Cleaver, Galium aparine by Student Contributor Tracey Gulledge

    Galium aparine L. Family: Rubiaceae Common names: Bedstraw, Cleavers, Goosegrass Tracey Gulledge Plant Monograph Fall Community 2015 Galium aparine is a common, annual herbaceous species that grows in moist, shady areas often forming mats in the understory. The oblanceolate leaves form whorls around a square stem. White, star-shape flowers emerge in spring to early summer. […]

    Galium aparine L.

    Family: Rubiaceae

    Common names: Bedstraw, Cleavers,

    Goosegrass

    Tracey Gulledge Plant Monograph Fall Community 2015

    Galium aparine is a common, annual herbaceous species that grows in moist, shady

    areas often forming mats in the understory. The oblanceolate leaves form whorls

    around a square stem. White, star-shape flowers emerge in spring to early summer.

    The flowers are found grouped in twos or threes and form out of the leaf axils. Small,

    globular seeds turn brown with age. The plants and seeds are covered in small bristles

    which cleave onto passing animals and people. Having spread from its original home in

    Asia and Europe, G. aparine is now found across the globe. Considered a noxious

    weed by many, cleavers does well in the cooler, winter temperatures but will disappear

    in Central Texas with the heat of summer.

    Nearly twenty species of cleavers are found throughout Texas with many of them being

    found in the moister soils of East Texas or in the Trans-Pecos Mountains found in West

    Texas. Local native species include Galium texense, a species found in Texas,

    Oklahoma, and Arkansas, and G. proliferum, a species found in Texas and throughout

    the Southwest.  While other species may exhibit similar medicinal properties, G.aparine

    is the preferred wild-crafting species due to its non-native status. Species are normally

    identified by the size and number of leaves in a whorl, variations in flower color, and

    variations in seeds.

    Because of its fondness for disturbed landscapes, care must be taken not to harvest

    cleavers from areas that may have potential exposures to pesticides or other harmful

    chemicals. Also, cleavers growing on wooded slopes, like those found in the Hill

    Country, should probably not be harvested in mass as they may be helping to hold soil

    in place. Farmers and gardeners throughout the world consider cleavers to be a weed

    due to its ability to take over agriculture fields.

    Medicinally, the above ground parts of cleavers are used. Many sources report that

    boiling cleavers will destroy the plant’s medicinal properties and prefer the plant fresh or

    in a glycerite. When using the fresh plant, care must be taken to deal with the bristles,

    which can irritate the throat. Straining is often required to remove the bristles from the

    liquid. Juicing is another popular way of using cleavers as is making herbal vinegars.

    When cleavers was plentiful this past spring, I enjoyed the juice and found it to be light

    and refreshing. I also created my first herbal vinegar using cleavers. Using the fresh

    herb in an apple cider vinegar extract, I thought the vinegar was a delicious tonic and

    lymph mover. With the addition of some green onions, the cleavers vinegar also made a

    wonderful salad dressing base. Externally, I found putting the fresh plant into water

    helped reduce my symptoms of eczema, which I have suffered from since I was a child.

    Historically, Cleavers was used to strain milk and curdle cheese. Some sources claim

    that the more aromatic species were used to stuff mattresses. The roasted seeds have

    been used as coffee substitute. In the past, herbalists used cleavers as a diuretic and

    for urinary tract issues. In his 1924 book The Working Man’s Model Family Botanic

    Guide, William Fox, M.D., reports cleavers to be “a valuable diuretic, useful in many

    diseases of the urinary organs, gravel, and dropsy, inflammation of the kidneys and

    bladder.” Fox goes on to explain that cleavers can also be used for eczema and other

    skin diseases. Maud Grieve wrote in her 1931 book A Modern Herbal that cleavers or

    “clivers” as she calls the plant “is extolled for its powers…as a purifier of the blood, the

    tops being used as an ingredient in rural spring drinks.” Harvey Wickes Felter states

    that the plant was used as a sedative and diuretic in cases of scarlet fever in his 1922

    book, The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutic.

    Cleavers is considered to be an edible plant. In her book Edible and Useful Plants of

    Texas and the Southwest, author and naturalist Delena Tull explains that the young

    leaves and stems of cleavers are tender enough to use as a potherb. She recommends

    simmering the young leaves and stems in a small amount of water for ten minutes and

    then serving with butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. As the plant ages, the

    stems become more fibrous and the bristles become stiff, rendering the plant inedible.

    Tull also mentions that cleavers, which is in the same botanical family as madder, Rubia

    tinctorum, can be used as a fabric dye. Some of the Galium species have roots that will

    produce a red dye. As the roots of cleavers tend to be small, harvesting enough to dye

    fabric in any real quantity may be a difficult task.

    In modern Western herbalism, cleavers is often used as a tonic, as a diuretic and for

    skin issues.  In his book Making Plant Medicine, Richo Cech, reports using cleavers as

    a spring detoxification tonic, which purifies the blood and promotes drainage of the

    lymphatic system. Cech also uses the plant for treating urinary issues such as urinary

    tract infections, kidney inflammation, and inflammation of the prostate gland.  Used

    externally, he also uses the plant to treat poison ivy, sunburn and psoriasis.

    In a 2015 personal interview with practicing herbalist, Karen Keaton, Karen explained

    how she uses cleavers. Karen recommends cleavers often for its diuretic properties

    including easing PMS related bloating. She also uses cleavers tincture as an astringent

    and lymphatic and liver tonic. In her “younger days”, Karen fondly remembered using

    cleavers as a “pre-hangover remedy.” She added that cleavers can also be used as a

    refrigerant for the body, which is certainly useful in Central Texas. Finally, Karen

    reported that cleavers is safe enough for extended, long-term use. As a gentle

    lymphatic mover, cleavers may be of use to pregnant women who are experiencing late

    pregnancy edema. During a 2015 interview, Stephanie Berry, Austin midwife and

    herbalist, said that she knew of no contraindications of the occasional use of cleavers

    with later stage pregnancy. She proposed that a mild cup of cleavers tea might help

    gently reduce some of the swelling in an otherwise healthy pregnant woman.

    In her new book, Medicinal Plants of Texas, Nicole Telkes, practicing herbalist and

    founder and Director of the Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine discusses the use

    of cleavers as a burn treatment. She advocates using either the fresh juice of the plant

    or freezing the fresh juice into ice cubes which can be used later. If making an extract,

    she recommends a fresh 100% glycerite extract with a 1:2 ratio of plant (one part fresh

    plant to two parts of 100% glycerin). Nicole advises using cleavers internally to cool

    inflammation and to move infection out of the body. She specifically suggests using

    cleavers to soothe urinary tract infections.

    Reference List

    Berry, Stephanie. Personal Interview. May 22, 2015.

    Cech, Richo (2000). Making Plant Medicine. Williams, OR: Horizon Herbs, LLC.

    Felter, Harvey Wickes (1922), The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and

    Therapeutics Retrieved May 12, 2015, from http://www.henriettes-

    herb.com/eclectic/felter/galium-apar.html

    Fox, William (1924). The Working Man’s Model Family Botanic Guide. Retrieved May

    11, 2015, from http://www.swsbm.com/Ephemera/Family_Botanic_Guide-1.pdf

    Galium aparine. Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. University of Texas at Austin,

    2015 Retrieved May 12, 2015, from

    http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=GAAP2

    Grieve, Maud (1931) A Modern Herbal. Retrieved May 12, 2015, from

    http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/c/cliver74.html

    Keaton, Karen. Personal Interview. April 18, 2015.

    Telkes, Nicole (2014). Medicinal Plants of Texas. Cedar Creek, Texas: Wildflower

    School of Botanical Medicine Publishing.

    Tull, Delena (1987). Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest. Austin:

    University of Texas Press.

    United States. Department of Agriculture. PLANTS database. Retrieved May 12, 2015,

    from http://plants.usda.gov/java/nameSearch.

    Felter, Harvey Wickes (1922), The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and

    Therapeutics Retrieved May 12, 2015, from http://www.henriettes-

    herb.com/eclectic/felter/galium-apar.html