a.k.a. Goose Grass, Sticky Weed, Sticky Willy.
A member of the Bedstraw family Cleavers is a common weed in many gardens. It grows in borders and on waste ground from early spring to midsummer. The long straggly stems of this plant trail across the ground and climb other plants, growing up to a length of 1m to 1.5m. The leaves grow in whirls of six to eight. Both stems and leaves are covered in thousands of tiny hooks that attach themselves like Velcro to clothing. The flowers are small and white with four petals.
Before using this plant medicinally or for food, make sure you have correctly identified the species and it has not been sprayed.
Best harvested when young, I use this plant extensively in my practice. It is primarily a cleansing herb with a strong lymphatic action, which is that it drains lymph from the tissues. Lymph is the clear straw coloured fluid, derived from the blood, which transports nutrients and oxygen from the blood vessels to the cells and waste products and carbon dioxide from the cells. It collects in lymph vessels, passing through the lymph glands, which have a role in fighting infection, and back into the blood. Cleavers increases the drainage of lymph from the tissues and also has a blood cleansing action, as well as being a gentle diuretic. The net result is that it drains toxins from the body. It is particularly useful in many skin conditions.
I also use cleavers in the treatment of glandular fever and tonsillitis, because of its action in these tissues, which are lymph glands, and in cystitis, because of its diuretic action. As always, if signs or symptoms persist, or are severe or unusual, you must seek medical help
An old wives tale states that if a girl drinks nothing but cleavers water for a month, she will be the fairest maiden in the land! This is because she will have a beautifully clear complexion due to the detoxing effect. Cleavers water can be made by chopping fresh washed cleavers* and making a cold infusion overnight, steeping the herb in cold water. The water can then be strained and kept in the fridge to be drunk during the day (do not keep longer than 24 hours). Drink two or three cups a day. Anyone who is taking medicines or suffers from medical conditions, or is pregnant, should consult a qualified herbalist before taking herbs.
Cleavers can also be used as a food. It can be added to soups and makes an especially powerful spring detox with fresh nettle tops, which are full of minerals. The seeds can be dried and lightly roasted to make an excellent coffee substitute.
* Some people can be sensitive to the sap or the plant, although this is very rare. I’ve never known of anyone who has had a reaction to this plant, but its mentioned in the literature.