Cleavers is recognisable to many of us even if we only know it by one of the many common names it goes by, depending on where you are from of course. These include Sticky Wicky, Sticky Willy and Goosegrass here in the U.K. For many gardeners it is a weed, a nuisance, easy to remove the green growth, however generally leaving the roots behind for regrowth. The burrs (seeds) stick to clothes and animal fur in the autumn and are dispersed liberally around, many ending up in back gardens or yards. The leaves and stems cling to pretty much anything using the small hook-like projections or bristles. There is some useful botanical information here.
Here in the U.K. Cleavers is making it’s appearance. The weather has been reasonably mild this winter and, in my garden at least, it hasn’t really gone away.
If it isn’t in your garden it is easy to find, and abundant in the hedgerows. Cleavers is definitely on the list of wild foods that double as medicine or is that hedgerow medicine that doubles as food. If it is your environment have a look at it in more detail.
Cleavers has been used traditionally by many communities as a general tonic and lymph cleanser. Appearing as it does in late winter or early spring it is a good remedy for tonifying the body and helping cleanse it of the toxic residues of winter. Culpeper says that it cleanses the blood and strengthens the liver.
As a spring tonic Cleavers can be used on its own or mixed with new growth Nettle leaves and/or other plants. As a poultice Cleavers, according to Allen and Hatfield, has been used for a wide range of skin conditions including psoriasis, burns and tumours. It also has a traditional use as a diuretic. Allen and Hatfield point out that the nature of the folkloric use is normally characteristic of a herb with a stronger presence in folk records. They hypothesise that Cleavers was previously a more prominent herb in the repertory and that its place may have been lost to other more obviously effective plants; or that due to the seasonality of its use had its place taken by others with a longer or less seasonal use.
Within herbal medicine Cleavers is used as a diuretic, aperient, tonic, alterative and mild astringent. It is particularly useful for the cleansing the blood and lymph, helping to relieve swollen lymph glands. As an adjunct to this Cleavers is diuretic and has been found to help decongest the kidneys and improve excretion of the waste materials being removed from the body. This also makes Cleavers useful for urinary conditions such as cystitis and skin conditions like psoriasis. Cleavers may also benefit oedematous conditions and mild hypertension.
An aqueous extract has been found to be cytotoxic and active against a range of cancers including breast, prostate and bladder cancer.
The presence of Asperuloside which converts in the body to prostanoid intermediates suggests anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and actions. More about the chemistry of the plant here.
Cleavers can be taken as a tincture typically extracted from finely chopped fresh herb at 1:2 in 25% alcohol at a dose of 2-4mls per day. Fresh plant material can be used as a tea (aqueous extract). Alternatively the plant material can be dried and used as a tea all year round. The flavour is mildly grassy.
Cleavers can also be eaten, ideally when young or it becomes stringy. Cooking reduces the irritation from the bristles.
Consider adding it to soups with Nettles, for example. Or chop finely to add to Pakora or other batter. Strip the leaves from the stems to add to salads or sandwiches and wraps.
The juice can be used separately. A macerating juicer would be best.
However you take your Cleavers, I hope you enjoy the experience and find it beneficial.
Wren R. C., (1988) Potter’s New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. The C. W. Daniel Company Limited. Saffron Walden, U.K.
Allen D.E. and Hatfield G. (2004) Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition: An Ethnobotany of Britain and Ireland. Timber Press. Cambridge. UK
Culpeper C. (2009) (Translation) Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. Arcturus Publishing Limited. Singapore