April 29, 2015

Gather Cleavers for Springtime Medicine - Photo by Mojave Wildflowers/Flickr (HobbyFarms.com)

I have a favorite spot in one of my gardens that I like to visit this time of year. My husband will want to till it soon, and per my usual habit, I will have to figure out a way to mark out this corner as a place he cannot disturb. The spot in question is where my cleavers (Galium aparine) grow. I visit them almost daily in the spring. They only last a short while, and by the time the summer heat arrives, I won’t find them anymore.

The Clinging Plant

Cleavers fascinate me both because of their history and their structure. This tiny plant seems so delicate, yet it has found a way to get what it needs in some tough conditions. It typically grows in shaded areas and seems almost awkwardly designed. It has long stems broken up at intervals with a whorl of leaves, making it look like a rather long-necked woman with a collar just under her chin. As the plant grows it extends these long necks over and over again as it reaches to creep or to climb, almost as if the plant doesn’t have the strength to stand on its own.

To help it reach for sunlight, cleavers clings to nearby plants, using their strength to reach beyond the shade of the undergrowth. This is one of the first things most people notice about cleavers. Along the plant are tiny spines bent back on themselves, making the plant feel soft and sticky. It’s a fun plant to share with children.

It’s easy to see how cleavers first captured the imagination of humanity. Cleavers’ clinging habit extends to the seeds, which allow them to be transported by hair, fur, skin and clothing. Folks quickly found that the way the plant tends to cling to itself made it a supreme strainer in the kitchen, as well as it a bedding material that didn’t mash down as readily as other plant material. For this reason, it was often referred to as bedstraw.

Gather Cleavers for Springtime Medicine - Photo by Jon Sullivan/Flickr (HobbyFarms.com)

Master Decongestant

The way this plant can be used as a filter leads into how it’s used in the body. As with many plants that appear in the spring, cleavers is good at removing congestion, but in a more body general way than just focusing on the lungs. If you think about how this plant gently grabs at your fingers as you pet it, you can imagine how it works in the waterways of our body to gently grab at deposits and carry them to an exit. Cleavers has successfully been used in the circulatory system to clear cholesterol deposits, in the liver, and in the urinary tract to remove stones and calculi. Perhaps one of my favorite uses for cleavers is in the lymphatic system, particularly to improve the skin condition of psoriasis. For those with recurrent urinary tract infections or thyroid imbalance, this tiny weed can be a great find.

Preserve Your Cleavers

If you have cleavers in your garden like I do, be sure to preserve a bit of it in oil or alcohol before the tiller comes through. This plant doesn’t preserve its phytochemicals very well once dried. It’s important to make medicine as soon as you can after picking it. Once you’ve got it preserved in a liquid medium, this gentle herb can be used by almost anyone to improve health and well being.

Be on the lookout for these other springtime flowers:

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