Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Energetics: cool, dry
Therapeutic Actions: alterative, anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, lymphatic, tonic
It is funny now as an adult and herbalist looking back at my childhood. I was certainly a plant nerd way back then. I distinctly remember in the rarely used side yard at my paternal grandparents’ home, under the dappled shade of an old cherry tree, a sea of green sticky weeds every spring. My cousin and I would create long chains and “necklaces” that would tangle in our hair.
I now know this plant to be cleavers, a lymphatic herb with profound, yet gentle, diuretic action. As it is known first and perhaps foremost as a lymphatic, I waffled a bit on featuring cleavers as an herb for the renal and urinary systems. But it would only make sense that these “sister systems” would benefit notably from this humble, sticky wild herb.
Better known as a weed.
Cleavers Medicinal Benefits
Cleavers is an herb of the fluid moving variety. It is the preferred herb in instances of water retention and edema. It may be particularly helpful for bladder inflammation and urine retention, as well as acute or relapsing urethritis. It is also indicated for kidney edema and may help to relieve kidney stone issues; kidney infection, however, should be addressed with antibiotic under the care of a medical doctor.
As a lymphatic, it helps to soften and normalize hardened, swollen lymph nodes, especially about the head and underarm. It has a particular affinity for the spleen, assisting the organ with waste removal and acting as an alternative to help “cleanse” the blood.
Applied as a poultice to the skin, this herb has been associated with the clearing of boils, blisters, and sores.
Cleavers are characterized by their clingy nature. Thousands of tiny barbs cover the leaf and stem making the herbs almost feel sticky to the touch and they will certainly adhere to practically anything that the herb touches. Sets of 6-9 narrow lance-shaped leaves in a whorl around a central stem and inconspicuous white flowers appear in spring and summer. This common weed is mostly creeping in habitat, using other nearby plants as support, and have been known to grow upwards of six feet in length. I have yet to see such an impressive sight, but I have no doubt it exists.
All above ground parts are medicinally valuable.
Cleavers is a safe herb with no known safety issue other than allergy. However if pregnant, nursing, with chronic conditions, or taking prescription medication, please consult your primary care physician before using this or any other herb.
A tincture of the herb can be take in the amounts of 4-8ml, up to three times daily. An infusion can be prepared by steeping 1-2 teaspoons of the dry herb in 8-10oz of freshly boiled water. It can even be juiced or added to a green smoothie.
Cleavers Tincture for Water Retention
I like to prepare cleavers as a simple tincture in a 1:5 ratio in 100 proof spirits. This is achieved by using one part chopped stem and leaf (I do prefer fresh for this application) to five parts alcohol. This mixture is left to infuse for approximately six weeks and should be shaken daily. After the tincture is strained and bottled, I use this tincture for complaints of water retention, puffiness, lymph complaints, and cystic conditions.
Cleavers tincture is a simple remedy t.o assist those with water and urinary retention, sluggish lymph movement, and cystic conditions. Safe dosage is 4-8mls, up to three times daily.
- 1 part fresh cleavers cleaned and chopped
- 5 parts 100 proof spirits
Place chopped cleavers and spirits in a tightly lidded jar. Infused for at least six weeks and shake daily.
After infusing, strain tincture through tightly woven muslin cloth. Pour into dropper bottles and label. Safe dosage is 4-8mls, up to three times daily.
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Wood, M. (2016). Earthwise herbal repertory: traditional western herbalism. North Atlantic Books.