Common Names

Cleavers, Goosegrass, Barweed, Catchweed, Clivers, Goosegrass, Grip Grass, Sticky-willy, Zhu Yang Yang,
Botanical Name
Galium aparine
RUBIACEAE ~ Madder Family

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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 passerby 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?

In the ancient world it 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 and it was even thought to be able to help dissolve small kidney stones.

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 lypmh nodes and a number of urinary tract disorders.

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!


Personal experiences

I've seen Cleavers help people to transform their health and I 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 you have to get to know in person to appreciate what it can do. Either taking it yourself or using it with someone (or someones!) and closely observinig what happens. When someone commits to using a course of Cleavers you see how deeply it moves congested 'blocks' in the body and the longer they use it the stronger it gets. Anyone who has had anything to do with Psoriasis will know just what a tough condition that can be to shift, add losing weight and treating cancer to the list of what Cleavers has been used for by people for many generations and you should start sitting up and paying attention to just what can this little weed do to us!

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 get it to move. This is why it was used for such terriblly serious problems as cancer and why it was believed to help fat people become lean, it's a mover and shaker of a herb!

As with so many of our herbs a great deal 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 harm by being too much but I strongly suspect that 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 if used in a tea. These are dose levels for someone using Cleavers over a reasonable time frame, at least a few weeks. I have not personally used Cleavers as a herb in acute health issues (such as urinary tract infections) so I won't comment on that kind of dosage level.

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.

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 much 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 much old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Cleavers, with its potent cleansing, properties is particularly well-suited to symptoms of damp excess that can trouble those of the Bear constitution. and also the Tiger constitution.

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.



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd