Cleavers or Lady’s Bedstraw is known in herbal circles and botany bands as Galium aperine, and it’s one of our weedy favorites for moving lymph, clearing skin, and reducing swellings such as those associated with sore throat and tonsillitis, cancer, and leukemia. Popping up early in spring, Cleavers was a medieval favorite for clearing out the winter baggage, and it’s become a welcome departure from the often strongly bitter and sour herbs modern herbalists include in their Spring Cleanse blends. One of the beautiful qualities of Cleavers is how well it helps the body clear the old baggage at any time of year; I make a tasty herbal infused vinegar with my spring cleavers for use mid-summer after our local allergy season. It works like a champ, helping my system to clear away the debris even amid the summer’s heat so I can soak in the late-summer healing and feel revitalized fast.
Where to Find Cleavers
Cleavers likes the marginal areas where there’s a bit of moisture and some sunshine, much like its European cousin, Galium verum or Yellow Bedstraw. In North America, we often consider the two interchangable, with the only tangible difference being that G. aperine’s flowers are while while G. verum’s are yellow. Search roadsides, transitional forest to field spots, garden beds near structures like a shed or house where Cleavers can find support.
Cleavers likes weedy places where it can climb up its neighbors, finding plenty of support by clinging with those little velcro-like hairs to all but the smoothest surfaces.
Harvesting and Making Medicine with Cleavers
Harvest Cleavers in the green state, before it starts to bloom or just as flowers are appearing. Once the seeds begin to form, Cleaver’s puts all its energy into those mini-burs, making the vines a lot less useful as medicine.
Usually, herbalists make tea with fresh Cleavers or they infuse fresh Cleavers into vinegar or alcohol for use as herbal vinegar or tincture. Cleavers lose a lot of their medicinal value when dried, and they tend to lose their flavor when dried, too. Some folks save Cleavers seeds for use much as one might use nettle seed, as a spice or as a medicine specific to the Urinary tract and Male Fertility, but there is little research or traditional use recorded for Cleavers seeds.
Medicinal Properties of Cleavers
Cleavers have traditionally been used to clear swellings from the body, clear urinary tract and fertility conditions, prevent miscarriage, boost fertility in general, clear skin problems including eczema and psoriasis, and clear swelling and soreness in the head, neck and throat. Cleavers kinda sounds like a do-it-all panacea!
Part of the power of Cleavers is in its gentle nature. Those vines are soft, tender, and surprisingly strong. The lush, juicy, cool nature of Cleavers can be rather misleading, though. Like chamomile, that seemingly gentle approach to life doesn’t mean less powerful. Cleavers has been used successfully through the ages to clear some pretty heavy-hitting challenges, like Cancer.
We don’t have loads of studies on how or why Cleavers works. What we do know is that Cleavers carries a lovely compliment of antioxidants. Those antioxidants are most easily extracted into water, making Cleavers a highly accessible plant medicine for most of us. We also know that a lot of those antioxidants are of a type connected with success in clearing and preventing swellings, tumors, and build-up of free radicals in the body. From there, it’s easy to see how Cleavers might have been working through the centuries to heal so many maladies and conditions.
From a more traditional perspective, we recognize Cleavers as being cooling and moving. It helps us filter the fluids of our bodies, hence the connection with use for Urinary Tract and Fertility problems. Cleavers is highly diuretic, on par with Dandelion leaf, and especially useful for clearing heat toxins from the bladder and urinary tract system. It’s also a wonderful preventative.
For instance, Menopausal women who are finding recurring bladder infection to be problematic would do well to include a dose of cleavers vinegar in their daily salad dressing. Cleavers can help keep the lining of the bladder and urinary tract cool and keep fluids moving by supporting general kidney health as well as “scouring” the urinary tract and bladder.
Cleavers is also connected to healing in the nervous system, especially when spasm, convulsion, or injury are present. Matthew Wood reports using Cleavers to support healing in cases involving the spine, head, and nervous system. He reports that Cleavers seems to work particularly well for folks who tend toward Deer-type constitutions, with fine bone structure and a generally elegant physique similar to that of Deer, and with nervous dispositions.