Thursday 29 April 2010

Guest blog post: Cleavers

Today's guest blogpost is by Jacki, another of my apprentices. She tells the story of her discovery of cleavers


Until a few weeks ago I’d never even heard of Cleavers (Galium aparine)! I hadn’t included it as one of my herbs to study as part of the apprenticeship with Sarah. I guess I couldn’t have really if I’d never heard of it! I’ve become more aware of it and how it could be useful to me. Recently, I started asking questions and researching it and, as promised, below is the outcome.

I do recall it growing, at the bottom of my garden, sometimes completely covering the old fencing by the end of summer. Since the new fencing was erected I don’t see it anymore. I think it has ended up in my neighbour’s garden. I wonder if I could ask for it back! I doubt it still exists to be honest; she is very handy with the weedkiller spray.

I can’t remember what first drew my attention to it more recently. I’m thinking perhaps I was just browsing in a book and one of the alternative names given to it caught my eye. Afterall, who wouldn’t be curious about a name like ‘sticky willy?!

It has many other names: Goosegrass, Barweed, Catchweed, Cleavers, Cleavers Goosegrass, Cleever, Clivers, Eriffe, Goosebill, Goosegrass, Grateron, Grip Grass, Hayriffe, Hayruff, Hedge Clivers, Hedgeheriff, Loveman, Mutton Chops, Robin-run-in-the-Grass, Scratweed, to name a few.

It’s found in Australia, Britain, China, Europe, Iraq, Mexico, Turkey and the US. It grows anywhere but prefers a loose moist soil in partial shade. It will reproduce easily and can be invasive (really!). Although the origin is debatable Angela Paine has included it in her book exclusively about Celtic Herbs.

It uses little hooked bristles on the stems and leaves to attach itself to objects and climb its way upwards. I remember looking at it one year and feeling the fuzzy roughness.

The leaves are narrow, spear-shaped and occur in rounds of six to eight leaves, at intervals, along the stem. Flowers bloom April thru til September. They are white and star-like, growing on a separate stem rising from the same point as the leaves. The seeds are contained in little round balls, covered with hooked bristles that attach themselves to everything and anything that brushes passed them, which ensures dispersal of the seeds.

It is edible raw. I have a friend who has started cutting it up and putting it on her porridge in the morning...but I’ve always thought her rather strange! It can be used as a pot-herb (which my online dictionary tells me means, any plant having leaves, flowers, stems, etc., that are used in cooking for seasoning and flavouring or are eaten as a vegetable) or it can be added to soups. I have a lovely recipe for a kind of pastry-less quiche. I often make it when I have a glut of eggs. It is great warm but can be sliced and eaten cold. It contains, butternut squash (or is it sweet potato?), red onions, eggs, spinach and is topped with feta cheese before baking. I would like to try substituting the spinach for cleavers one day.

I read somewhere (?) that using the plant as a vegetable has a slimming effect on the body but there wasn’t any further explanation. Perhaps it is how it helps the elimination process that accounts for this but I’m unsure. Does anybody have any further information?

Several sources quote Cleaver seeds as a good coffee substitute. It simply needs to be dried and lightly roasted and supposedly has much the same flavour as coffee. I find it quite surprising that this isn’t better known. I have every intention of collecting the seeds and will, hopefully, be trying it out on beware! I thought a good way of accumulating a large enough supply would be to simply send the dogs off through the undergrowth because they will come back covered in them whether I want them to or not. For some reason Sarah didn’t seem to think this would be the best way to harvest the seed!

Medicinally it is used both internally and externally in the treatment of a wide range of ailments.

A quick inventory: it is said to be alterative (gradually induces a change, tending to cure or restore to health), anti-inflammatory, antiphlogistic (counteracting inflammation), aperients (purgative), astringent, depurative (promotes elimination via natural channels of the body), diaphoretic (inducing perspiration), diuretic, febrifuge (lowers body temperature to prevent or alleviate fever), tonic and vulnerary (wound healing).

(Please forgive my need for the definition of certain words but I had to go back to my dictionary to clarify some of the meanings)

The fresh plant or juice is used as a medicinal poultice for wounds or ulcers. Other skin problems such as seborrhoea (greasy, oily), eczema and psoriasis will benefit from using it externally on the affected area. A ‘tea’ can be made for this by placing one teaspoon (I’m guessing this means dried) of cleavers in a cup of boiling water and allowing the mixture to steep for at least thirty minutes. Use it to wash the skin when it has cooled. It is a good hair tonic and can help alleviate dandruff.

Cleavers is an excellent herb for the urinary system. It increases the amount of toxicity eliminated by the kidneys and can help soothe cystitis.

As a good cleansing herb it will assist liver problems. It will help clear the liver of toxins. Cleavers is often used to detoxify after long periods of using medications that damage the body. It is a general detoxifying agent in serious illnesses such as cancer. It is used particularly for cancer involving the lymphatic system.

Cleavers stimulate the lymphatic system and relieves swollen lymph glands. The lymphatic system is responsible for eliminating the toxins and waste products that accumulate in the body. If the system is not functioning properly the removal of the toxins can become sluggish and impaired. Too much toxicity and the lymphatic system can actually become damaged itself.

Its detoxifying effect can help rheumatoid arthritis and gout. I think I also saw some information about cleavers being useful for high blood pressure but I seem to have lost that somewhere along the way.

An infusion of the herb has shown to benefit in the treatment of glandular fever, tonsillitis and hepatitis.

Now for the science bit! I’m only copying this bit in case somebody thinks it’s useful, it’s all a bit over my head at the moment (even with the help of a dictionary). The plant contains organic acids, flavonoids, tannins, fatty acids, glycoside asperuloside, gallotannic acid and citric acid. It also contains the constituent asperuloside, a substance that is converted into prostaglandins by the body. Prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds that stimulate the uterus and affect blood vessels.

A medicinal tea is simply: 3 heaped tablespoons of dried or fresh herb to a pint of boiling water. Allow to stand for 10 minutes and when cool take mouthful doses throughout the day.

Another recipe I found is: Place one teaspoon cleavers and one teaspoon uva ursi in a cup of boiling water and allow the mixture to steep for thirty minutes then drain. Add honey to sweeten if the tea is too bitter for your taste.

Just for interest I’m also listing some of the other uses I found for it while I was doing this research:

· Several Native American tribes used an infusion of the plant for gonorrhoea.

· It has been used as a love medicine by one North American tribe. An infusion of the plant was used as a bath by women to be successful in love.

· Gerard writes of Clivers as a marvellous remedy for the bites of snakes, spiders and all venomous creatures (one advantage living in England – no seriously venomous critters around).

· It provides food for the larvae of many butterfly species.

· A red dye is obtained from a decoction of the root.

· A thick matt of the stems, when used as a sieve for filtering milk, was said to give healing properties to the milk and is still used in Sweden for that purpose.

My particular interest is twofold. Firstly, I have a cat, Princess Icky Poo, she has kidney disease and also often gets cystitis. Damage to the kidneys is irreversible and progressive so I’m really interested in anything that will help with the management of the problem. I chopped some fresh leaves very finely and added them to her usual wet food. I was delighted when later I examined the bowl to discover almost all the leaves were gone. Incidentally, I also regularly give her parsley the same way.

Before anybody tells me off, I did check it was OK to give her cleavers before including them in her meal. It would seem that I’m not the first to make the connection. Gregory Tilford in his book, Herbs for Pets, states that, ‘cleavers is a safe long-term aid in the treatment of feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), and the herb may also be useful for chronic low-grade kidney inflammation’.

Oh and did I mention that the dogs, rabbit, chickens and parrots are all having some too?!

The second reason for my interest is more personal, I want to use it for its detoxifying properties. I may include other herbs at a later date but firstly I’m just going to use cleavers so I can better monitor the result.

I started to realise, that if I’m going to use the herb over a significant amount of time, I could have a problem. I am going to need to store it. An easy way to do this would be making a tincture using a reliable method but I don’t want to work using alcohol so that’s when I started to get really confused. Although some sources suggest drying, others seem to think that it is not a good idea because it can lose too much of its potency by the drying process. It sounds simple enough to dry the herb but how would I know if it lost its worth? It’s annoying because I’m sure you can actually buy cleavers as a dried powder.

Juicing seemed to be the next suggestion. What a palaver, I thought but apparently not according to some. Note to self, don’t bother re-decorating the kitchin before attempting this. Actually, upstairs I have a juicer. I bought it a couple of years ago (literally) for my daughter but as it is still upstairs, unopened and unused I might just claim it back for myself. Having extracted the juice it can be frozen. One idea is to freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, they can be popped into a tightly sealed polybag for storing.

The next problem seems to be collecting it. It’s more an issue of when rather than how. I think even I can master the gathering process! Apparently, cleavers has a very short life cycle and is best harvested from the beginning to the middle of its flowering period, which seems to mean that it can only be harvested for about a week! Do I really have to be monitoring the parks and canals daily waiting for just the right moment to go collecting my stash? Other information suggests that it needs gathering before it flowers. This seems a lot simpler information and makes much more sense, to me, the worth of the plant will go into the flowering process. It also gets tougher with age.

Incidentally, I have just seen mentioned that I could make a cleavers vinegar. I don’t think Princess Icky Poo will be that impressed but it will be good for me. I wonder what it would taste like in honey.

I’m looking for recipes to try out now. I want to find and try as many as possible.

Most of my work thus far is mainly theory as I explored this worthwhile ally. I guess what I have really shared is my investigation and decision making process. I will need to update it at some point to including my successes, failures and conclusions.

The best bit is I also discovered that much more scientific research is being done on the plant and it is of great interest to pharmaceutical companies. Do you think they will contact me if they need any help?!

Postscript. I have been experimenting with the recipe from Brigette

The truth is I saw the recipe and instantly changed it (typical). I exchanged the macaroni for wholewheat pasta and because I don’t know what onion weed is I use an onion and then put in whatever else I want (e.g. cleavers, nettle). It’s a good way to ‘hide’ the herb! It’s really simple and taste lovely.

I’m looking forward to trying it using ‘jack by the hedge’ (garlic mustard) but haven’t found any near where I live yet.


Gregory L. Tilford, Herbs for Pets (2001)

David Conway, The Magic of Herbs (1973)

Richard Mabey, The New Age Herbalist (1988)

M Grieve (Mrs), A Modern Herbal (1931)

Angela Paine, The Healing Power of Celtic Herbs (2006)

Annies Remedies:

Deb Jackson & Karen Bergeron:

Michael Vertolli:

Brigitte Myherbcorner:


Oya's Daughter said...

Ah yes, a herb I recognise! In theory, cleavers helps to burn fat (but then it seems in fashion to say that about just about everything these days). Cleavers is one of the sacred herbs to Plains tribes in the US, and my lodge mother used to include it in her sacred smoke-mix for pipe ceremonies.

ICQB said...

I wonder if you could make a glycerite (using vegetable glycerine) with the cleavers for Princess Icky Poo, since she wouldn't like the vinegar :-)

Thank you for all of the info. I use cleavers, along with some other herbs, in a bug bite balm that I make. It's one of my favorite concoctions.

Esjay said...

...very informative, looking forward to reading your conclusions :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jacki,
I've read your blog article on cleavers, sounds like you're having fun with them! I know you're not keen on alcoholic tinctures and sometimes glycerine can be used instead. I found some info in the Hedgerow Medicine book about preserving cleavers, this is what it says:

Cleavers juice
Taking the fresh juice is the best way to use cleavers from early spring until summer. If you don't have a juicer, don't worry - just chop up a handful of fresh cleavers, put it in a jelly bag and squeeze out the juice.
Dose: Take 1 teaspoon two or three times a day.

Cleavers succus
If you want to preserve your cleavers juice for use in the autumn and winter, the best way is to mix it with glycerine or honey to make a simple preparation called a succus. This is done as follows:

Measure your fresh cleavers juice, and add an equal amount of vegetable glycerine or runny honey. Mix well, then bottle and label. It tastes just like the taste of fresh-mown grass.
Dose: Take 1 to 2 teaspoons two or three times a day.

No mention of animal doses!
Jackie x

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where you can order cleaver plants?

Anonymous said...

I doubt you can actually buy them anywhere. Just go out and pick them...there's no shortage :-)

Unknown said...

This occurs when the blood is pushed at an increased pressure through the arteries and the heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body. Too much pressure puts strain on the arteries, and can cause damage to the walls of the arteries or a rupture to an artery. It can weaken the heart and cause it to fail over time. Any of these situations can result in a stroke (hemorrhage). Estimates show that about 1 in 5 people in the UK and 1 in 4 people in America have high blood pressure.

Due to reduced elasticity of the arterial system, there is a natural tendency towards higher blood pressure as people age. Age is therefore one factor that needs to be taken into account when deciding if a person’s blood pressure is too high.

High blood pressure is usually defined as having consistent blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or above. People with high blood pressure may need treatment, especially if they are at risk of developing cardiovascular diseases e.g. a stroke or angina. People with blood pressure consistently above 160/100 need treatment to lower their blood pressure and help the heart’s blood circulation process.
Despite how dangerous high blood pressure can be, it has no symptoms and can go unnoticed in many people. It poses no immediate problems but consistent high blood pressure can cause major cardiovascular diseases such as strokes and heart attacks. It can also lead to atherosclerosis and aneurysms. Severe hypertension can cause symptoms such as drowsiness, confusion and eye damage, and can induce a coma.
Unfortunately, anyone can have high blood pressure, but certain factors increase the risk - obesity, smoking, poor diet, diabetes, kidney diseases, high alcohol intake, excessive salt, lack of exercise and certain medicines.

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David Mills said...

Hi... I came here by chance: Goose grass ;One of my favourite plants from chilhood. it sticks to clothes and fur like mad. As kids we'd run round fixing it to other people's backs and shout, "You've got a Girlfriend/boyfriend." the little sticky seeds were the kisses. so if you got those on you you had to watch out or some girl might try and kiss you! Which would fit in with the American Aboriginal mention about love. Iwas, and still am, a kid in the U.K.
I see from Wikipedia that someone has tcalled it Lady's Bedstraw...which is a different plant altogether... another fave of mine... .

wunderlust63 said...

I started eating cleavers daily as a lymphatic system cleanser. I discovered it is a wonderful diuretic and I have eliminated my daily Lasix for my Congestive heart failure. Next, my blood pressure started dropping and I eliminated my BP med. I have IBS with constipation; a lifetime terrible problem. It is gone! I eliminate normally since I started eating a couple of handfuls of cleavers daily. At this point, I think this is my most important medicine. My cleavers are preparing to bloom and I have to preserve them in order to maintain these wonderful benefits.

Anonymous said...

I find it very invasive. Getting rid of it from my allotment is a constant battle. I currently must have several million seedlings. It is extremely hardly and there are only a few weeks a year in summer when it is not available fresh so I see no point in preserving it.

I put leaves and stem in a coffee cafetiere add hot water, down with the plunger and then drink the tea. I find it very refreshing.

Bright As A Button Cottage said...

I am wildly allergic to cleavers. The merest brush of those bristly little leaves against my skin is enough to have me itchy for weeks. I need to cover up when removing it from my garden. When I have the misfortune to pick up a bundle of weeds etc for the compost and cleavers make contact with my bare forearms, I quickly develop red welts and blisters. I have lymphedema in one arm (from breast cancer surgery) and it fills up tightly in reaction to cleavers.

I would love to turn the pest into tea but would never be game enough to take a sip. It's a shame because it's a persistent blighter and quite a pretty looking plant. One redeeming quality for me is that it's easy to remove from the ground. I usually use a rake to pull cleavers away from plants or from any vertical surface it's shooting up.

Gosh, my hands feel itchy just thinking about it!