Book Notes … Almost
Jeepers! It’s the Cheevers!
Well, I’d planned to begin a column on my latest strange wildflower with that title, continuing how I enjoyed Susan’s commentary and so many of her dad’s short stories. When I went back to get more information on the plant, I discovered far too quickly that it didn’t exist.
There is no plant called “Cheevers.”
Sharp pictures in hand of flower, leaf and the entire plant, it was relatively simple to rectify my error. The tiny white flowers have four sharply pointed petals, yellow-green stamens in the middle framed by a whorl of six or more long leaves on a stem surprisingly thick for such a delicate plant. What really sets it apart, however, is the hooked prickles which positively cover it.
Cleavers. It gets some of its names because of the small hooked hairs that would love to cling to absolutely everything: Catchweed, Stickywilly, Velcro weed and (who knows?) Zho yang Yang. Also, Goosegrass because it’s a favorite of theirs and other farm fowl as well as livestock. And, to continue, Clivers, Barweed, Hedgeheriff, Hayriffe, Eriffe, Grip Grass, Hayruff, Scratweed, Mutton Chops, Robin-run-in-the-grass, Loveman, Tongue Bleed, Goosebill, and Everlasting Friendship.
I only found one but it was feet long and adamant in its desire to remain. After ridding the rose bed of this, I did later find another at the far end of the carport. Looks like I may have more visitors.
I was surprised to see this identified as an herb (though what isn’t?) or to see it has many uses, externally as well as internally, as an alternative medicine still used in the treatment of a wide range of ailments by modern herbalists. These include as a “valuable diuretic, it is often taken to treat skin problems such as seborrhoea, eczema and psoriasis, and as a general detoxifying agent in serious illnesses such as cancer. It has a mild laxative effect and stimulates the lymphatic system and has shown benefit in skin related problems. The fresh plant or juices of Cleavers herb is used as a medicinal poultice for wounds, ulcers and many other skin problems. An infusion has shown of benefit in the treatment of glandular fever, tonsilitis, hepatitis and cystitis. The infusion is also used to treat liver, bladder and urinary problems.”
It’s quite edible though so sticky it isn’t a good idea for a salad (though one source claims the hairs give it an “interesting effect.” Oh, yeah.) but can be sauteed. Those in the know collect the fruits to dry and roast for a coffee substitute with no or less caffeine. As a vegetable it’s said to have a “slimming effect” on the body. I bet.
Women said to be lucky in love have used it as a bath. It’s also supposed to remove freckles, make hair grow longer and as a remedy for snakebites as well as those of spiders and other venomous creatures. Using it to wash one’s face reportedly tightens the skins and could be considered by those of us fighting the wrinkles that come with aging. I should add that some may develop an unpleasant localized rash from its contact with the skin.
One site suggests it as a “fun plant to introduce to kids because it sticks to their clothes.” Obviously not a suggestion made by a family member.
Native to wide regions of Europe, North Africa and Asia, it has now naturalized throughout most of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, Australia and New Zealand and even some remote islands.
A cinch to cultivate, it really requires no help to reproduce and spread and can, in fact, be quite invasive. Seeds can survive for up to seven years. But be warned: Kentucky considers it a threatening weed while the seed is banned or restricted in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and — yes — New York state. Four Canadian provinces call it a “noxious weed.”
Allow me to end with a final warning: Cleavers is closely related to, and appears very similar to, Sweet Woodruff though the latter, a perennial, can be quite poisonous in large doses.
Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts following in 2014. Both novels are now available at Lakewood’s Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.