March 28 is National Weed Day (it might be weeding day, but it is March so I am not weeding anything yet!), so I decided to make the herb of the week a plant you would not grow but may harvest and use as it grows wild and is considered by many to be a weed.
I remember having a lot of fun with cleavers or “velcro weed” as a child. This wonderful sticky, annual plant often grows wild and prolifically against fences, in hedgerows, crop fields and beneath trees. we used to play in the farm field next door grabbing it and throwing it at each other. My sister would make messages on my back. Usually "Bite me!" Back then I was not into the medical properties of anything, let along a playful weed, but recently I came across information on Urban Herbology that details its use as a as a cleansing herb.
Cleavers (Galium aparine) - Herb of the Week
|Cleavers (Galium aprine)|
Cleavers must spread seed as it is an annual, dying out entirely during winter, to spring anew each Spring Native to the grassy savanna along river banks in Canada, the eastern half of the U.S., and along the Pacific Coast. It does produce a taproot, so can be hard to eradicate during the growing season. The stem is slender, weak and square. Small, white or greenish-white flowers appear from May to September. The plant exudes a strong, honey-like odor, but actually has a bitter flavor.
The herb is said to promotes lymphatic flow, to be cooling, soothing and cleansing. It is best harvested when young and prolific. Depending on your weather this can be as easy as March, but it becomes most abundant after the first week of summer. It can be added to salads, though the hairs give an interesting effect, or cooked in a little water as a leaf vegetable. If gathering it for making a medicinal tincture, you should strive to collect the plant in July, for a spring tonic gather as easily in the year as you can when shoots are still young.
PLEASE NOTE: As ever, when harvesting from the wild you should use a good field guide, be aware of look-a-like plants. I think the most likely plant to be confused with Cleavers (Galium aparine) is Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum). In the same family they have a similar whorl of leaves and small white flowers that appear in May, but Sweet Woodruff has smooth slightly darker leaves that are a bit more pointed. They also prefer a more shady area to grow in. Sweet Woodruff is a helpful herb for insect and moth repellents, but unlike Cleavers it contains substances which can be poisonous in very large doses. Sweet Woodruff is also a perennial that will stay close to the same area year after year, while annual Cleavers get spread around because of the sticky stems and seeds.
Historically cleavers are seen as a wonderful cleansing remedy, clearing toxins from the system and reducing heat and inflammation. Cleavers has a diuretic action, aiding elimination of wastes, and also acts to enhance the lymphatic system, promoting lymphatic drainage of toxins and wastes so that they can be excreted via the urinary system. These actions combine to make cleavers excellent for fluid retention, skin problems,. Including eczema, psoriasis, acne, boils, abscesses, urinary infections. urinary stones and gravel, arthritis and gout. Cleavers can be used for lymphatic problems, such as lymphatic congestion and swollen lymph glands, congestion of the breasts, and is said to have anti-tumor activity, particularly when in the skin or breasts, and the lymphatic system.
Cleavers cools heat and inflammation in the body, seen in conditions such as cystitis, arthritis, inflammatory skin problems and digestive problems. Its bitter properties stimulate liver function and enhance digestion and absorption. A cooling drink made of cleavers was traditionally given every spring to "clear the blood".
The fresh leaves can be applied to cuts or wounds to check bleeding and speed healing. The juice or an infusion can be used to bathe varicose ulcers, or the fresh leaves can be made into a poultice. You can also blanch the fresh leaves and add to soups or as a substitute for spinach in quiche or similar recipes.
I thought about picking some to put on the sunburn I got out bike riding in Wisconsin this past weekend, where I took this picture. But I decided to gather it at home instead.
Tincture of Cleavers2 cups 100 proof vodka or Everclear4 to 5 feet of Cleaver plant material
UPDATE: For details on making a tincture, see my post from March 2017
To use: According to Urban Herbology you can take a dose of 0.5ml – 1ml in a glass of water a few times daily when called for.