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Sticky Situations - The Medicine Of Cleavers

A bottle of Cleavers herbal tincture in a clear bottle in a garden
Cleavers Tincture, crafted from the organic medicine garden

Often the herbs that are the most useful are to be found growing prolifically all around us. In Nature's wisdom, She offers herbal medicine during each season that aligns with ourselves and the energy of that season. In Spring, the time of rebirth and dynamic energy, up pops Cleavers. Cleavers, also known as Sticky Willy in these parts of Scotland due to its ability to cling to passing animals' fur and clothing, is one of those incredible medicines that grows easily, is all around us and is easy to harvest but is often overlooked. It is not a difficult or invasive 'weed' as it can be removed easily, unlike other herbs like Dandelion which take a good bit of digging down to get all the root out. Cleavers comes up with a very gentle pull.

A blue mixing bowl filled with fresh Cleavers herbs with an apothecary in the background
Freshly harvested Cleavers

This is the second batch of Cleavers tincture I've made and it's a powerhouse. With this batch I used the younger shoots instead of the better known leggy plant that we see in early Summer and of which I used last year - that was still an excellent preparation.

With its grassy scent, tincture appearance of swamp water and its general growing habit, we get a sense as to its uses and medicine. Cleavers is used in clinical herbal medicine - which is often quite different from folk medicine - to support the lymphatic system and it is a diuretic, a herb that encourages water release. The lymphatic is our system of fluid, of Water. Spiritually, this element is associated with the emotions. And, just like Water, we need flow and movement otherwise there is stagnancy.

I have found that this herb loses some of its potency and efficacy when dried - this may be due to some of its potency coming from its high content of water and so when it is dried, it loses that little extra something. With this in mind, I like to harvest it fresh and immediately prepare a tincture from the leaves and stems. Some herbs can be dried and used in tinctures or in tea blends and their effectiveness isn't affected by the drying process but Cleavers isn't one of them. Cleavers urges us to captures its life force there and then, bringing us into the present.

Herb, apothecary and clear bottle
The drained, filtered and squeezed Cleavers after macerating for a few weeks

In my work with Cleavers, I feel that it is indeed good for 'movement', specifically physical and emotional. Its continued growth depends upon freedom of movement; hitching a ride on passing humans and animals, the seeds of Cleavers can travel far and wide ensuring a greater chance of survival.

I have used Cleavers extensively (I always experiment on myself with my preparations to commune deeply with the plant) and I feel that it is indeed good for 'movement', specifically physical and emotional. Its continued growth depends upon freedom of movement - hitching a ride on passing humans and animals, the seeds of Cleavers can travel far and wide to ensure a greater chance of survival.

Physically, do expect to go to the loo a little more when taking the tincture - it is a water mover after all - and it can take a little time for the equilibrium to balance. The lymphatic system is absolutely crucial in expelling toxins, otherwise it is an environment ripe for dis-ease. The problem is that our modern living doesn't align with the needs of our lymphatic system, which pumps fluid through the body to rid ourselves of toxins. However, unlike the blood and circulatory system, the lymphatic does not have a heart to pump it through our body. The lymphatic system requires the pumping action of our muscles - the physical action of contracting and relaxing muscles - to move fluid. In modern life, we are sitting more than ever and so the lymphatic cannot successfully do its job. Cleavers is not an alternative to exercise - it will not move your muscles for you - but it will support your lymphatic system in its work.

Emotionally, its actions can be surprising. There is often a soft uprising of emotion when beginning to work with the tincture and whatever emotion you are prone to - melancholy, fear, etc - can be magnified a little initially; a communication from the plant to highlight an awareness of what is moving. And then there is a gentle trickle, a going with the flow, and a healthy movement of emotions that are just passing through. That is what emotions are - passing visitors - and Cleavers can help us to understand this and step into this ongoing sense of movement.

Stagnancy is damaging to physical and emotional. If you have ever seen a body of stagnant water, you will also smell it. It begins to become occupied by many different types of organisms. Bodies of water that do not move foster a different kind of life - and ofcourse there is a place for this too - but we as humans cannot live there as it is not healthy for us.

Cleavers attaches itself to passersby but only so it can spread itself on new soil. It uses this method of movement as an opportunity to discover different environments, never quite standing still. Flowing, moving, breaking new ground. While they cling, this is only borrowed, temporary, used as way of furthering itself. Our emotions can serve the same purpose. If we sit in their space and give ourselves the time and opportunity to feel, they can teach us to grow but we cannot live there.

Squeezed Cleavers medicine ready for the compost, looking like a woodland sprite!

Images and content Copyright VOLVA and Andrea Doran, 2024


I do not grow these plants in chemical soaked agriculture that destroys the land or prepare them in a soulless industrial factory, but instead grown in my organic garden that has provided so much to insects and animal life that it has created its own beautiful ecosystem and prepared in my dedicated apothecary in my home. I hope you will understand why I refuse to have the plants and preparations assessed as to their 'safety' by a regulatory body that has no concept of what sacred medicine is and is focused only on commerce, and so my preparations are not registered or approved as a food or beverage product. I have to state here that these preparations are sold as curios only and not for internal or external use. I also have to state that should you choose to use any of my preparations in any other capacity than stated, you do so at your own risk. 


All preparations are crafted by myself and are from the organically grown plants in the Medicine Wheel and the Garden Of The Goddess at WytchWood, the dedicated herb gardens at my practice. They are harvested and prepared with intention, love and deep respect for the plant, the land, its own unique medicine and you. My preparations are also aligned and imbued with the spirit medicine of the plant, and this makes them different from others. This means that the actions - or the issues that the preparation aligns with - may be quite different from others. The information outlined here is the result of my working directly with the spirit medicine of the plant and its communication. While products from other providers may outline general information of the preparations, the information here has been gained from working directly with the plant through sowing its seeds, tending, harvesting and connecting intuitively, psychically and shamanically with the plants at WytchWood over the course of the seasons. The preparations offered, and their medicine, are unique and specific to the plants grown here. They are grown in spaces that have been mindfully and lovingly designed and built to magnify their potency.

IMPORTANT: I am not a clinical herbalist and so the information here is based on personal experience of my own preparations using my own homegrown herbs and does not apply to other preparations or other herbs grown elsewhere. It is not health advice and does not claim to cure any condition. If you have any health condition, please seek professional guidance and support.

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