Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Whenever I think of cleavers, it takes me back to the field botany class I took in the spring of 1973 at the University of Utah. Cleavers was the only plant we learned to identify that had whorled leaves. If you look closely at the photo, you’ll see that there are many leaves coming off the same point on the stem. They encircle the stem like the petals of a flower. That’s one characteristic of cleavers that’s pretty hard to miss. But, if you still aren’t certain you’ve found the right plant, lightly grab some in your hand. Cleavers feels like Velcro. In fact, that’s where it gets the name cleavers. The raspy teeth on the leaves can easily catch onto (or cleave to) clothing, and the plant is easily detached from the ground.
Cleavers are also known as bedstraw because they grow in dense patches where deer often like to bed down. It was also used to make bedding material for birthing beds. Another use for the dried plant was to make a simple sieve to strain milk.
I’ve been using cleavers as an herbal medicine since the early 90s. It’s a powerful, but gentle-acting remedy for both the lymphatics and the urinary tract. I’ve used it as a mild, non-irritating diuretic for children and for congested lymphatics in both adults and children.
Cleavers is now available as an ingredient in NSP’s new Lymphatic Drainage formula, a wonderful formula for decongesting the lymphatic system. Lymphatic congestion is connected with a wide variety of health problems including swollen glands, ear infections, sore throats, respiratory congestion, skin eruptive diseases, and lymphomas. Increasing lymphatic drainage is also important for tissue detoxification.
Cleavers is a cooling remedy that reduces heat in the urinary tract, making it one of the very best herbs for inflamed urinary tissues. It is valuable for cystitis because it cools and moistens. The herb is also a good remedy for burning urination and weak, tired kidneys. It combines well with goldenrod and nettles which also strengthen and tonify weak kidneys.
Cleavers is also used for acidic urine and kidney stones or gravel. It can be combined with hydrangea and gravel root for dissolving kidney stones and calcium deposits.
Bedstraw is a very useful remedy for children who tend to get swollen glands around the ears, making them prone to earaches. It is also useful for swollen glands in the throat and the back of the head. It has also been reported to be helpful for women suffering from cystic breast disease.
One of the classic indications for cleavers is conditions affecting the skin, such as psoriasis, eczema, seborrhea, scabs, burns, measles, and wounds. These conditions have long been considered signs of “impure blood” by natural healers, requiring a cleansing of the fluids of the body, something cleavers appears to do quite well.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), cleavers is considered a remedy for clearing damp heat, dispersing stagnation and toxins, and reducing swelling. Cleavers is considered to have an anticancer effect for leukemia patients. It has also been found to help lower blood pressure.
Matthew Wood AHG has also found this plant to be a valuable remedy for the nervous system. He reports cleavers to be a useful remedy for people who are fussy, moody, and bored—displeased with small things rather than big things.
The plant is most powerful when fresh or prepared as a fresh alcohol tincture, as the dried plant material loses some potency.
The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevallier
PDR for Herbal Medicines by Medical Economics Company
The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood
Oriental Materia Medica: A Concise Guide by Hong-Yen Hsu