cleavers, up close the one with small leaves in a whirl

Botanical: Galium aparine

Family: Rubiaceae

parts used: aerial parts

actions: alterative, anti-inflammatory, aperient, astringent, cholagogue, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, laxative, lymphatic, tonic, vulnerary

energetics cold, dry, mildly bitter, sweet, salty

key constituents: cleavers contains organic acids, flavonoids, tannins, fatty acids, glycoside asperuloside, gallotannic acid and citric acid

common names: clivers, goosegrass, catchweed, stickyweed, robin-run-the-hedge, sticky willy, sticky willow, stickyjack, stickeljack, grip grass

It is much more fun to call cleavers goose grass. The geese love it. It is a climbing plant that grows along ditch banks, under trees, in rocky dirt piles, and in flower beds. I’m actually trying to think of a place where cleavers doesn’t grow. Even though you will read that it likes some shade, I have found it growing vigorously in full sun.

And I don’t mean 6 hours a day is “full sun” I mean it grows where “the sun shines on it from the moment it rises until the moment it sets” full sun. Cleavers does like to find a fence or a tree or another plant that grows tall so it can climb right on up with it. But if it can’t, it will form a dense mat or bed upon the ground. This is why some species are called bedstraw.

cleavers herb
cleavers is often found around growing around something it can climb up on

You will also read that the seeds of cleaver, if one will take the time to harvest them, makes a good substitute for coffee. Wonder why? Enquiring minds would like to know! Because dear herbal friend, believe it or not, coffee is in the same family, Rubiaceae, sort of makes sense then, doesn’t it?

In the family of Rubiaceae, to which the Madder (Rubia tinctoria) and common weeds, like cleaver and sweet woodruff belong, there are almost 3,000 species; many of them of great benefit to people, both as food and supplement. Take, for example, the coffee tree, Coffea Arabica.

Quinine (the first effective Western treatment for malaria) occurs naturally in the bark of several species of Cinchona. The medicinal properties of the cinchona tree were originally discovered by the Quechua (keech-wa), indigenous people to Peru and Bolivia. A very interesting story about the growth of “modern” herbals, you can find more here… Cinchona

Cleavers is such “stick-to-you” plant that it is said to have inspired velcro… but on doing a bit of research I found this… The Invention of Velcro

Culinary Use of Cleavers

Dioscorides, who brought to us in the 1st century AD the De Materia Medica, wrote that the Greek used this thick mat of grass to make a filter or ‘sieve’ to pour milk through, not only to remove any foreign bodies, but also to embed beneficial nutrients into the milk. This method is still used in Sweden.

It has been used for centuries as an alternative medicine by indigenous peoples on many continents. It is edible raw though said to be unpalatable, mainly used as a pot-herb or as an addition to soups.

Culpepper in his “Complete Herbal” wrote…

It is a good remedy in the Spring, eaten (being first chopped small and boiled well) in water-gruel, to cleanse the blood, and strengthen the liver, thereby to keep the body in health, and fitting it for that change of season that is coming. [2]

There is a bit on “cleansing the blood” in the video (below) by David Winston. He says, “It’s not really cleansing the blood, it is altering the body toward health” the very definition of an alterative.

Using Cleavers for Wellness

cleavers growing in the spring
first showing of cleavers in the spring

Many herbalists will tell you (and it IS an understatement!) that to understand how cleavers works in the body, you need to know a little about the lymphatic system that cleavers has such an affinity for. I couldn’t agree more. I have found it difficult to explain to people why such a much disliked pesky weed as this is SUCH a great herb. But let me try..

  • Because it acts as a diuretic, cleavers aids elimination of fluid toxins through the kidneys.
  • Cleavers is a blood purifier and helps to cleanse the circulatory system after a sluggish winter season.
  • May be helpful in hepatitis.

Cleavers is a mild diuretic and blood and lymphatic cleanser used for psoriasis, eczema, and other skin conditions. It has a particular affinity for the lymphatic system and may be used for swollen glands, tonsillitis, and as a lymph tonic. In Chinese medicine cleavers are used to disperse stagnancy and inflammation and for urinary problems. Cleavers make a useful addition to formulas to lower blood pressure. Cleavers are best used fresh or tinctured as they lose their effectiveness quickly after drying.

Cleavers is a lymphatic tonic enhancing lymphatic circulation aiding the body in its cleansing and immune work and purifying the blood. Recommended often by herbalists for lymphatic congestion, swollen lymph glands, and tonsillitis.

In a survival situation, a mat of cleavers pressed against a wound can help stop the flow of blood better than pressure alone.

Dose: It is said that fresh plant juice (extracted with a juicer) is best as cleavers loses something with drying and too much heat.
Fresh plant juice: take 2-3 teaspoons in a little water three times a day.
Infusion: 1 cup, 3x daily.
Tincture: Fresh un-dried plant, 40-60 drops 3x daily. [1]


  • GRAS, however, as the plant dries, coumarin (C9H6O2) is released. Therefore, it is advised that you should not take it with other anticoagulant medications.
  • Native American women sometimes ate cleavers to help prevent pregnancy. With this information, we can infer that the plant may stimulate uterine contractions, and for this reason, can’t be recommended for women who are, may become or are trying to get pregnant.
  • Some people develop contact dermatitis, aka a rash or itchy areas of the skin, when touching Cleavers. If you are one of these people, please do not eat this plant. If you have skin allergies, there is an excellent chance you would also be allergic to eating it, and those allergies are more serious.

Video! Herbalist David Hoffmann discusses the alterative herbs. Herbs discussed include cleavers, red clover and nettles.

Research on Cleavers


  1. Green, David “The Male Herbal”, 2nd Edition 2007
  2. Culpeper’s Complete Herbal
  3. McIntyre, Ann “The Complete Herbal Tutor” 2010 Endeavor House, London
Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00
Enroll in the Botanical Skin Care Course with the Herbal Academy
%d bloggers like this: