Cleavers (Galium aparine) are tenacious annuals, growing in dense mats in loamy, nitrogen-rich meadows, forests, thickets and along seashores in the temperate climates of Europe, Northern Africa, Asia and North America. With its square-shaped stem and sticky hairs, they manage to stick to whatever passes them by, earning them memorable nicknames like “velcro plant,” “grip grass,” and “catch weed.” In fact, cleavers earned their name from the Old English word, “to cleave,” which means “to latch onto.” The plant forms leaves of eight into spirals, or whorls, and tiny white flowers. Here in California, they pop up by the multitudes in the spring. While easy to ignore as you walk by, cleavers won’t let you forget them once they attach themselves to your pant leg!
The springtime allure of cleavers has survived since the time of the ancients, when healers praised cleavers for their ability to relieve temporary water retention. Prominent Romans such as physician Galen and philosopher Pliny the Elder celebrated them for their ability to relieve temporary water weight gain, while Greek physician Dioscorides used them to help curdle and filter milk—a tradition that’s apparently still alive and well in Sweden today. Many Native American tribes used them to promote kidney health. For therapeutic reasons, contemporary herbalists use cleavers much the same way. Energetically speaking, folk herbalists also like to use cleavers as a cooling herb to help clear heat and stagnation and to increase flow.
When making the seasonal transition from winter to spring, cleavers’ energy can be a useful force in stimulating the lymphatic system. Sometimes called “the back alley” of the circulatory system, the lymph system helps remove waste products from the blood stream and maintain the immune system. By taking herbs like cleavers, we can help support the lymph system’s natural detoxification of the body to get you back in the flow.