Cleavers get their name from their ability to stick to things. To "cleave to" once meant "to adhere to" and "cleave apart" meant to tear apart, but these days we mostly forget the first meaning, and cleave today generally means "to separate".
Aside from edible and medical uses, cleavers have many historical uses. They are a favorite food of geese, giving them one of their other common names: goosegrass. When dried, cleavers have a light, fresh, pleasant scent, and their tendency to form tangled mats with plenty of sir trapped with made them rather cushiony, and their sticky properties aided them to help keep their form. For these reasons, cleavers were preferentially mixed with straw to fill mattress, leading to another common name: bedstraw.
The use of cleavers is dated back to ancient greeks, who often wove it together to make a sieve for straining milk, which added healing properties to the milk. This method of straining milk is still being used in some parts of Sweden today.
In traditional folk medicine cleavers was used for skin disorders or injuries. It was also often used as a cleansing herb and is still known today as a “spring cleaning” herb, as it flushes toxins out of the body and promotes a cooling effect.
When ingested fresh, cleavers act as a diuretic, and help with kidney function and health. Fresh or dried, cleavers have anti-coagulant effects when eaten, and may help lower blood pressure. This is why you do not eat cleavers if you are already on blood thinning or high blood pressure medications.
In a survival situation, a mat of cleavers pressed against a wound can help is the flow of blood better than pressure alone.
Native American women sometimes ate cleavers to help prevent pregnancy. With this information, we can infer that the plant may stimulate uterine contractions, and for this reason, can't be recommended for women who are, may become or are trying to get pregnant.
3 Ways to Use Cleavers for Spring Cleansing
Cold Infusion of Cleavers
To make a cold infusion of cleavers, you will need:
- A chopstick
- A small muslin drawstring bag
- A quart-sized canning jar
- Place one or two tablespoons of finely chopped, fresh cleavers (the leaves and stems, not the roots) into the muslin bag.
- Fill the quart canning jar with cool water, and use the chopstick to suspend the drawstring bag in the water. The water with more precipitates from the fresh herb juices sinks to the bottom and creates a circulation of the water as the cleavers infuses.
- Allow the cleavers to infuse overnight, or eight to twelve hours.
- As a food safety precaution, place your cleavers infusion in the refrigerator. Room temperature (or any temperature within 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit) is the bacterial “danger zone” when foodborne pathogens reproduce most rapidly.
Preserved Cleavers Juice
Not all herbs are good candidates for making a succus, or preserved juice, but cleavers is one of the ideal herbs for this purpose. Harvest a bowlful of fresh cleavers, and use a blender or food processor to reduce the herbs into a pulpy mash. You may find that it is necessary to chop the herb prior to placing it in the blender and/or add about a tablespoon of water to the blender before it can do a decent job.
Once the herb is ready, place a large piece of muslin into a colander or mesh strainer over a mixing bowl. Scoop the mashed cleavers into the center of the cloth and create a bundle with the cloth. Place a weight onto the bundle to press out the juice. A gallon jug of water works well if your colander is large enough, or you can use a small saucepan filled with a few canned goods.
After an hour or so, check on the juice in the bowl. Twist the bundle as hard as you can to press out the last few drops of liquid. Measure the amount of resulting juice and add an equal amount of vodka to preserve your succus. You can also use 3 parts juice to 1 part grain alcohol as well.
Bottle your succus in a clean, amber jar and make sure to label it with the date and contents. Your succus should be shelf stable for at least a year. A serving size is 30-60 drops (¼ to ½ teaspoon).
Cleavers Infused Oil
A cleavers oil can be used as part of a gentle massage to support the health of the lymphatic system, or a small amount can be smoothed over the skin just before bed. You might wish to focus on areas where lymph glands are located.
To make an oil with cleavers, it’s best to use dried cleavers to make an infused oil at room temperature rather than using fresh cleavers. Sterilize a glass canning jar and allow it to dry completely. Fill your jar about one-third of the way with cleavers, and then fill the remainder of the jar with a carrier oil such as almond oil or jojoba.
Cap the jar and allow your oil to sit for two weeks, making sure to shake the oil every day. When your infused oil is ready, strain the oil (a jelly bag on a stand over a clean bowl works very well for this), and bottle in a clean jar. Label and date your creation so that you don’t forget what it is.
If you use extra virgin olive oil as your carrier oil, you can even reserve part of your finished oil to make a cleavers vinaigrette to drizzle over your salads! Otherwise, make sure to state on your label that your oil is for external use only.