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Cleavers, Vancouver Island, BC
Cleavers, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo By Bud Logan

On the BC coast Cleavers can be Found growing in meadow edges, woods, fields, among cultivated crops and in waste places. It prefers a loose and damp soil in partial shade, this plant does not really need any help to reproduce itself and can be quite invasive. It does provide food for the larvae of many butterfly species though.

The stems and leaves are covered with little hooked bristles, which attach to objects, in this way it fastens itself to adjacent shrubs, to climb its way upwards through dense undergrowth into daylight, often forming matted masses.

Leaves are narrow, lance-shaped along the delicate stem which may grow to 2 or more meters in length. The flowers are white, tiny, star-like, growing in a stemmed bud rising from the leaf axils and arranged in clusters of up to 8 together.

They bloom separately, 2 or 3 at a time, so flowers and seeds are always present together in each cluster. The seeds are little round vessels, covered with hooked bristles and readily clinging, to whatever they touch, ensuring the dispersal of the seeds. Flowers bloom April thru September.

Cleavers is edible and medicinal, it has been used for centuries as an alternative medicine by indigenous peoples on many continents. It is mainly used as a potherb or as an addition to soups, but using the plant as a vegetable has the ability to help lose weight. Cleavers seed is one of the best coffee substitutes, it merely needs to be dried and lightly roasted to have the same flavor as coffee.

Cleavers has a long history of use as an alternative medicine and is still used widely by modern herbalists. It is used both internally and externally in the treatment of a wide range of ailments. The dried or fresh herb is alterative, anti-inflammatory, astringent. It is often taken to treat skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis, it is used as a detoxifying agent in serious illnesses such as cancer.

The plant contains organic acids, falconoid, tannins, fatty acids, glycoside asperuloside, Gallo tannic acid, and citric acid. It has a mild laxative effect and stimulates the lymphatic system and has shown benefit in skin related problems. The fresh plant or juice is used as a medicinal poultice for wounds, ulcers and many other skin problems. An infusion of the herb has shown of benefit in the treatment of glandular fever, tonsillitis, hepatitis, and cystitis. The infusion is also used to treat liver, bladder and urinary problems.

Used as a hair tonic, said to be good for the hair, making it grow long. A thick mat of the stems, when used as a sieve for filtering milk, is said to give healing properties to the milk and is still used in Sweden for that purpose.

This is a plant that most would think of as a weed that needs to be pulled but when you learn of all it is good for you might just think of it in a much different way.

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