You might recognize cleavers as being the weed that’s always sticking to your pants in the spring. But, cleavers has medicinal benefits that make all that stickiness worthwhile. You’ll never look at it the same again.
What is Cleavers and How to Identify It?
Cleavers (Galium aparine) is part of the Rubiaceae family of plants, which also includes coffee!
It grows low to the ground, but can creep along like a vine and become quite long.
The plant has groups of 6-9 leaves that circle them in intervals of about every inch for larger, more mature plants. It produces white flowers, but the flowers are so small that you often miss them.
Even though this plant is an annual plant, it self seeds readily and often seems like a perennial. I’ve noticed it growing in the same spot in my yard the last couple of years, but the seeds have made it to other areas too.
The leaves and stems are covered with very small, hooked shaped hairs that will grip anything it comes into contact with. This is the “sticky” characteristic of the plant and also how it got the nickname sticky willy. (I just love that name!)
Medicinal Benefits of Cleavers
Cleavers is one of those plants that you’ll want to either have on your shelf, or have in your garden/yard. You may not always need it, but when you do you’ll be glad it’s there to support you.
Supports the Lymphatic System
Your lymphatic system does many things in your body, but a few big functions it performs are maintaining fluid levels in your body, producing white blood cells for the immune system, and removing waste or abnormal cells from the lymph (the fluid in your lymphatic system). If you want a more in-depth description the Cleveland Clinic has a nice overview.
Sometimes your lymphatic system can become stagnant, and then you tend to get a little sluggish. When this happens, cleavers is the plant you want. It can help support your body in a way that gets the lymph (and yourself) moving again.
Stimulating the flow of lymph through the lymphatic system can also help with edema (fluid build up) and swollen lymph nodes.
If you have a more serious issue, like lymphedema, then I don’t know that cleavers will have that level of support. I couldn’t find any scientific literature that said one way or the other, but because cleavers does help with swollen lymph glands I’d be curious to see studies done to see if it helps! Use at your own discretion and with a doctor’s support if you have this condition.
The “Anti” Medicinal Benefits
Because plants have to create defenses of their own against foreign invaders, I feel like it’s very rare that I come across a plant that doesn’t have the power to kill something, or remove something from the body. Cleavers is no exception to that. Here are some of cleavers “anti” properties:
- antioxidant – removes free radicals from the body that may otherwise start to destroy cells and cause other issues in the body
- anti-microbial – it does have some anti-microbial properties but other plants, such as thyme, calendula, oregano, and many others, are stronger
- anti-fungal – there are scientific studies that show cleavers has very high anti-fungal properties
The anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties are very helpful when it comes to helping minor wounds. And because cleavers stimulates the lymphatic system, it helps produce the white blood cells that are going to come along and attack anything that tries to invade via that wound. As a result, this helps keep infections at bay.
The anti-inflammatory properties are going to help reduce swelling, make it overall more comfortable for you, and help with the healing process.
Helps Fight Cancer
Yes, that’s right, cleavers can actually help fight cancer cells. There are many studies that show it’s especially beneficial for breast cancer, but has also shown positive results for other cancers such as leukemia, colon, and lung cancers.
How does it help fight against cancer?
2 ways – killing cells and preventing their growth.
In breast cancer, cleavers was found to target the cancer cells and kill them while leaving the healthy breast tissue cells alone. If you want to read more on this I’ll link some sources below. It’s definitely promising stuff!
In other cancers it was found to help prevent cancer cell growth. Cancer is essentially the unrestricted cell growth and multiplication of abnormal cells. Cleavers has shown signs of breaking that cycle and preventing the cancer cells from growing and multiplying.
This is one powerful little plant!
Protecting the Liver
One study showed that cleavers can help prevent liver damage caused by the over usage, or overdose, of acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is actually quite harmful to the liver and can cause irreversible damage if taken in large doses.
Cleavers can go in and help protect the liver against that damage, if necessary.
Other Medicinal Benefits of Cleavers
- diuretic – this means it makes you urinate more. The benefit to this is it can help flush out toxins from your body.
- treat UTIs
- can help with skin issues such as eczema and psoriasis
- coagulate milk – this one I have to do more research on because I want to give it a try! Apparently in Turkey it’s used to coagulate milk and is referred to as “yogurt herb.” Stay tuned to see if I can figure out how that works!
There are no known contraindications with cleavers, but if you’re unsure consult with your doctor before taking. Be sure to start slowly with any new herbal medicine to make sure you do not have a reaction to the herb.
As with most herbs, there are multiple ways you can use cleavers, and the one you choose often depends on what benefit you are trying to get from it.
- tea – a great overall use of the herb for internal benefits
- tincture – a more powerful way to use the herb for internal benefits
- oil infusion – great for external issue with skin and wounds
- poultice – great for wounds, skin issues, cysts or other abcesses
- salve – wounds
- cream – skin issues