Galium aparine commonly known as Sticky willy, Cleavers, or in Croatian Čekinjasta broćika, Priljepača, Rukodrž, Hvatavac, Ljepljiva broćika, is an herbaceous annual plant from the Rubiaceae family of flowering plants, which also includes gardenia and noni. The plant is native to a wide region of Europe, North Africa, and Asia from Britain and the Canary Islands to Japan. It is now naturalized throughout most of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, Australia, some oceanic islands, and scattered locations in Africa.
Some of the popular common names of the plant are Goosegrass, Annual Bedstraw, Cleavers, Barweed, Hedgeheriff, Hayriffe, Eriffe, Grip Grass, Hayruff, Catchweed, Scratweed, Mutton Chops, Robin-run-in-the-Grass, Loveman, Goosebill, Everlasting Friendship, Catchweed bedstraw, Cleaverwort, Scarthgrass, Small goose-grass, Sticky-willy, White hedge, Common bedstraw, Spring cleavers, Sticky bobs, Sticky willy, Sweetheart, Clivers, scarthgrass, scratch bedstraw, harrif and robin run over the hedge.
Galium is Dioscorides’ name for the plant. It is derived from the Greek word for ‘milk’ because the flowers of Galium verum were used to curdle milk in cheese making. Aparine is a name used by Theophrastus for goosegrass. It is derived from Greek and means ‘clinging’ or ‘seizing’. Geese thoroughly enjoy eating G. aparine, hence one of its other common names, “goosegrass”.
I am having a bumper harvest of cleavers this year. Okay, I know the majority of gardeners view it as a weed and so ‘harvest’ sounds plain wrong — but I don’t think of it as a weed. It’s not quite a crop but it is useful to how I garden — which is to be chemical-free and to reap the benefits of every plant that finds its way in. Cleavers (Galium aparine) is one of the weeds I welcome, for its horticultural and medicinal benefits and its story too.
Plants, even the ones we often dismiss as weeds, have fascinating backstories. Cleavers get their common name for their reputation to cleave to — as their hairy stem and fuzzy seed structure does adhere easily to passers-by — so their stems and seed may stick to your clothes or the fur of your pet and make their way back from a walk, right into your garden. What a cool way to disperse the next generation — hitchhike. A sneaky trait, but you’ve got to admire efficiency and tenacity.
The botanical name also reminds us of its gripping nature as in the Greek-derivedaparine meaning to “lay hold of” or “seize”. Traditionally cleavers were employed for a grip of a different nature — woven into sieves to strain impurities from milk. As kids, my friends and I took advantage of those Velcro-like hairs and played a ‘throw and tag’ childhood game with the stems as we often did with the darts of flowering grasses.
The cleaver game was called ‘sticky willies’ — I know, sounds a bit troubling now, but the name was around before we found the game.
I am a bit of a fan of wild beverages and forage knowledge, so I appreciate that Galium is a relative of coffee and alongside chicory (Cichorium intybus), makes one of the more superior coffee substitutes – the roasted seed rather than the roots are my preference. Galium has a Greek etymology linking to ‘milk’ and the selection of that name for its nomenclature indicates its connection with the dairy industry — not just as a sieve tool but also for centuries it has been employed as a curdling agent in yogurt and cheese production.
The plant is grazed by fowl and farmyard animals – hence the colloquial name of goosegrass. The seeds and green leaves can provide a staple chicken fodder and as a fodder crop for other poultry, cattle, sheep, and horses. While as a human foodstuff, soups and juices are known but are more remedial than culinary (a touch too bitter for most palates). So if your sustainability has you keeping poultry, then this weed is better in their feed than in the compost bin.
By way of a note on human consumption: because of the high tannin content, cleavers in any consumable form, make a powerful astringent and amongst its active components, it contains coumarins which thin the blood and asperuloside which can be converted into prostaglandins that stimulate the uterus and affect blood vessels.
All those traits can be utilized remedially, but as a culinary addition or for extended medical usage, it is generally advised to use for only two weeks at a time, and pause for one or two weeks before using again.
I am a fan of cleaver-infused water as a refreshing but also a ‘health’ drink. I harvest the aerial parts before flowering. Rinse under water and gently pat dry with a paper towel. Then I slice a few stalks and add them to a glass of water. Place in fridge and leave overnight to infuse. Strain and drink. The cold-infusion acts as a lymphatic tonic and flavors the water quite nicely too.
The plant is bursting with medicinal properties: antispasmodic; antiphlogistic; aperient; astringent; detoxificant; diaphoretic; diuretic; depurative; vulnerary; a noted lymphatic and urinary tract cleanser; refrigerant; febrifuge; laxative; lowers blood pressure; sliming and tonic. The juice has stronger diuretic and laxative properties than infusions. It was once a common feature of cures for obesity and dropsy.
It is often noted that sap may cause contact dermatitis with sensitive skin but the plant also has a history of use as a cosmetic aid: A crushed leaf compressor a butter and juice salve has a remedial action on skin conditions and wounds. Cleavers are high in silica which is beneficial to hair, teeth, and nails. The plant has been used as a cleansing lotion for acne and other conditions of the skin and as a cooled infusion to rinse dandruff-prone scalps.
Cleavers is a prolific, slender, climbing annual plant, commonly regarded as a weed that does not grow in height unless it attached itself to a tall plant or tree. The plant is found growing in scrub areas, woodlands, meadows, roadsides, and waste sites of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and occupies deciduous forests, thickets, disturbed sites, springs, limestone glades, weedy meadows, and flood plains in the Plains States. It is also common in gardens, cultivated crops, fence lines, barnyards, ditches, abandoned fields, and homesteads throughout its range. The plant favors moist soils and tolerates sites with moderate to poor drainage. Rich loam, heavy organic soils with above average nitrogen and phosphorus content are reportedly preferred. The plant has branching and shallow roots. This plant spreads by reseeding itself.
Stems are green, soft, freely branched, numerous, weak, straggly, and semi-prostrate. They may be up to 120 cm long. They climb or ascend by adhering to or lying on adjacent vegetation. Stems are quadrangular in cross-section, with prominent ribs, densely set with recurved thorn-like spines. They are jointed and branched at the first node. The nodes are usually densely tomentose, but sometimes only slightly so. The carpels, leaves, and stems of cleavers have an abundance of stiff hairs that can cling readily to clothing, fur, or adjacent vegetation.
Leaves are sessile in whorls of 4-8 at the nodes. They are simple, narrow, oval-lanceolate, mucronate, single-veined, 30-60 mm long, 3-8 mm broad, usually dark green, thin, lax, and mucronate. The leaf margins are weakly retrorsely scabrous. The upper surface of the leaf is hairy and the lower surface has a row of forward-directed spines along the midrib. Each leaf has a single central vein along its length.
Flowers are 2 mm in diameter on peduncles in the axils of the leaf whorls. There are two to five flowers per peduncle (five to six bracts), in cymes. Corolla is white with four acute lobes. Flowers are bisexual, with four stamens and one pistil with two styles. Pollen grains are oval in equatorial view and the polar diameter (width) of the hexaploid plant is 25-31 µm. The carpels are covered with stiff hooked hairs and have a bur-like appearance; together, they are about ¼ inch across when fully developed. The blooming period occurs from late spring to mid-summer and lasts about 1-2 months.
Fruit is a schizocarp with two capsules per flower forming two globose mericarps. The fruits are grey or greyish-brown and oval in outline. They are 2-4 mm long, excluding the spines, with the scar somewhat oblong. The surfaces of the fruit are covered with hooked bristles; about 0.8 mm long, on tuberculate bases that are dilated and usually arise from a small tubercle formed by the elevation of the surface of the fruit. Fruits are sometimes sparsely spiny and very rarely smooth or tuberculate.
Health benefits of Cleavers
Cleavers is a mild diuretic and blood and lymphatic cleanser that is specified for psoriasis and other skin conditions. It has a particular attraction for the lymphatic system and may be used for swollen glands, tonsillitis, and lymph tonic. In Chinese medicine, cleavers are used to disperse stagnancy and inflammation and for urinary problems. Listed below are a few of the health benefits of cleavers
1. Stimulates the lymphatic system
Cleavers herb has been found to improve the health of the lymphatic system. This includes reducing inflammation of lymph glands and cysts in the breasts. Cleavers herb also helps to reduce swelling and inflammation by clearing excess waste and water from the body, assisting to reduce instances of edema. Cleavers herb can be used on its own or in conjunction with Echinacea and marigold to help stimulate the lymphatic system.
2. Treat Edema
Edema is caused mostly due to the stimulating effect of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system of your body clears all the waste from your body. As per many expert herbalists, cleaver has an effect on swollen glands and cysts. Therefore, it can work to reduce the swelling in your body.
3. Kidney Health
Diuretic properties of the cleavers herb help to flush out wastes, toxins, and excess water from the system improving the health of your kidneys, bladder, and liver. Cleavers herb may also help to dissolve kidney stones and prevent the development of fibrocystic tissue.
4. Heal Ulcers
Having a bath in the juice of the plant helps to soothe and heal various ulcers. Ulcers are majorly caused by bacteria. Cleaver has anti-bacterial properties that can easily kill the bacteria and provide you an absolute cure for ulcers.
5. Calms the Gastrointestinal and Urinary Tracts
Cleavers shows anti-spasmodic properties on the urinary and digestive tracts. It offers an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome and interstitial cystitis. Cleavers help get rid of and dissolve kidney stones. It also reduces the presence of fibrocystic tissue in the kidneys.
6. Maintain Weight
To keep away body fat, you should intake porridge made of Cleavers. Cleavers have properties to reduce the absorption and digestion of fat in your body. When the fat is not absorbed by the body, you won’t gain fat on your stomach, sides or guts. Moreover, it is high in fiber so it can increase your metabolic rate and therefore maintain your weight
7. Treat Post-menstrual Symptoms
The post-menstrual symptoms such as sore breasts and water retention, mood swings, etc. can be cured by using a cleaver. Daily consumption of cleaver tea can help you to get rid of these symptoms easily.
8. Relief from Congestion of Breast
This herb is beneficial for providing relief from congestion in the breasts. If you have sore breasts, mild breast pain, or any form of a lump in your breast, cleaver can help you relieve such issues easily. It does so as it acts on the lymphatic system and eliminates any swelling in your entire body.
9. Lower Blood Pressure
Cleavers is very effective in lowering blood pressure as its extract help in thinning of the blood. Thinning of the blood lets a greater blood circulation which in turn normalizes the blood pressure. If you are on blood-thinning medications, you should not use cleaver as it will further thin up your blood and cause greater health risks.
10. Treats Eczema, Psoriasis
This plant is also known to help a lot in treating conditions like eczema, psoriasis, seborrhea, boils and abscesses. The plant has skin-fortifying properties and acts to relieve the symptoms of issues as it has anti-inflammatory, anti-healing, and redness-reducing properties.
11. Beneficial for Skin
Cleavers herb helps to improve stubborn inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis by reducing inflammation. Cleavers herb may also improve the skin by treating eczema, acne, sunburns, and wounds. To soothe skin irritation with cleavers herb, you can make a healing poultice to apply directly on the affected area. Some herbalists recommend that fresh cleaver leaves help stop bleeding and accelerate the healing of wounds, burns, and cuts.
12. Remedy To Treat Snake Bites, Spider Bites
Cleavers is used as a wonderful remedy for to treatment of snake bites, spider bites, and all bites of all other venomous creatures. It is used because it has properties that can reduce or nullify the effect of venom on your body. However, for treating any kind of bite using Cleaver, it is always recommended to go to an herbalist for the same.
13. Prevents Wrinkle
Cleavers is used to make an excellent facial wash. The facial wash helps in tightening the loose and saggy skin and also prevents future wrinkling. It is highly effective to slow down the progression of skin aging by clearing it up from the inside and providing the essential nutrients required by your skin.
14. Reduce Swelling
Cleavers is widely used to treat edema and other forms of swellings. Cleavers are known to have a beneficial effect on swollen glands and cysts. You should undertake Cleavers tincture as a treatment if you’re suffering from problems like sore breasts and water retention during post-menstrual syndrome.
Traditional uses and benefits of Cleavers
Cleavers successfully curbs the appetite.
Chippewa used Cleavers as a laxative and to treat dermatitis.
Native people of the Micmac tribe used Cleavers to treat gonorrhea and kidney problems.
Europeans used Cleavers plant juice to treat inflamed tonsils, poisonous insect and snake bites, earaches, liver ailments, goiters, scurvy, tumors, and cancers.
As a lymphatic tonic, it is used in a wide range of problems involving the lymph system, such as swollen glands.
Poultices and washes made from cleavers were traditionally used to treat a variety of skin ailments, light wounds, and burns.
Cleaver extract lowers the blood pressure of dogs, without slowing their heart rate, or any other dangerous side effects.
It is often taken to treat skin problems such as seborrhea, eczema, and psoriasis and as a general detoxifying agent in serious illnesses such as cancer.
The whole plant, excluding the root, is alterative, antiphlogistic, aperient, astringent, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, tonic, and vulnerary.
It is used both internally and externally in the treatment of a wide range of ailments, including as a poultice for wounds, ulcers, and many other skin problems and as a decoction for insomnia and cases where a strong diuretic is beneficial.
It has been shown to benefit in the treatment of glandular fever, ME, tonsillitis, hepatitis, cystitis, etc.
Tea made from the plant has traditionally been used internally and externally in the treatment of cancer.
Cleavers also cure external ulcers and abnormal growths like tumors on the skin.
It cleanses the skin and helps in the treatment of dermatitis, acne, boils, and injuries.
Cleavers reduces the signs of aging and tightens the skin.
It eliminates toxins through the skin and makes skin lustrous.
It is also a good herbal treatment for sunburn and freckles.
Cleavers is used to treat edema.
It is useful in treating post-menstrual syndromes such as sore breasts and water retention
Use Cleavers for Tonsillitis, Glandular Fever, and recurrent Throat Infections.
It also cures interstitial cystitis.
It is helpful for clearing infections and inflammation in the genitourinary system.
It soothes urinary and gastrointestinal tracts.
Its diuretic properties enhance the Urine flow and give relief from other urinary problems.
This helps to get rid of Kidney and Bladder stones.
It also reduces fibrocystic tissue in the kidneys and clears the Urinary tract and alleviates Prostate disorders.
It treats Scurvy.
It relieves from burning sensation during urination associated with cystitis.
Cleavers’ tincture prevents the division of cancer cells. It also reduces the effects of Cancer.
Its anti-tumor property helps ease swollen, sore Breasts, Congestion in the breast, and Benign breast lumps.
Its cooling properties decrease body temperature and give a cooling effect to the body.
It counters fever and prevents the occurrence of Viral Infections like Measles and Chickenpox.
Direct application of Cleavers is very effective for Cuts and Wounds. It enhances blood clotting and stops bleeding.
Cleavers’ blood-thinning properties have a beneficial effect on Platelets.
When you get a cut it collects the platelets and halts bleeding.
Cleavers helps in the prevention of Arteriosclerosis, Strokes, and Heart failure.
It also acts as a blood cleanser.
Some have used Cleavers as an appetite suppressant for obesity.
Drinking a cup of cleavers herb tea, blended with marigold or echinacea, is a perfect remedy for swollen glands, tonsillitis, or any other ailment that would benefit from lymphatic drainage support like respiratory infections.
Ayurvedic health benefits of Cleavers
Alternatives: Cleavers has an affinity for the Lymphatic System.
Kidney stones: Steep 2 tablespoons dried Cleavers in 2 cups of warm water for 2 hours. Take 2-3 tablespoons thrice a day. You may add some honey to improve the taste.
Skin: Crush the fresh leaves and apply for skin problems OR: Take some fresh juice and apply. It can also be used as a good face wash for clear skin.
Wound bleeding: Crush some fresh Cleavers leaves and directly apply to heal wounds. It stops external bleeding.
Cancer: Extract the juice of the leaves of Cleavers. Have it three times a day.
Nipple discharge: Extract the juice of Cleavers. Have two tablespoons two times a day.
Adenitis: Steep 2 tablespoons of dried Cleavers in one cup of hot water for 15 minutes. Strain it. Drink thrice daily.
Uterine Fibroid: Have 10 drops of Gallium Aparine tincture in a glass of water 3 times in a day.
Elephantiasis: Make a concoction of Cleavers leaves, Yellow Dock root, Pokeweed root, Echinacea root, Blue Flag Root, and Marigold flower. Take twice a day. (Excess use may cause toxicity.)
Skin diseases: Make a fine paste of Cleavers, Yellow Dock, and Burdock. Apply topically.
Urinary incontinence: Urinary Incontinence may be treated by administering a combo of Cleavers, Buchu, and Bearberry.
Breast cancer: Take equal quantities of the leaves of Cleavers and Flax seeds. Make Poultice. Repeat it daily for one month.
Liver detoxification: Prepare a powdered mixture of equal amounts of Red clover, Fennel, Cleavers, Dandelion, Oregon grape root, Burdock root, Chickweed, and Parsley root. Boil 1 to 2 cups of water. Add one teaspoon of the powdered mixture in it. Allow it to get cool down. Consume 1 cup of tea once a day before breakfast.
The seed extract was used to curdle milk for cheese making.
Leaves and stems of the plant can be cooked as a leaf vegetable if gathered before the fruits appear.
Fruits of cleavers have often been dried and roasted, and then used as a coffee substitute that contains less caffeine.
Tender young shoot tips raw or cooked as a pot-herb.
They make a useful addition to vegetable soups.
Decoction of the whole dried plant gives a drink equal to tea.
Young leaves can be eaten like spinach
How to Consume Cleavers
The most effective way to consume cleavers is in the form of remedies, which concentrate all the beneficial properties of this herb. Cleavers can be applied both topically and internally. The alimentary uses of cleavers are mainly centered on salads and juices.
Raw: The best way to take advantage of cleavers’ diuretic properties is to add its fresh leaves to salads and juices. For these purposes, the plant must be harvested during mid-winter or at the latest of it, because afterward, the leaves will turn tough and hairy.
Infusion: Two to four grams of dry can be mixed with a cup of boiling water to brew a warm herbal beverage. This simple remedy can help treat respiratory illnesses and urinary tract infections (UTIs.)
Cold maceration: 25 grams of cleaver crushed leaves can be covered by two cups of water and let sit overnight. In this form, cleavers can be taken orally to reduce fever.
Herbal Remedies & Supplements
Tincture: Macerating cleavers’ leaves into an alcoholic solution concentrates the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial actions of the plant. Diluted in a glass of water, this herbal remedy is recommended for intestinal catarrh, as well as for irritations of mucous membranes.
Creams: This water-based preparation is easily absorbed and meant for external use only. Cleaver creams are commonly used to help heal wounds and treat skin conditions.
Capsules: They provide high concentrations of its active components in fixed doses and are easy to find, being a good option to reap all the benefits of this plant.
Ripe seeds when roasted and ground are considered a “poor man’s instant coffee”.
Easily matted Cleaver stems were used as strainers to remove particles from liquids and for mattress fillings.
Red dye is made from Cleaver roots.
Women of the Cowlitz tribe bathed with Cleaver as it was thought to make them “successful in bed”.
Belgian lace makers utilized the seeds as pinheads.
Dioscorides reported that ancient Greek shepherds would use the barbed stems of cleavers to make a “rough sieve”, which could be used to strain the milk.
The dried, matted foliage of the plant was once used to stuff mattresses in Europe.
Roots of cleavers can be used to make a permanent red dye.
When ingested it can dye the bones red.
The plant can be found growing in hedges and waste places, limestone scree and as a garden weed.
The dried plant is used as tinder.
The plant can be rubbed on the hands to remove pitch (tar).
The sap of the plant can cause contact dermatitis in sensitive people.
Excessive use may cause severe skin irritation.
Avoid use if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking other medications.
One should also avoid taking it if they’re suffering from a serious or chronic illness.
Do not use it if taking blood-thinning medication.
Cleavers Herb has fine hairs that can cause contact dermatitis for some people.
Diabetics should only use the expressed juice with caution.