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| What is it?
The leaves of Cleavers, a straggling, short-lived plant that pushes itself through gaps in bushes and hedges and finds any piece of available earth to take a foothold on and then grow sticky leaves to catch a hold of any passer-by in order to spread itself some more. Cleavers is not the most popular plant in the human world but it is most certainly a survivor!
How has it been used?
M. Grieve writes Cleavers was extolled in old herbals for its powers and it is still employed as a purifier of the blood. Heinerman writes about the use of Cleavers as a tonic wash for loose skin and Bartram recommends it for enlarged lymph nodes and a number of urinary tract disorders.
In the ancient world Cleavers was used to treat cancer. Gerard wrote of Cleavers as a marvellous remedy for the bites of snakes, spiders and all venomous creatures. One of the founders of Roman medicine, Galen, described it as a cure for obesity writing 'it can make fat folk lean'. Cleavers is an old treatment for one of the toughest of all skin problems; psoriasis, it has even thought to be able to help dissolve small kidney stones!
In reviewing the literature on Cleavers one has to come to the conclusion that this herb has an astonishingly powerful reputation for such an unprepossessing plant!
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Science on Cleavers
~ The constituents Monotropein, asperuloside, acumin, aucubin, protopine, harmine, (±)-vasicinone, (-)-l -hydroxydeoxypeganine, (-)-8-hydroxy-2,3-dehydrodeoxypeganine, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, chlorogenic acid, silicic acid, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, flavonoid, anthraquinon, cholesterol, campestrol, stigmasterol, sitos-terol, DELTA-avenasterol, DELTA-stigmasterol, DELTA-avenasterol, asperulosidic acid, and 10-deacetylasperulosidic acid have all been isolated from the aerial parts of Galium aparine (Deliorman, D., Çaliþ, Ý., and Ergun, F. Iridoids from Galium aparine. Pharmaceutical Biology 2001;39(3):234-235) (Sener, B. and Ergun, F. Isolation and structural studies on the alkaloids of Galium aparine L. GUEDE J Fac Pharm Gazi 1988;5:33-40)
~ Cleavers may have anti-inflammatory effects and it has been used to treat mastitis in animals (Lans, C., Turner, N., Khan, T., Brauer, G., and Boepple, W. Ethnoveterinary medicines used for ruminants in British Columbia, Canada. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed 2007)
Safety of Cleavers
There are no adverse reactions in the medical literature with Cleavers. If needed then it can be a herb that is used in strong doses for extended periods for all ages including children, pregnant or breastfeeding women. As a soft caution I would suggest that, due to its marked cooling action, that this be a herb that is used with care by those of a cool constitution with a view to not using it so long or in such amounts that their system might go too far to the cold! (more info on this subject in the constitutional note below)
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I've seen Cleavers help people get out of some very difficult corners and have developed a deep respect for it. Even on the same basis of how it grows as a plant, it's never wise to underestimate the scrappy little guy that gets places by dint of not being afraid of taking on things much bigger than itself!
I think that Cleavers is a plant that it is wise to get to know in person to really appreciate just what it can do. For anyone studying herbal medicine or perhaps has a keen interest in learning more about these great plant allies I highly recommend the ancient practice of taking a small dose of the tea or tincture of Cleavers and then, with an open and attentive mind, watching how it makes you feel within. What you can experience by doing this is a sense of the herbs 'action' i.e. what it is actually doing in the body. Without wanting to overly influence your own experiment should you do this I will say that in the case of Cleavers this will likely not be an obvious 'hit you in the face' kind of sensation but that you may well get a visceral sense of how deeply it can move congested 'blocks' in the body. Cleavers is exactly the kind of remedy that can be best appreciated in such an 'experiential' way. Really if you are interested in this you just have to try it for yourself!
I think that it was this kind of experience of the herb in action that led it to being used for such terribly serious problems as cancer and why it was even believed to help fat people become lean! I see that Cleavers has the ability to get into hot spots of the body, places where the ‘chi’ or energy has become stuck and stagnant and then get that block to move!
As with so many of our herbs much of the 'art' is not just getting the right remedy but also getting the right dose. Cleavers is quite generous in the sense that if you take more than you need that it will not do you any harm but there is a threshold beyond which taking bigger doses does no further good in chronic problems. For most people I feel that upper level to be around 4 or 5 mls of the tincture in a day and perhaps around 3 or 4 grams a day if used in a tea. These are dose levels for someone using Cleavers over a reasonable time frame, at least a few weeks. An important point to grasp with Cleavers is that the longer you use it the better it works.
To stimulate the healing process Cleavers combines perfectly with the other two great lymphatic cleansers of herbal medicine, Calendula and Poke Root. It also works with Red Clover to help clean the blood and for chronic skin problems.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Cleavers is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Cleavers can particularly offer its benefits when a cleansing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
Cleavers is a most valuable diuretic, and will be found very beneficial in many diseases of the urinary organs, as suppression of urine, calculous affections, inflammation of the kidneys and bladder, and in the scalding of urine in gonorrhoea.
Growth or deposits of a nodular character in the skin or mucous membranes are regarded as indications for its use.
It has also been found useful in many cutaneous diseases, as psoriasis, eczema, lichen, cancer, and scrofula.
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