Cleavers are a small creeping vine in the Rubiaceae family that grows along the ground and over the tops of other plants, attaching themselves with the small hooked hairs which grow out of the leaves and angular stems. The leaves are simple, narrowly oblanceolate to linear, and arranged in whorls. Cleavers have tiny, star-shaped, white to greenish flowers, which emerge in the early spring and summer. The flowers are clustered in groups of two or three, and grow from the leaf joints. The globular fruits grow in clusters and are covered with hooked hairs that can cling to animal fur, aiding in seed dispersal. Cleavers can be found along the Pacific coast of North America and in the Eastern United States. The leaves should be gathered before the plant flowers, and shade dried. Cleavers grow best in moist soils dense with leaf litter in partial sun, but can tolerate some dryer soils as well. It can be started by seed, and once established, is a prolific self-sower.
Cleavers is a good lymphatic tonic that has both alterative and diuretic qualities. It’s commonly taken as an infusion and used to treat swollen glands, tonsillitis, and adenoid troubles, and has been though to treat ulcers and tumors through lymphatic drainage, which helps detoxify the system. It is also useful to soothe and treat dry skin conditions, such as psoriasis, especially when combined with yellow dock root and burdock. It’s diuretic qualities make it useful for treating cystitis and urinary tract problems. Externally, the juice from the crushed leaves and fruits can be made into salves and poultices to stop bleeding and aid in wound and sore healing. Cleavers can also be prepared as a tincture.
The leaves and young stems can also be cooked and eaten as a vegetable, and the barbed stems are used as a sieve in Sweden for straining and curdling milk to make cheese. It was also used in Europe as a mattress stuffing, giving cleaver’s it’s other common name, bedstraw. Cleaver roots are used to make a permanent red dye.
2-3 teaspoons of dried herb per cup of water, infused for 10-15 minutes, taken three times daily. As a tincture, 2-4ml taken three times daily.
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