Thursday, March 29, 2012


Cleavers (Galium aparine) are the first herb we tend to teach people how to identify on Herb Walks since they have a sticky, rough texture that sets them apart from other plants. Cleavers tend to like shady wooded areas that are moist or near water. They are a wonderfully useful herb that has been mistaken by most of us as a weed, due to their seeds (those irritating balls that get stuck to your socks and pants which must be pulled off by hand before throwing in the laundry).

Internally, Cleavers are a mild, subtle herb that is best known for assisting the lymphatic system. Cleavers are an excellent blood purifier, assisting the body in removing waste products. They are also known for speeding up the healing of gastric ulcers, and relieving inflammation of the upper digestive and urinary tracts.

When feeding Cleavers, fresh is the way to go. It is important to harvest Cleavers prior to flowering; once you see the white flowers the plant has lost much of its potency. Last year we were blessed to have Cleavers growing all over the trail course at Whispering Meadows Equestrian Center, where our horses were boarded. Working students were taught to identify the herb, and as part of the daily feeding routine students went into the trail course and gathered up arm-loads of Cleavers, passing them out among our horses as they walked down the aisle way. It was interesting to see how the different horses responded. Some of the horses couldn’t get enough, and students had to make multiple trips, while a couple wanted none at all or only a few of bites. This is one of the many benefits to feeding herbs fresh, as most horses know intuitively how much they need of an herb and that amount can change daily. Since Cleavers have a rather short life cycle making Cleavers Vinegar (see recipe below) while the plant is at its most potent level is an excellent way to insure you have some on hand for the year.

We often refer to Tipping Points in a horse’s health. If a disease, such as cancer, has taken over the body, the horse will reject the things that would make the body healthier. When the horse’s body is healing and on the mend, they start to crave things that are good for them and this is the Tipping Point. Our mare Nehalem’s experience with Cleavers is an excellent example of this phenomena. When Nehalem first came to 3TF, she was severely underweight and the lymphoma had taken over much of her body. At the time we didn’t know it was cancer. Whenever a horse comes to us, the first thing we do is a detox and to slowly start to change the horse’s nutrition to something more suitable for the individual needs of that horse. I remember trying and trying to get Nehalem to eat Cleavers (as well as Dandelions) when I first got her and she just refused, while all the other horses around her were more than happy to eat her share. It was a couple years before Nehalem reached her Tipping Point and finally started to crave herbs and supplements that were good for her. Now Nehalem eats armloads of Cleavers; she can’t seem to get enough! We have high hopes that this season we will be able to collect enough Cleavers to last for the entire year and get rid of the last of Nehalem’s lymphoma.

Recipe for Cleavers Vinegar:

Lightly pack a clean, sterilized canning jar with cleavers (several handfuls to a quart jar), and fill the jar with cider vinegar (unpasteurized and organic vinegar is best!) Leave the jar for 3 weeks, shaking occasionally. After the herbs have steeped, strain your vinegar into another sterilized jar for storage.