Often, when we need a herb, yet are not yet aware of which one we need – it comes to us. That was how I met my friend Cleavers (Galium aparine) or goose grass. I was living in Britain to attend herbal school and one of my housemates was a big beautiful blond – Barney the golden retriever. Barney liked to walk as did I and so we became fast friends. Nearly everyday we spent a couple of hours in the countryside exploring new trails along steams, fields and woods. I stopped along our walks in order to identify plants, specifically medicinal herbs, which were aplenty. I noticed Barney like herbs too. He always seemed interested in nibbling on a bit of this and a bit of that.
We lived with smokers – one was a chain smoker in fact, and that was a new experience for me. In fact one of the reasons I like to hit the trail was to clear my lungs. Into nearly the third month of living in a smoker’s household, I started to develop a little smoker’s cough first thing in the morning. Barney had moved into the house around the same time I had, and I think the reduced air quality was new for him too. One morning we were trodding through a partially shaded area that always remained a little damp, and Barney suddenly stopped and began eating a small trailing herb with whorled leaves along it’s lanky branches. He didn’t just eat – he chowed down like it was the yummiest treat in the world. I picked a piece and brought it home to identify, but when my British mates saw it, they immediately said “ooh that’s goose grass!” and threw it on my sweater, to demonstrate how it stuck to clothing with it’s fine barbed hairs. Sure enough, Mrs. Grieve’s Modern Herbal listed that name and many others, among them “mutton chops” and “everlasting friendship”. Well everlasting friendship indeed – cleavers turns out to be a friend for life!
Cleavers is a herb containing citric/rubichloric/galitannic acids, tannins, coumarins and trace minerals. It is an excellent herb for promoting detoxification and removing lymphatic congestion – something Barney and I were most certainly suffering from! It has long been used for dissolving lymphatic tumors and blood clots, and moving a stagnant liver. It will reduce urinary deposits and stones, and has been used to treat edema. Topically, the tea can be used to relieve burns, especially sunburns, and an ointment can be made for treating eczema. It is great for colds with swelling of the lymph glands. If you examine how it grows, you can see its signature for the lymph system; it supports itself by climbing onto other plants and as it gets bigger – sprawling out in all directions. It’s joint-like growth also suggests that it can be helpful for moving fluid in the joints, while the whorls along those joints look like synapses of the nervous system, pointing to its ability to help reconnect or repair damaged nerves.
If you pick cleavers when it is tiny, young and hasn’t clambored anywhere yet, it is tender enough to use as sprouts on a sandwich – that’s how I ate much of it in Britain. But its season is short, as a first spring green it’s most effective as a fresh herb. Pick some now and put it in a blender, add a bit of water or a mix of water and juice and blend on high speed. You will make a medicinal ‘cleavers water’ which you can drink on the spot or add to a smoothie. It can also be juiced with your carrots!
To make it last the year, pick some and dry it for tea and also tincture it fresh for long-lasting medicine. I drank it in my daily tonic tea blend during my two and a half year stay in Britain living with smokers, and it kept my lymph working well and my lungs detoxified – what a pal