Cleavers	(Galium aparine)

Cleavers (Galium aparine)

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Known as ‘Bedstraw,’ for the purpose it once held as a mattress stuffing, Cleavers are a pasture plant ubiquitous throughout Europe and North America (though its range extends further). Other names include ‘Velcro Grass’ or ‘Grip Grass.’ These titles refer to Cleavers’ clinging nature—they are covered in hooked bristles that fasten onto those who brush against it. This is an evolutionary mechanism to allow for better seed dispersal.  With a tall climbing habit, these sticky fronds open small white flowers through the summer. Note their ability to spread rapidly. 

Sending out growth early in the spring, it’s almost as if Cleavers know how necessary its benefits are after a long winter. It is said to reduce swelling and increase production of the lymphatic system, jumpstarting immune systems from the sluggish chill. Galium aparine is a diuretic herb, and has been known to help cleanse the kidneys. Cleavers have often been used in treatment of urinary tract infections, taken as a tea or tincture. Other applications of this plant are as a juice or poultice used to treat skin irritations. As far back as the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder, there is record of Cleavers utilized to relieve water weight gain. 

As a relative of well-known dye plant Madder, Bedstraw similarly produces a deep red pigment upon boiling its thread-like roots. It is best to allow the plant to have at least five years of growth before harvesting in the autumn, when its root system is better established. The heartier roots of Madder led to their popularity in dying in comparison to Gallium aparine, but working with these plants for pigmentation is chemically quite the same. 

Cleavers are sometimes consumed young as a spring edible, and their seeds can be roasted and ground to make a substitute for coffee (the two plants are in the same family, Rubiaceae). A tradition encouraged by Greek physician Dioscorides lives on in Sweden today: filtering milk through a sieve of Galium aparine, which would infuse it with the plant’s healthful properties. Whether in milk or in tea, Bedstraw imparts a fresh green flavor. 

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