From the moment I starting harvesting those first handfuls of Cleavers (Gallium aparine) I spotted growing in my friend's backyard today, I became filled with a calming sense of presence. It's a feeling that represents the deep, simple blessing plants bestow upon me each time I slow down enough to notice them.
'Been thinking about Cleavers quite a bit lately. It was my special delight to find them today, growing haphazardly in the corners of Cheryl's raised beds, in soil she had built-up, and could vouch for. I can't remember if my thinking obsessively of Cleavers came first, and then I started spotting them all over the city, or if my thoughts had been brought on by Cleavers suddenly appearing everywhere: in the cracks between the sidewalk and stone wall holding back the hillside park near my building, in the grassy yard of an abandoned housing project on 126th, just beyond the fence lining the alleyway shortcut to the train. Right about this time last year is when I first met Cleavers in the woods of Western North Carolina, one of the first medicinal herbs we learned about as students and apprentices at the Terra Sylva School.
It likes edges and disturbed areas.
Feeling Cleavers' tacky stalks—from tiny interlocking hairs, or "burs," all along its stem, to which the plant's common name "Cocklebur" refers—brought me back. To the memory of the flannel I wore in my woodland Appalachian cabin through much of summer 2016; to the crunch of leaves recently fallen on the forest floor, yet to turn soft and spongy like the older hummus layer; to my observation that the spot it seemed to like most on the land where I was living there in Western North Carolina appeared to be next to, inside and all up under the outhouse near our classroom and communal kitchen.
Cleavers, is that really how you like to roll??? I remember thinking as the shit and piss piled up under the outhouse, and the Cleavers carried on happily, their growth reaching a fever pitch in spite—or perhaps because—of the human waste I and my classmates dumped on top of them.
The affinity for piss of the Gallium aparine in Spillcorn, NC offers insight into the conditions for which Cleavers are best indicated, which is anything having to do with the urinary system, be it a urinary tract infection, stones, or any and all inflammatory conditions of the urinary and generative systems. A diuretic, this plant will make you piss. It supports the kidneys. It also happens to be wonderful as a poultice for inflammatory skin conditions, although I read in one of my herb books that contact with the fresh plant can cause a rash in some.
Today, I harvested Cleavers a bit early. Looking back at my materia medica notes, I remember this plant is best tinctured after it has begun to flower, usually in May.