymphatic’, meaning that it helps to move the lymph and the waste it carries along the lymphatic system, into the blood stream and ultimately out of the body.
That is why it is so good for skin conditions
Cleavers can be used in all sorts of herbal preparations, but the most effective method is to prepare a succus, that is, a well pressed fresh juice preserved in a little alcohol.
But another very useful method is to make a herbal oil, then after this process, it can be used in creams, ointments and salves, to treat the skin, or simply as a massage oil for dry skin.
Each herbal preparation tends to be more effective for different conditions, so when we come to other skin issues, such as, burns, blisters and open sores, or your skin has come in contact with a poisonous plant, then a poultice would be better.
To make a poultice for such, all you need to do is thoroughly mash up the leaves and stems into a thick pulp and layer it on fairly thickly. As its cooling affect will often soothe on its own let alone the medicinal benefits.
A specific formula for cleansing the blood is to use equal parts of Cleavers, Bladderwrack and Ground ivy.
Another for cystitis, is to use equal parts of Cleavers, Marshmallow and Iceland moss. This is prepared as a tea and drunk 3 times per day.
There is a homeopathic version too.
Gardening Uses of Cleavers
There really isn’t too many reasons for gardening with Cleavers, other than to use it as an addition to your herb garden, and then growing it for personal use. You could use it along a trellis as a shield, but personally I would use other more attractive plants for this.
One of the reasons it it called ‘goosegrass’, is that geese and as well as chickens, love the leaves and seed it produces. So you could grow it in the middle of the chicken run, (not on the outer edge) with a protective mesh around it just far enough away from the plant so the chickens or geese don’t over graze it.
Also, it can be used as a dried flowering plant or potpourri as it does have a fresh hay aroma to it.
Dyeing with Cleavers, Madders and Ladies’ bedstraw
If you make a strong decoction from the root, you can create a red dye, so much so, that it is said to even make your bones dyed red. Not sure what that would be useful for? You are best to wait at least 2 years before digging these up for dying purposes.
How to Grow Cleavers
Cleavers is a climbing or creeping annual that can grow to a height of approximately 1.2m / 4′ tall, and has small white to greenish white flowers. The lanceolate leaves form whorls of 6 to 9 leaves and fruits have small hairs that are hooked, helping to give it one of it’s names ‘Sticky willy’, thereby sticking to your clothes.
Due to its ability to spread so well and then grow up and over your favourite plants elsewhere, it is probably best to grow it in a large pot in a position that helps to prevent it spreading via dropping its seed and from people and animals passing by.
Cleavers has very little trouble propagating from seed, and all that I would suggest here, is just follow basic plant propagating from seed procedures as common to growing from seed. The best time for attempting to grow from seed is about mid-spring.
The only other thing I would suggest specifically here, and what I mentioned above, is to be careful where you plant it, as it can take over areas and escape, so keep it in pots using a trellis for it to climb on, and place it in spot that it is preventive from self-propagating.
I do not know much about it reproducing from cuttings, but I would say that it can quite easy to do. Simply because it is a fairly vigorous plant, of which most farmers personally hate, especially canola producers.
Cleavers likes a range of sunlight from full to partial shade, but prefers it more on the partial shade side.
If you are growing in the garden or in a pot, it would be a good idea to prepare a trellis, to train it on, this way, it would be easier to harvest and keep clean, as in, off the ground.
Pest and Diseases
Cleavers can get the odd pest or disease, but on the whole, it is generally free from these concerns. In fact, if a bug was more attracted to Cleavers instead your favourite flowering plant, well you are better off.
Soil and Fertiliser
Cleavers preference is for rich fertile loamy soils, and if you are going to fertilise it, then a more higher nitrogen content is preferred, and soils that are slightly moist are always better.
Climate and water
Being a plant that loves temperate regions, it can suit many places around the world and the reason I say this, is because even if your not in a temperate region, often one can adjust situations around them creating a microclimate and can accommodate the difference.
The time to harvest Cleavers is in spring, but during the early part of the flowering stage. It is not normally grown as a ‘crop’ but is often harvested from wild sources. So if you are looking for this herb, first find out where it grows wild near you.
A particular issue when drying Cleavers, is that it has a very high water content, as much as 90%. So when drying cleavers, you will need to make sure that you supply plenty of good ventilation (air movement) with gentle heat, rotate or turn over frequently, or better still, use a fine mesh to place it on so as to allow air flow from beneath as well, and low humidity would be advisable.
If you dry it carefully following the rules above, you should have dry and crispy leaves in about 2 days depending on the climate.
Properly dried and stored Cleavers can keep for 1 to 2 years. Always store your dried herbs in dark coloured glass jars or bottles, out of the sunlight and in a dark, cool dry place.
Fresh Cleavers does not store well, due to its high water content of 90%, so you should use it fairly quickly, or you can store it in the fridge for a few days in the crisper.
The information below is for informational and education purposes only. So please do not “self-treat”. When seeking any ‘therapeutic’ advice always see a Qualified Health Care Professional first.
Clivers, Goosegrass, Catchweed, Stickyweed, Robin-run-the-hedge, Sticky willy, Sticky willow, and Velcro weed
Daily minimum to maximum dosage: 6.0 – 12.0 grams
Depurative/alterative, tonic, lymphatic, diuretic, detoxifier, astringent, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, adaptogen, and anti-neoplastic
Chronic and dry skin disorders, such as dermatitis, eczema, acne, psoriasis, rosacea, urticaria, sunburn, enlarged/swollen or inflamed lymph glands (specific indication), cervical and neck nodes, nodular goitre, urinary tract infection, asthma, gout, and earache. Plus, Kidney stones and inflammation, dysuria, lymphadenitis, and lymphadenopathy
Iridoid glycosides – monotropein, coumarin glycoside, citric acid, galiosin, scopoletin, tannin, phenolic acids, flavonoids, derivatives of anthraquinone, and polyphonic acids
Please remember, this blog cannot and should not replace a health care professional, and is for informational and educational purposes only and is not for medical advice or treatment, and no cure is implied in any way. If you have a known serious condition, or are pregnant, please consult your health care professional, before use.
Russell a.k.a Herbal Panda
“We should always be sure of what we cleave to, to be safe from what we may be cleaved from.”Herbal Panda