I doubt there would be a professional herbalist without cleavers in the dispensary. Its medicinal properties make it very useful for treating cystitis, oedema, psoriasis, and eczema. Externally it's used to treat burns and abrasions. Historically cleavers or goosegrass, as it's popularly known, was an ingredient in a broth made to be eaten as an aid to losing weight and an infusion of the shoots that are rich in vitamin C was taken as a spring tonic. It was also used to treat scurvy (it is still valuable today in the treatment of vitamin C deficiencies), scrofula, jaundice, kidney stones, urinary obstructions, and cancer. It was a popular treatment for staunching bleeding both internally and externally. An ointment made from cleavers was applied to hard swellings in the throat and the juice was applied as drops to treat earache. It was also used externally to treat sunburn, remove freckles, counter the bites of venomous creatures, and to heal 'green' and old wounds.
Just like dandelion and chicory roots, cleavers can be used as a caffeine-free coffee substitute but its seeds are used instead of the root and are lightly roasted before being ground. In fact cleavers is a member of the large madder family, which makes it a relative of coffee.
A native of North America and Eurasia, cleavers grows widely in southern Australia. Because it prefers to grow in hidden places such as thickets it can be hard to find. It forms dense mats and the bristles on its leaves and stems enable it to cling to neighbouring plants. It has no trouble populating other areas because it self sows and the white flowers produce bristly fruits that cling to the fur of passing animals from where they drop off to start new colonies. This practice is why the plant was given its other common name, catchweed.
Cleavers prefers rich loamy soils in waste places, cultivated areas, and gardens but is tolerant of most soils and situations. Although it's drought tender it is frost resistant. The whole herb can be used and is harvested from spring to summer while flowering or in fruit.
The herb is a sprawling annual (some say weed but as a herbalist this makes me cringe) that is weak-stemmed and forms prickly and dense mats over any plants that grow nearby. The stems are bristly and square, grow up to 150 centimetres, and bear whorls of lance-shaped prickly leaves. The small white flowers appear from spring to summer and produce bristled fruits that are about one centimetre across.
The actions of cleavers are mild astringent, diuretic, and it's a wonderful lymphatic alterative which means it cleans toxins from the lymphatic system.
Dosage - three times daily
Infusion of dried herb - 2 to 4 grams
Juice of the fresh herb - 5 to 15 ml
Tincture 1:5 - 4 to 10 ml