Family: Rubiaceae, Madder, or Bedstraw
Synonyms and Common names: Cleavers. Goosegrass. Barweed. Hedgeheriff. Hayriffe. Eriffe. Grip Grass. Hayruff. Catchweed. Scratweed. Mutton Chops. Robin-run-in-the-Grass. Loveman. Goosebill. Everlasting Friendship.
Description and Habitat:
Cleavers are an annual plant that creeps along with straggling stems that branch out. They attach themselves to anything in their way with small hooked hairs that grow out of the leaves and stems.
Cleavers do not grow in height unless they attached themselves to a tall plant or tree. The stems can grow up to six foot in length
Stalk-less leaves are borne in groups of 6-9 at each of the stem joints and they are whorled. Leaves are narrow (10-80 mm long and 2-10 mm wide) or lance-shaped with pointed tips and tiny backwards-pointing prickles along their margins. Upper and lower leaf surfaces are loosely covered with tiny hooked hairs.
Flowers can be inconspicuous as they are very small (1mm long and 1-2mm across). They are white with four petals and fused together at their base. Flowers are arranged in small spreading clusters (1-9 flowers) on short side branches. They have four tiny yellow stamens and flowers occur mostly late spring into summer
Cleavers commonly grow in hedgerows and field margins. They also grow near crops, orchards, waste areas, disturbed areas, pastures, open woodlands and in gardens. This plant is commonly found in temperate environments. The herb grows everywhere in Britain, but it can be found in some sub-tropical areas. They are Native to Europe and western Asia and has made its way throughout Australia, Canada, U.S., Mexico, Central America, some countries in South America and North Africa.
Parts used: All aerial parts.
Collection and preparation: Gather before the herb flowers when the leaves are fresh and green, dry them in the shade.
Constituents: Chlorophyll, starch, and three distinct acids: a variety of tannic acid, which has been named galitannic acid, citric acid, and a peculiar acid named rubichloric acid.
Actions: Diuretic, alterative, anti-inflammatory, tonic, astringent, anti-neoplastic, hepatic, laxative, and vulnerary.
Cleavers, also known as goose-grass, and Clives, is a very valuable herb and is perhaps the best tonic to the lymphatic system available. As a lymphatic tonic with alterative and diuretic actions, it may be used in a wide range of problems where the lymphatic system is involved.
Cleavers can be used in swollen glands anywhere in the body, and especially in tonsillitis and in adenoid problems.
This herb is widely used in skin conditions, especially in dry skin conditions such as psoriasis.
Cleavers is useful in the treatment of cystitis and other urinary conditions where there is pain and maybe combined with demulcents for this. There is a long tradition for the use of Cleavers in the treatment of ulcers and tumours, which may be the result of the lymphatic drainage.
Contraindications: 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.
Preparation and dosage:
Infusion: Make an Infusion of 2-3 teaspoonsful of the dried herb, and take 3 times daily.
Tincture: Take 2-4ml of the tincture 3 times daily.
Additional comments and Folklore:
Folklore says that with its long-lasting reputation as a spring tonic, Cleavers can be used for spring festivals and for purification rituals as well. Because this plant sticks and binds, it has been considered to be used for binding spells.
The whole plant can be used as a potherb in spring or steamed and eaten as a vegetable. The seeds can be dried and roasted to make a coffee, and it has been said that cleaver seed coffee tastes nearly as good as the real thing so maybe its worth a try sometime!
The Anglo-Saxon nickname of 'hedge-rife' referred to a tax-gatherer or robber. The Greeks knew it as 'philanthropon', from its tendency to cling to things. The ancient Greeks used it to make a makeshift sieve using cleavers, to filter milk through. It has also long been used for a similar purpose in Sweden, and in some parts of the world, it is still used this way.
The roots are said to produce a reddish dye.
What is clear is that Cleavers is a very useful little herb, that’s probably hiding, yet very much alive, in most gardens, fields, hedges, and on most spaces in Britain. It is the nuisance herb that clings to dogs fur after a walk in the country, and to the bottom of trouser legs, the one with little round and very green bobs that even clings around the hand if someone happens to touch it. It is a herb that is easy to overlook, but once you have found it you never cease to know it when you see it again. And looking at what medications it can brew, it’s worth getting to know and using.