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Plant Profile: Cleaver

Cleaver: Galium aparine

Herbal Actions: Alterative, lymphatic, anti-inflammatory, tonic, astringent, diuretic.

System Affinity: lymphatic system, urinary system, kidneys, organs of elimination

Energetics: Cooling, salty

Planetary Ruler: Moon

Preparations: Juice, infusion, vinegar

Contraindications: None

Cleavers begin to germinate in late winter, slowly poking it’s way out of the cold wet ground in shaded waysides. Though it germinates early, it takes its time coming into its own, absorbing all of the elements of late winter/early spring and transforming it into the medicine that we need most during this season.

Cleaver clears and restores our lymphatic system like no other. It is an essential medicine to work with to dissolve and flush out toxic debris, heat and inflammatory conditions as well as general stagnation and congestion within the body and skin. Cleaver embodies lunar/yin medicine, balancing our internal waters of emotions and helping us gain clarity by letting go of attachment issues to people and ideas that we "cling" to.

Cleavers are a specific remedy for conditions of the skin that are dry, itchy and inflaming as it regulates the complexion from the inside out. It’s salty, “green” flavor is indicative of the nourishing mineral content that wholistically supports the body and is so prevalent in early spring medicinal plants and wild food.

Cleaver is a rejuvenating tonic that helps us transition from the winter months into spring and summer with a bit more vitality and resilience. As a traditional remedy that encourages detoxification and cleansing of both body and spirit, it's rejuvenating actions facilitate opportunities to untangle ourselves from obsessive thinking and behavioral patterns while we open up to fresh ideas and perspectives- a very spring time quality, indeed.

Cleavers are best harvested when they are about to go into flower and for a couple weeks when they are in flower. Finding a patch of cleaver earlier in the season and watching it grow into it's own is a great way to get to know this plant- use your senses, they will look nice, juicy and enticing when they are ready to harvest. (Always harvest with sharp pruners or scissors and make sure to leave the roots in tact so it has the opportunity to regenerate). After the plant has gone to seed, leave the plant to continue on its journey of reproduction so we can see it again next spring.

The traditional and most efficacious way to work with cleaver is by juicing. No need to own a juicer to utilize this method of extraction, though. You can simply place the cleavers in a mason jar, cover with hot water and let steep for several hours, or preferably overnight. Alternatively, you can blend up the cleaver with water and press through a sieve to “juice” the plant, which is arguably the most effective way to consume it's medicine. For preparations like this, I prefer to make these concoction in larger batches where I can sip on it a few days at a time to be more consistent with it.

Since cleaver doesn't retain it's medicinal attributes well when dried, the easiest and most economical way to preserve this spring medicine for prolonged use is through a vinegar infusion. You can utilize any vinegar base you would like- I personally use balsamic vinegar because I prefer the taste and it makes an exceptionally easy medicinal base to a vinaigrette for summer time salads. Simply pack cleavers in a mason jar and cover contents with vinegar until completely submerged. Place in a cool dark place for several weeks making sure you check on it and give it a shake regularly. Strain off, compost the cleaver and store in the fridge to use through the season.

Cleaver is truly a refreshing beverage that the body will yearn for at this time of year.

Traditionally this type of medicine is taken "tonically", meaning it's a safe and highly nourishing plant that is taken consistently over weeks or months- particularly for those who need extra support through it's detoxifying and anti-inflammatory qualities. Cleavers are safe to use with the whole family, it's pleasant "green" taste typically provides a high compliance rate with children and elders.

It's wide spread presence and abundance makes this a great plant to work with as medicine for those experienced and new to foraging and herbal medicine!

Does this get you curious about this oh so common wayside plant? I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences about this delicate but mighty medicine.


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